Real Life Heroes: Mike Farrell

Jen Johnston

Talking Pictures alias






About Us


Part Two
A life sentence without parole protects public safety while sparing us the barbarity of killing our own. It teaches our children that violence will be punished, but not by emulating the violent. This seems eminently more consistent with American ideals than continuing to share the killing stage with some of the world’s worst human rights violators.”- Mike Farrell
I am a pretty lucky girl. I’ve got a great home, and a beautiful daughter. I am able to observe horses at play, (not to mention my father attempting to start our tractor via the time tested method of kicking it, and cursing loudly in it’s direction) merely by looking out my office window. I’ve got an INSANELY fantastic job, which allows me to not only take my daughter to such historic cinematic events as the premiere of Scooby-Doo, but also lets me get in contact with people who had previously only appeared in my life as the wallpaper on my computer. 

There are times when I’ve wondered what it would be like to be a celebrity. 

Like my job, I imagine that there are upsides, and downsides. (And if you don’t think there are downsides to being a movie critic, then you have never been forced to go see Crossroads.) Sure, you might be able to take one of your fleet of 25 antique cars to the local store if you experience an urgent Ring-Ding craving at 2 am, but on the minus side, I can’t IMAGINE the stress involved with having to climb into my absurdly expensive car fully prepared to be photographed by a random member of the media who happened to be experiencing hunger pangs. 

I should think it would be terrible to have your privacy taken away. Admittedly, in my case it wouldn’t be too much of an issue. The worst thing that could come out about me would be my atrocious sense of decor. (Literally: the “let’s not leave one square inch of wall unfestooned with movie memorabilia” school of design.) I have no idea how I’d deal with people waiting to see what I was wearing as I left the house for work.

That’s why I’m mostly happy, eking out a living in the world of entertainment writing. I only have to worry about gas money for my ‘92 Subaru instead of insuring my 15 Humvees. I don’t tend to have a lot of fans declaring their undying devotion. (The biggest amount of worshiping that I can reasonably expect is that someone will like one of my stories enough to affix it to their refrigerator with a magnet shaped like an orange.) I just have one peeve to fire off in the direction of my movie geek brethren:

Why is it we focus on the little questions about a star? Why don’t we delve deeper? Sure, knowing Sean Penn’s favourite colour, or what kind of car Jodie Foster drives make excellent game show questions, but a select number of Hollywood’s elite actually are using their fame to obtain things other than free tickets to Disneyland. Most notably of all, these performers aren’t trumpeting the fact that they are giving of themselves for a deeply held passion.  When I was a teenager I thought the world of Mike Farrell for three very IMPORTANT reasons....

A) He was handsome as heck.
B) He was really funny.
C) See reason A.

As an adult I continue to think the world of Mike Farrell for his:

A) Enduring good looks.
B) Enduring dry wit.

But added to it now is admiration for his bravery, his strength and eloquence, and his dedication to an embracing ideal, that life, no matter what form it takes, is all important.

“One: Understand that we kill the innocent. In order to have a death system, and have it designed and operated by fallible human beings, you must accept that mistakes will be made.....”

Mike Farrell. All Rights Reserved.After my interview with Mike, I went to visit the second biggest M*A*S*H fan in my little town, Edward. Edward owns and operates the local snowmobile rental shop. This means he generally spends his winters explaining to tourists how the snowmobiles go, (two speeds: Virtually Stopped, and Airborne) and dislodging said snowmobiles from whatever pile of snow the tourists manage to plant them into. Edward always gives VERY complete safety lectures. “This is on. This is off. That’s all you need to know. Basically, just make an effort to remain in Nova Scotia.” 

I wanted to ask Edward about his opinions on Mike’s human rights work. When I found him, he was lounging about on his sofa, watching his M*A*S*H DVDs and muttering to himself about how there are no women that look like “Hot-Lips” in this town. “Edward,” I said, “When I say the name ‘Mike Farrell’ what leaps to your mind?” Of course I should have been ready for the inevitable BJ quote.  “Careful Klinger,” he replied. “Dressing as a nun can be habit forming.” He leaned back looking very self satisfied, thinking that he had solved the ultimate puzzle. “OK,” I said. “But what else comes to mind?”

After a longish pause where Edward tried to change the subject because he perilously close to admitting that he didn’t know the answer to a question asked by (prepare to be shocked) a girl, I brought out the material I had on one of the groups that Mike works with, (Death Penalty Focus) and he started pouring over it. 

“Two: Please understand that racism taints our criminal justice system, and has corrupted the machinery of death...”

Mike Farrell is the president of Death Penalty Focus, ( a group that is working towards the end of the death penalty through campaigning, and getting the word out about the cruelty of capital punishment, and the fact that there are alternatives. 

Consider the fact that:
1) Capital punishment does not deter crime.
2) There is no way to prevent the accidental execution of innocent people.
3) Race plays a role in the vast majority of executions.
4) Capital punishment goes against almost every religion.
5) The US remains in the same company as Iraq, Iran, and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment.
6) Executions are carried out at a staggering cost to taxpayers. 
7) Millions could be diverted to helping the families of murder victims.

