Wayne Rogers

Wayne Rogers

Born in Birmingham, AL, Rogers attended Princeton University and graduated in 1954 with a degree in History. He then entered the Navy, and while reports conflict as to when his interest in performing was launched - some say while he was at Princeton; others while he was in the service - it was established that he headed to New York following his discharge, studying with both renowned acting coach Sanford Meisner and dance legend Martha Graham at the Neighborhood Playhouse. While in New York, he roomed with another future TV star, Peter Falk, who was frequently amazed at Rogers' knowledge of the financial world and his ability to support himself through smart investments.Rogers' acting career was slow to start in the late 1950s - he appeared off-Broadway in several productions and had a short-lived role on the daytime soap "The Edge of Night" (CBS/ABC, 1956-1984) as well as small parts in features like Robert Wise's gritty noir "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1959). In 1960, he earned his first starring role in a primetime series, a Western called "Stagecoach West" (ABC, 1960-61), but the program ended after one season. For the next decade, Rogers made numerous appearances in episodic series with occasional forays into feature films, playing a gambler in "Cool Hand Luke" (1967) and a minor role in "The Glory Guys" (1965), a Western written by Sam Peckinpah. During this time, Rogers also bankrolled and co-wrote two exploitation films by eccentric exploitation director Ted V. Mikels - a surreal nudie film called "Dr. Sex" (1964), for which he was billed as "Juan Rogero," and a crude but enjoyable horror title called "The Astro-Zombies" (1968), starring John Carradine and Wendell Corey. In both cases, Rogers' investments returned a profit.In 1972, Rogers was cast as Trapper John in the TV series, "M*A*S*H," enjoying the widest appeal and largest audience of his career. Unfortunately, it became painfully evident to him that despite sharing what he thought was top-billing with Alan Alda (Hawkeye Pierce), both the show's viewers and writers preferred Alda's character to his. No acrimony occurred between the two performers, but by 1975, he was fed up with his second-banana status and simply quit the show (Trapper John's departure was attributed to his discharge from the service). An ugly legal battle between Rogers and the show's producers ensued, to the tune of $2.9 million dollars, but it was eventually dismissed after several years of wrangling. The producers' claim that Rogers had breached his contract by abandoning the show held no water, as it was discovered that Rogers had refused to sign his contract due to objections over a morality clause in the fine print.Years later, Rogers expressed some regret in leaving the show, especially in hindsight of its lengthy network run. But despite the unpleasantness surrounding his departure, he participated in several "M*A*S*H"-related specials produced by CBS and other networks, most notably the 30th anniversary reunion special in 2002. After "M*A*S*H," Rogers kicked around in various made-for-TV movies and made a handful of attempts to find solo success in a series. The most ambitious of these was "City of Angels" (NBC, 1976-77), producer Stephen J. Cannell's nod to film noir and pulp detective fiction. Rogers fit the role of a tough and wise-cracking gumshoe, but the series did not last a full season. More popular was "House Calls" (CBS, 1979-1982), a likable romantic comedy which partnered Rogers with Lynn Redgrave, as lovers and co-workers at a major metropolitan hospital. The show enjoyed decent ratings throughout its run, and garnered Rogers a Golden Globe nomination in 1981. He also enjoyed a substantial role as a Southern police chief in the Emmy-nominated miniseries, "Chiefs" in 1983. For the remainder of the 1980s and 1990s, however, Rogers bided his time in TV movies and episodic shows, including a recurring role on "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996). He made sporadic returns to film during this period as well, including a rare lead in a low-key drama about a jazz combo called "The Gig" (1985) and a turn as real-life Southern civil rights advocate Morris Dees in Rob Reiner's "Ghosts of Mississippi" (1996). By the late eighties, he began branching out into executive production for several independent films, plays and TV movies. He also fell back on his money-making skills, launching his own investment company, Wayne Rogers & Co., which helped manage the finances of many of his Hollywood contemporaries, including old friend Peter Falk. Rogers' talent for investment made him a sought-after guest on many financial news programs, most notably "Cashin' In" (Fox News), where in 2003, his portfolio won the program's competition for the best performance. In 2005, Rogers received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2006, he was named to the board of directors for Vishay Intertechnology, Inc, a Fortune 1000 electronic manufacturing company. Wayne Rogers died in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia on December 31, 2015, at the age of 82.