don't know why," Mike Farrell laughs, "but people have had this sense
that I typify on some level 'the Doctor.'" Maybe that's because Farrell,
60, by now might as well have a stethoscope growing out of his ears.
He played Dr. Sam Marsh on CBS's 1970-71 series The Interns,his first
prominent role. He was good-hearted M*A*S*H surgeon B.J. Hunnicut
from 1975 to 1983. And he's currently in his second season as kindly
veterinarian Jim Hansen on NBC's hit series Providence.
it came as a shock to Farrell when, he recalls, a real doctor "looked
at me and said, 'Put on gloves and a gown. I need your help.' I said,
'Doc, you've got to be kidding.'" But Dr. Alejandro Sanchez was serious.
He and Farrell, a longtime human-rights activist, were in El Salvador
in 1985 after persuading the government there to allow Sanchez, a
U.S. surgeon, to operate on Nidia Diaz, a female guerrilla leader
who'd suffered a hand wound while being captured. Lacking a nurse,
Sanchez recruited Farrell. The surgery was a success, and Diaz used
that hand, says Farrell, to sign a 1992 peace treaty between the guerrillas
and the government. Says the temporary medical assistant: "I'm very
proud of that."
also involved in other causes (working with the environmental group
Greenpeace and Concern America, a refugee-aid organization), is no
lukewarm advocate. "He just can't take injustice," says his wife of
15 years, actress Shelley Fabares (Coach)."He will do everything to
right the situation." At the five-bedroom home the couple share in
Los Angeles, Farrell, who has two grown children from his first marriage,
seems as low-key as his characters. "He has extraordinary patience,
which can just drive me crazy," says Fabares, 55. "It takes a lot
to get Mike mad. But if he does, he's really mad. We've had a few
is human. He's a tough cookie," says Melina Kanakaredes, who plays
his daughter Sydney on Providence. Still, she adds, "I would have
to say that Mike Farrell ever cussing is always a shocker. You fall
out of your chair." Kanakaredes was more pleasantly surprised, she
says, by the letter Farrell wrote to her last December, when the series
pilot was picked up. "It was about the business, about keeping your
feet on the ground," she says. "It was just very encouraging." Adds
executive producer John Masius: "He has the concern of a guy you'd
want to be your dad."
contrast, Farrell's own father, Joe, a Hollywood movie studio carpenter,
"was the disciplinarian," he says, "the figure who terrified me."
When Mike, the second of four children, was a junior in high school,
his father died of a heart attack at 50. (His mother, Agnes, 92, lives
in Farrell's guest house.) After a two-year stint in the Marines,
Farrell fulfilled a secret childhood ambition ("I was a very shy kid")
by joining an L.A. acting workshop. He landed small roles in '60s
series such as McHale's Navy and the 1967 film The Graduate while
building a family with first wife Judy Hayden, an actress.
couple divorced in 1980 ("We grew in different directions," he says).
Two years later, at a CBS affiliates' convention, Farrell (then costarring
in M*A*S*H) ran into Fabares (then in One Day at a Time), whose own
first marriage, to record mogul Lou Adler, had ended in the early
'70s. "I was so struck with this sense of ultimate decency about him,"
she says. They wed in 1984, just a year after Farrell's M*A*S*H family
had bid each other farewell in what remains TV's single most-watched
episode. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done as an actor,
because there were times when it wasn't appropriate to be crying,"
recalls Farrell, who remains close to the whole cast.
a vet on Providence,"I'm having a great time," says Farrell, whose
flexible schedule allows him time for his activist pursuits, including
his efforts to stop boys in the Third World from being recruited as
soldiers. Farrell recalls, on a trip to Somalia a few years ago, seeing
two boys playing with an automatic weapon. "Thank God it didn't go
off," he says, "but there was that sense of, 'Holy s--t, this could
be the end of these kids' lives!'" For the doctor, the fight never
Sophfronia Scott Gregory
Tom Cunneff in Los Angeles
18, 1999 -- © People Magazine