Posted by Hannah Locop on June 28, 2016 in Blog
A veteran of American television, Jamie Farr entertained audiences as a homesick Army Corporal in the 1970s television series M*A*S*H. Born Jameel Yusuf Abud Farah in Toledo, Ohio, Farr is one of many Arab Americans who have graced both the silver and the small screen. Raised in a Lebanese community, Farr is not only proud of his heritage, but he makes sure to incorporate his own life experiences into his work.
Farr’s mother, Jamelia Maalouli Abidili Abud Farah, was a seamstress. His father, Saleem Abud Farah owned a grocery store in Toledo. Through playing and working in the grocery store, Farr came to know his neighbors, all of whom were Lebanese. Growing up Farr took joy in the best of both cultures. From enjoying the delicacies of Lebanese cuisine at many of his friends’ or relatives’ homes to being inspired by the top American entertainers of the day. As a young boy, Farr prided himself on listening to entertainers like Red Skelton on the radio late into the night.
Skelton would later become Farr’s mentor. In 1953, Skelton travelled to Seoul, Korea to entertain American troops, and he enlisted Farr as his assistant. The two actors forged a bond that would last the rest of their lives. After returning from Seoul, Farr learned that his father passed away. Thinking he would have to quit acting in order to support his family, Farr approached Skelton merely to tell him the news. However, Skelton went a step further and took it upon himself to give Farr his first acting jobs in California so he could develop his talent and support his family at the same time. Farr played a ‘fraternity brother with a big nose’ named Snorkel alongside Skelton on the television series The Red Skelton Hour from 1956 to 1961. The friendship of legends like Skelton and Danny Thomas, also a Lebanese American, led Farr to become the actor and philanthropist he is today.
Farr has been in show business for more than fifty years but his first acting experience was during a local contest in Toledo. At 11 years old he won two dollars for his performance. Later his most well-known and revered role as Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Klinger on the television comedy M*A*S*H made him a household name. The show ran from 1972 to 1983 and followed the lives of American medical personnel aiding the U.S. military during the Korean War. Farr even spent time in Korea as a member of the military before acting in M*A*S*H, though he was not involved in combat. Such personal experiences came to be a part of his character. He gave Corporal Klinger Lebanese heritage and the hometown of Toledo, Ohio. Farr even used his own dog tags while acting on the show. Originally, his character was only intended to be in one episode. However, Corporal Klinger ended up being so popular with audiences that Farr became a permanent member of the M*A*S*H cast. He often sums up his experience on the show saying, “I came for one day, but I stayed for 11 years.”
Outside of acting, Farr has remained dedicated to his hometown of Toledo and the Arab American community there. In 1995, he began the Jamie Farr Scholarship for high school students with financial need in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. He also organized the annual Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Golf Tournament for 28 years. The tournament raised funds for children’s charities across Ohio and Michigan.
The Arab American Institute Foundation awarded Jamie Farr with a Special Recognition Award at the 2016 Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala. At the gala, Farr humbly remarked, “I just hope I made you laugh, left you a little lighter and maybe taught you something in the process.” For many, he will be remembered not just as an entertainer, but as an Arab American who elevated his community through his work on and off the screen.
Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.