On the first page of actor and activist Mike Farrell’s website, he quotes Irish poet John O’Donahue: “The duty of privilege is absolute integrity.”
It’s only fitting then that, before we begin the interview, Farrell wants to make sure there are no illusions:
“I’ve never lived in Mill Valley,” he says, “BJ did.”
“BJ” — as any fan of the 70’s and 80’s TV series M*A*S*H will tell you — was Captain BJ Hunnicutt, Hawkeye Pierce’s (Alan Alda) best friend, roommate, and fellow surgeon at the 4077 unit stationed in Korea. Forever longing to return home, the character often referred to his wife Peg, his lovely daughter, and a simple life back home in sleepy Mill Valley, California.
On February 28, 1983, 106 million Americans watched BJ’s dream come true as he rode off on a motorcycle during the series’ final episode (one of the most watched TV episodes in U.S. television history.)
While Farrell doesn’t live in Mill Valley, Marinites may still run across him if there’s an execution scheduled that day at San Quentin. Farrell drives up from Los Angeles to attend them all — in strong protest. He says, “I believe that no one should be executed, guilty or innocent. There are appropriate sanctions that protect society and punish wrongdoers without forcing us to stoop to the level of the least among us at his or her worst moment.”
Farrell attended the international media circus surrounding the execution of Tookie Williams and the far less covered execution of Clarence Ray Allen.
LEWIS: When was the first time you heard of Mill Valley? Was it when you read it in the M*A*S*H script or before that?
FARRELL: I’ve lived in California for most of my life and have traveled up and down the state many times, so I’ve known of Mill Valley for years.
LEWIS: Do you know why the show’s writers chose Mill Valley?
FARRELL: You know, they never said anything about why that choice, so I guess you’d have to ask Larry Gelbart or Gene Reynolds. My own guess would be that since they wanted BJ to be a kind of laid-back family-type guy, they picked a place that spoke to those values. And, of course, Hawkeye was from the east coast, so BJ provided an alternative.
LEWIS: Since you’re not from Mill Valley did you substitute another city for Mill Valley in your mind when saying your lines?
FARRELL: No, I think of Mill Valley, of Muir Woods, of Mount Tamalpais, and feel that’s the perfect place for BJ to live.
LEWIS: When playing the part and in the years since, have you been approached by people from Marin who feel they have a special connection with you because your character was from here?
FARRELL: Periodically. Many seem to believe I do — or did — live there.
LEWIS: Are they disappointed?
FARRELL: If they were disappointed they were graceful enough to not say so. So I assume all people from Mill Valley are gentle and gracious, right?
LEWIS: Do you know Mill Valley well enough to have a favorite spot?
FARRELL: I ate in a lovely restaurant there one night but, sadly, I was on my way to protest an execution at San Quentin, so I don’t have a memory of the name. Other than that, Muir Woods would have to be my favorite.
Another Marin-related Tid-Bit: Two years after M*A*S*H concluded, Mike Farrell met doctor Patch Adams on a trip to the then-Soviet Union and later produced the biopic “Patch Adams,” which starred Marin’s Robin Williams.