(More detail can be found at )

When I read through the coverage of Mike’s various speeches and addresses to bodies in power around the US, the one thing that really strikes me is just how eloquent and powerful his arguments are. In every public statement he makes, he lines more people up to his cause. I’ve passed around copies of every speech I could find, from his address to The Commonwealth Club of California, to the Whittier Law School, to letters to the editor of USA Today to My Little Village, and I know (though I’ve promised not to give their names) he’s changing minds. The most moving of all these (for me) is a local who lost his daughter to a mugging last year. This particular man has been struggling with anger, and terrible grief and has said more then once to Edward, myself, or anyone within earshot,  “If I ever find the guy who did this I’ll (fill in your own atrocity here.)” He was firm in his belief in capital punishment, and was so consumed with rage, we were, frankly, worried we might lose him. The community rallied around him, giving him miles of support, (and who knows how many self-help books) but it was a book called The Wrong Man by Micheal Mello, (to which Mike wrote the foreword) that got this particular gentleman thinking about that answering the violence that took his daughter with the same kind of barbarity would do absolutely nothing to take his pain away.

“Three: Please understand that only the poor are executed. Or as the prison slogan has it, “Them that has the capital, don’t get the punishment.....”’

Mike doesn’t limit his activism to one cause however. Far from it, for he also is currently co-chair of Human Rights Watch in California. Established in 1987, HRW investigates human rights violations, campaigns for governments to treat it’s citizens fairly, to end abusive practices by those in positions of power, and recruit members of the public to help in their fight to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected. This group is currently campaigning for an end to violence against women in Jakarta, the creation of an International Criminal Court to deal with crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes of war, and the end of the use of child soldiers. 

(Find more information at )

For the last 23 years, Mike has been the spokesperson for  CONCERN/America. This group aids in the development of refugee communities by sending volunteers in the areas of medicine, public health, education, agriculture, and engineering to help and teach the leaders of the communities. A changing roster of volunteers remain in the area for 8 to 10 years, and a team is left behind to ensure that the work continues, and spreads into neighbouring communities. Mike has travelled to camps in Asia, and Central America, and is instrumental in making sure that information about this group finds an audience. 

(Find more information at

Like other quiet Hollywood activists (like Robert Redford, Michael J. Fox, etc), Mike is also obviously aware of the motivating effect of campaigning through the medium that brought him fame, participating in the documentary scene extensively. Mike has appeared in documentaries dealing with drug abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, arms control, rights of the handicapped, the death penalty, and on the political situation in Central America. 

“Four: Please understand that we kill those who were children when they committed their crimes, despite international agreements banning our doing so...”

I greatly admire Mike for the fact that he is not content to merely speak about the human rights issues he campaigns so persuasively for. He will go himself to the troubled areas to gain first hand knowledge of situations. He has travelled extensively to areas where most would fear to go without the aid of full body armour, and a tank to voyage around in. With CONCERN/America, Mike has been to refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border, as well as Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. He has gone on a mission to provide medical aid to a wounded POW in El Salvador. He has gone to Paraguay, and Chile as a human rights delegation member for the International Center for Development Policy and The Arca Foundation. He has been to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the occupied territories with the Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East.  He has even gone to Costa Rica to address the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. And yet, because he keeps his work to himself, everyone knows only BJ. 

Since snowmobile rental shops don’t tend to do a brisk business in August, Edward spends his summers working as a mechanic. Unlike most mechanics however, Edward tends to practice a strict customer avoidance policy, of never opening his door, and keeping the “CLOSED” sign mounted up round the clock. Edward, and I say this with scads of love and affection, has all the personal charisma of a cheese log. After going through the information I had brought him, he seemed a little bit surprised, bit taken aback. He finished reading Mike’s piece “The Monster Test” and leaned back on his couch, looking slightly less self satisfied then before. “Well Edward,” I said. “What do you think of BJ now?”

“I had no idea he was so.... I mean....Well. There’s”

This translates as being extremely impressed. Edward doesn’t normally spare two words of praise for anyone. 

Mike Farrell and fellow M*A*S*H stars.  All Rights Reserved.I too am extremely impressed by Mike. Everyone, whether we like to admit it or not, searches for role models beyond those immediately available in our family. I latched on to Mike when I was young. My infatuation with Tom Cruise has come, and my crush on Brad Pitt has gone, but I still have the same M*A*S*H picture I did when I was 14. Maybe my instincts were trying to tell me something. 

My daughter’s not looking for a role model other than Big Bird and Elmo at the moment. Working in the business that I do I am becoming increasingly concerned that she’s going to be looking to a Britney, or a Leonardo to emulate, and admire. I am hoping that before I turn, (as all parents do) into a hideous embarrassment I can do for her, what my grandpa did for me, and introduce her to one of the best actors out there.

I started this article talking about heroes. I stand firmly behind my title. Mike Farrell is my idea of one. Maybe he can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, or run faster then a speeding bullet ( as far as I know that is) but he does stand as an example of passion, strength, and dedication. I admire him for his open mind. I admire his bravery. Mike has inspired people, informed many, and to me, is a picture perfect representation of a hero.

In a World Net Chat.....

killjoywriter: “Mike, why are you opposed to the Death Penalty?”

Mike Farrell: “Because it is immoral, ineffective, hugely expensive, and racist. It’s used almost exclusively against the poor. It makes mistakes, and kills innocent people. It kills children, and the mentally damaged. It creates a kind of motive for ambitious politicians to achieve power by climbing over bodies. And, it’s made us an embarrassment in the international community.”


For Part One of this article click here.

For an episode guide to M*A*S*H plus cast and crew details go to:

Also see:

Missing M*A*S*H
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