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Loretta Swit of ‘M*A*S*H’ talks art and animals

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Loretta Swit was invited into our homes each week during her 11 years as a member of the cast of “M*A*S*H” – one of television’s most iconic series.

But even during the “M*A*S*H” years and beyond, Swit says that her first love was never far away - painting in watercolor – something she had been doing since the age of six.

Sixty-five of those watercolor paintings and drawings are featured in the new book “Swit Heart: The Watercolor Artistry & Animal Activism of Loretta Swit.” Proceeds from the sale of the book will be collected by her Switheart Animal Alliance Foundation and will benefit a number of charities and programs dedicated to ending animal suffering and cruelty. 

Last December, Swit received the Betty White Award – “for all she has done to protect and care for animals” – from Actors & Others For Animals. 

“I was swept off my feet at the announcement,” Swit told me during a recent phone interview. “Many of my friends were there and I introduced the book there too. It was an amazing day.” 

Swit makes watercolor painting look easy, but it’s a medium that many artists find notoriously difficult – something Swit says took her by surprise.

“I always liken it to ‘the bumblebee theory,’” she said. “According to aeronautical statistics, the wingspan, weight and breadth of the bumblebee, at least on paper, should not be able to fly. Because the bumblebee hasn’t read the stats, he flies anyway.” 

When I asked Swit if she believes that some states are reluctant to toughen or enforce animal welfare laws, she responded that it isn’t reluctance on the part of the state, but that their priorities lie elsewhere.

“We’re still killing each other,” she said. “I think the consideration for animals is a little too far down on the totem pole. However, when you realize that a dog received the Congressional Medal of Honor and that we honor our war dogs and working dogs, you can see that little by little, progress is being made to bring awareness to lawmakers so they will see the need for protecting animals and their rights.” 

Swit’s brushes and paint are traveling with her as she tours the country, talking about her book and championing animal rights while also preparing for two new stage productions – “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” and “Eleanor Roosevelt: Her Secret Journey.” 

The cast of “M*A*S*H” were like members of our family and when it was time to say goodbye - 34 years ago this month - 106 million of us tuned into the farewell episode.

Swit told me that she once did sketches of each cast member and presented them as gifts.

“One Christmas, I did sketches of ‘my fellas’ – the cast. I framed them in fatigue green and gave each one as a Christmas present.”

I told Swift that when the 256th and final episode of “M*A*S*H” aired (“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” on February 28, 1983), I was packed into the TV lounge of my college dorm with about 100 other students. For two-and-a-half hours, the room was silent except for the sound of sniffing and the blowing of noses. We were glued to the screen and it felt like we were saying goodbye to a best friend.

“It was bittersweet for us too,” she said. “As Larry Gelbart (creator and producer) used to say, ‘There are only so many stories we can tell and after that, it’s just a variation on something we’ve already done.’ After 11 years, with all of the jokes and tears, you run the risk of repeating yourself.” 

Swift thinks it was a wise decision to wrap the series when they did.

“We called our own shot on that,” she said. “I think CBS and Fox wanted us to go on forever but it was time to leave the party. Still, it was painful to say goodbye.” 

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