ACTIVIST ACTOR MIKE FARRELL
-- JUST WANTS TO BE CALLED MIKE
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.
[March 30, 2007]
He's known as a star of MASH and Providence,
and as a political activist, but Mike Farrell prefers for everyone to "Just
Call Me Mike" -- the title of his new autobiography. The reason
for that title was one of the topics Farrell discussed at the Santa Monica
Barnes & Noble on Friday, March 23.
"I don't want to be called
a Communist, as I've been called," explained Farrell. "I don't want
to be called a left-winger. I don't want to be called a red-stater
or a blue-stater. Not because I'm not some of those things, but because
I think that labeling cuts off communication.
"When I do an interview for
television or radio and somebody says, What do I call you? Actor? An activist? I say, Why don't you just call me Mike?
"Just calling me Mike allows
me and you to talk. We might agree or disagree, but at least you
don't assume you know everything about me and my positions, and I don't
assume the same about you."
Yet it's a safe guess that
the several dozen people who turned out for Farrell's book-signing know
him mostly for his acting or activism. Which is partially why his
book is largely an autobiography of his activism.
"I was reluctant to do this
book," said Farrell. "Celebrity books often are such self-puffery,
they make me a little nauseous. The idea of being part of something
that is perceived to be, or is, another tome from some self-inflated person
who thinks he knows something wasn't something that I thought I'd get involved
"[But] a friend of mine who
is associated with the publisher said to me, Write a book about your
activism. I said, I can't write a book about activism. What will I do, write a manual? But I can write about this guy who
came from a certain place, that was a springboard that moved him in a certain
direction. He had these experiences, and they conflated and came
together to create this life [of activism]."
One of Farrell's life-changing
experiences was in the Marine Corps. "I had a buddy. We went
out on liberty together. When we came back, there was tension in
unit. I couldn't figure it out. I finally realized it was because
he was black and I was white. The unit didn't think blacks and whites
should be pals, going out socially together."
After leaving the Marines,
Farrell had a job that took him through the South. "I saw white-only
drinking fountains, and white-only restrooms, and things that I thought
were historic anachronisms, yet were a part of the United States in the
1950s. I was offended by that. I thought had my friend Tyus
been with me, he couldn't have been with me. We couldn't go to the
same places together. Those kinds of things helped educate me to
be somebody that stood up and said, what a minute, this isn't right."
Those experiences culminated
Call Me Mike. "As reluctant as I was to get into it, I loved
doing the research, thinking back about my family, how it all came about
and where I got to. And now the thing that I didn't want to do, a
self-important book by somebody who thinks he has something to say ...
one. And as far as the self- importance is concerned, I apologize."
During the Q&A session,
the first question came from the Hollywood Investigator, which asked Farrell
for his take on the war in Iraq, the tensions with Iran, and the Democratic
Congress's response to the Bush administration's war policies.
"I despise what's going on
in Iraq," said Farrell. "We were wrong to go to war in Iraq. We have no business being there. Our troops are an incendiary factor
in a volatile situation, and they are being therefore abused and misused. We ought to get them out as quickly as we can.
"In terms of Iran, I think
there are certain assumptions being made, most of them by the same people
that made the justification for going to war in Iraq. Ahmadinejad is a man who speaks his mind clearly, and his mind is a little warped from
what I can tell. But he doesn't control the military. He is
not in control of the country. The election there repudiated many
of his positions and him. I don't think we are at risk from Iran. I don't think we ought to be considering invading Iran. We ought
to be opening up diplomatic relationships, or at least discussions, call
it what you like. It's stupid for people to not be talking to one
another. The Bush administration's policy seems to me to make no
sense at all with regard to Iran.
"I read recently there was
an opening from Syria to Israel, [with Syria] saying we have mutual needs
and mutual concerns that we should discuss. Condoleezza
Rice said to the Israelis, you should not talk to Syria. I don't get that. I'm not sure I follow what the logical train is. I am rather fearful
that I understand the intention behind all this. More ratcheting
up, more confrontationalism, more brinksmanship, and the kind of thing
that can provoke military action. I think it serves no purpose at
"Is the Democratic Party
doing enough? The party is in a tough spot. Everybody within
it doesn't agree. This administration has moved things along so far
that, given the nature of the democratic process, and particularly the
way Congress works, it's gonna take some time to move the increments back
to what I would like to see.
"While what I would like
is for them to say: Cut off the funding for the war now. Bring the
troops home now. Let's get the hell out of there and let those people
solve their own problems -- that's not something that we can expect to
come out of Congress.
"Some elements of the Democratic
Party are doing a very good job. A big step was made when they included
a cutoff date for troops to start coming back [in March
23's House bill]."
Farrell has long opposed
capital punishment, and an audience member asked for his prognosis on the
issue. "The death penalty is on the way to being abolished right
now," Farrell answered, citing events in California, New York, Florida,
New Jersey, Maryland, and Montana. "In Texas we have a long, long
way to go, unfortunately." He added that while 85% of Americans favored
capital punishment 10 or 15 years ago, a recent Gallup poll says that most
Americans prefer life without parole over the death penalty. "That's
the first time in 40 years that that's happened, so that's a sign that
[capital punishment] is on the way out. It can't happen soon enough."
Farrell also regaled the
audience with tales and jokes about his days on MASH and Providence. He's still actively seeking roles, but allowed that, at 68, he's reached
"a certain age" for which not many good roles are written.
Farrell cited Good
Night and Good Luck as a favorite film. "Motion pictures
that say something, help up understand our history and where we're failing
today, are great things. I don't watch much TV. I'm appalled
by so-called reality television, that is really about how much are you
willing to humiliate yourself to get your 15 minutes of fame. Unfortunately
it teaches people that fame is the important goal. And/or wealth. Too many people buy into that concept in this country. Which is very
Despite the Iraq war and
reality TV, Farrell is optimistic about America's future. "The fundamental
principles of this country make me very proud. The dishonoring of
them by various leaders makes me very angry. This country is the
greatest and most powerful in the history of the world. We have a
big obligation to live up to our own principles, and in so doing provide
beacon of hope to the world. Not go out and tell people how to fix
things, as we are wont to do, but demonstrate through our own behavior
the possibility that is in us as human beings. That is the real value
of this nation, and one we fail by the kind of cowboy mentality that's
"But I'm optimistic. We have a self-correcting mechanism, demonstrated [by] the last election. People finally said, we don't want to be lied to. We don't want to
have our country's values trashed. We don't want to become the laughing
stock of the world. We don't want to be killing people unnecessarily
and inappropriately who haven't done anything to us.
"People in this country are
divided in lots of ways, but one thing they are more than anything else
is fair. If you give them the information, generally speaking, people
will respond appropriately to it. They may have different ideas about
how you solve the problems, but an understanding of the problem creates
hope. I find inspiration and hope everywhere I go."
For more about
Mike Farrell's life philosophy and political activism, read Just
Call Me Mike.