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Pathbreakers of Arab America—Jamie Farr

posted on: Apr 10, 2024


By John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

This is the forty-first of Arab America’s series on American pathbreakers of Arab descent. The series includes personalities from entertainment, business, sports, science, academia, journalism, and politics, among other areas. Our forty-first pathbreaker, Jamie Farr, aka Jameel Joseph Farah, aka Corporal Klinger, is a well-known Arab American actor and comedian. He was born to Lebanese immigrant parents in Toledo, Ohio. While Jamie was raised in a typically American way, he never forgot his Arab origin, often reminiscing about it in fluent Arabic.

All-American Jamie Farr, popular comedian, TV and film star, always proud of his Arab roots

Born Jameel Joseph Farah, Jamie Farr was born in Toledo, Ohio, on July 1, 1934. He is the son of Jamelia and Samuel Farah. Samuel was an immigrant from the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, while his mother was a first-generation Lebanese American who grew up in Iowa. The Ellis Island version of the family name was Abboud, and his father’s first name was Farah. The northern Toledo neighborhood where Farr grew up was largely diverse but had a sizeable Arab population. The family was raised in the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Jamie is best known as Corporal Klinger in the CBS sitcom M*A*S*H. His role was that of a soldier who tried to get discharged from the army by cross-dressing. He was clearly “ahead of his time” given the current context of gender issues in the U.S. After M*A*S*H, according to Wikipedia, Farr reprised the role of Klinger for After M*A*S*H and appeared both in small roles on popular shows such as The Love Boat and as a host or panelist on game shows including Battle of the Network Stars. He was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1985.

Jamie as Corporal Klinger in M*A*S*H, cross-dressing — Wikiphotos

After graduating from Woodward High School in Toledo in 1952, Jamie parted for California, where he attended classes at Pasadena Playhouse. There, he was noticed by an MGM talent scout and offered a screen test for the film Blackboard Jungle, in which he played the role of Santini. In that film, he was credited as Jameel Farah, which he kept until 1959, when he changed it to Jamie Farr when he left the Army. While training at the Pasadena Playhouse, he had small parts until he was cast on “The Red Skelton Show” in 1955, “where he played Snorkel, whose large nose gave him an inhumanly strong sense of smell.” He then became a regular on Skelton.

Drafted into the Army in 1957, based on his Hollywood experience, Jamie was designated Broadcast Specialist and worked on training videos. He was shipped out to Korea, where he worked on broadcasting programs. Notably, because Red Skelton had taken an interest in Jamie when he appeared on Red’s show, when Skelton came to Korea on a USO tour, he requested Farr’s service as his assistant. Jamie served two years of active duty, he returned to the U.S., where he spent an additional two years on inactive reserve.

Being part of a strong family network, Jamie gave up acting for a while to help his mother after his father died. He subsequently had minor roles on various TV shows, and his “big break” came. In October 1972, Jamie was hired as Corporal Maxwell Klinger for one day’s work on the fourth episode of M*A*S*H. That role was designed to provide comic relief in a severe combat situation. It consisted of Klinger making “desperate attempts to be given a Section 8 discharge by wearing elaborate women’s outfits with accessories such as boas, a fruit hat, and fashion headscarves.” After some time as a non-contract actor, CBS finally hired him as a series regular.

Jamie’s character Klinger was patterned on Farr’s background, a Lebanese American from Toledo. This gave Jamie the chance to reference his background, including descriptions of Toledo. In his M*A*S*H role, Klinger was promoted to the company clerk position later in the series and gradually stopped wearing women’s clothes. That transition was made because Klinger was now in a more serious role and also because Jamie “didn’t want his two young children to be teased about their father wearing dresses on TV.” On a nostalgic note, the dog tags he wore as Klinger were his own from his time in the service. How many actors actually get to play themselves?

Jamie Farr, who played Klinger in the television show M*A*S*H, meets members of the crew of the attack submarine USS Norfolk (SSN 714) — Wikiphotos.

Following M*A*S*H, Farr appeared in several made-for-TV movies, such as Murder Can Hurt You and Return of the Rebels, and made guest appearances on several TV shows. He also debuted on Broadway as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls in the 1990s at age 60. Never one to rest on his laurels, Jamie continued his TV work as host of game shows. He has regularly promoted reruns of MASH, and he often provides commentary on that historical series.

Jamie worked into his mid-eighties before finally retiring. He lives with his wife, Joy Ann Richards, a model, whom he married in 1963. They have two grown children and a grandson. Healthwise, Farr has battled severe rheumatoid arthritis since the early 1990s. He has kept up his ties to his hometown of Toledo, which awarded him the Keys to the City. A Toledo high school named their new performing arts wing after him and the University of Toledo awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1983. More nationally recognized, the Hollywood Walk of Fame awarded Jamie his own star.

Jamie Farr is a proud Arab American who has used his acting career to challenge stereotypes by promoting understanding and acceptance of his Arab heritage. In his role in M*A*S*H he unabashedly plays a Lebanese American, insisting that Arab characters be represented authentically, absent clichés and misconceptions. As to the regional Arab-Israeli conflict, Jamie has actively promoted a peaceful end to the conflict.


Please check out the video interview of Jamie by Arab America President Warren David. In it, Jamie demonstrates rather comically some of the anomalies of the Arabic language.

– “Jamie Farr,” Wikipedia Biographies of Arab Americans, 2024
– Video of Jamie Farr interview, Warren David, Arab America.

John Mason, Ph.D.
, focuses on Arab culture, society, and history is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America. The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.

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