Wayne Rogers Birmingham native Wayne Rogers (1933-2015) is best known for his role as “Trapper” John McIntyre on the long-running television series, M*A*S*H. After retiring from acting, he became a successful financial analyst and investor.
William Wayne McMillan Rogers III was born on April 7, 1933, the younger of two children of William Wayne McMillan Rogers Jr., a lawyer and former Rhodes scholar; his mother was a nurse. He attended public schools in Birmingham, including Ramsay High School, but began cutting classes and getting into trouble after his father died in 1949. His mother enrolled him in the Webb School, a boarding school in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where he learned to love literature. Rogers then attended Princeton University, in Princeton, New Jersey, graduating in 1954 with a degree in history. While at Princeton, Rogers was a member of the Princeton Triangle Club, a theater club founded in 1891, and it was there that he first developed an interest in acting.
After graduation, Rogers joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a navigator aboard the USS Denebola, a stores ship that carried supplies to ports all over the world. In 1955, the ship was put in drydock at the naval port in Red Hook, Brooklyn, for repainting. While there, Rogers accepted an invitation to attend a play rehearsal on Broadway. Rogers has said in several interviews that this was a turning point for him. He had planned to enter Harvard Law School after his Navy term ended, but instead he decided to pursue a career as an actor. He resigned his commission in 1957 and worked a series of jobs, including waiting tables, driving a cab, and serving as a lifeguard, to pay for acting lessons at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater under renowned acting coach Sanford Meisner and choreographer Martha Graham.
He soon began to get parts in off-Broadway plays, including a 1958 production of the play Chaparral, which also featured the debut performance of actor Gene Hackman. Rogers starred in several productions in Chicago as well, including Teahouse of the August Moon and Bus Stop. Rogers’s theatrical work earned him a recurring role on the daytime soap opera Edge of Night and spots on several other television shows, including Zane Grey Theater and the soap Search for Tomorrow. At this time, Rogers shared an apartment with actor Peter Falk, now best known as the star of Columbo, and he also began dating actress Mitzi McWhorter in New York. The couple married in 1960; they would have two children.
In 1961, while visiting Los Angeles, Rogers tried out for a part on a television series pilot, Stagecoach West. Unimpressed with the production, he returned to New York, expecting that it would fail. The series, however, was picked up for one season, so Rogers and his wife relocated to Los Angeles. When it ended, he remained in California and during the next decade worked regularly as a guest star on many of the most popular television shows of the time, including The F.B.I., Cannon, and The Fugitive. He also acted in several films, including a small part in the iconic Cool Hand Luke (1967), starring Paul Newman.
In 1971, Rogers was offered a role that would bring him his greatest and most lasting fame: “Trapper” John McIntyre on the series M*A*S*H, adapted from the 1970 film of the same name. Set in a field hospital during the Korean War, the show premiered on September 17, 1972. It focused on the lives and adventures of the surgeons, nurses, and other staff who operated the facility. The show’s mix of comedy and drama was an immediate success with audiences. Rogers initially was thrilled with the role and the attention, but as the series progressed over three seasons, he came to feel that his character was being diminished in favor of the increasingly popular character of Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda. In the midst of a contract dispute in 1975, Rogers left the show to pursue other roles.
In 1976, he played a detective on City of Angels; from 1979 to 1982, he played a surgeon on House Calls; and from 1993 to 1995, he played a private investigator on Murder, She Wrote. In addition, he continued to perform as a guest star on television series and appeared in several made-for-television and theatrical films.
In 1983, Rogers and McWhorter divorced, and in 1988 he married producer Amy Hirsh, with whom he founded Stargazer Entertainment Inc., a film and television production company. Stargazer produced several award-winning television movies as well as Hollywood Report, an entertainment news program on the American Movie Classics channel that Rogers hosted in 1995.
During his time on M*A*S*H, Rogers befriended real estate developer Lew Wolff and became more involved in his finances and investments. His interest had been sparked by an incident during his early years in Los Angeles in which a manager had embezzled nearly $250,000 from his friend Peter Falk. Rogers learned that many other stars, few of whom were financially savvy, had lost large sums to dishonest managers. He decided to educate himself about safe and reliable investing practices and manage his own money. He became so adept at financial management that other actors, including Falk and James Caan, entrusted their earnings to him.
In 2000, he founded Wayne M. Rogers & Co., a financial investment firm. He sat on the boards of a number of banks and was part owner of several banks and a shareholder of the Oakland A’s baseball team. He also was chairman and co-owner of several successful businesses, including Kleinfeld Bridal, the largest retail wedding apparel store in the nation, and Stop-N-Save, a privately held convenience store chain based in Tallahassee, Florida. In the 2010s, Rogers was named to the board of directors of a semiconductor company. In addition, he financed commercial and residential real estate projects and developed properties, many focused on military use, in California, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. His acting skills combined with his financial acumen earned him a spot as a regular panelist on Fox Business Channel’s highly rated weekly show Cashin’ In, and he was invited to testify before the House Banking Committee on the financial crisis of 2007.
Rogers was awarded a star on the Hollywood “Walk of Fame” in 2005. He died in Los Angeles on December 31, 2015, and was interred in Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary.