What did you know about M*A*S*H before you joined the show?
Nothing, I had never watched the show which had only been on a couple of months.
When you first appeared in the show did you ever imagine you would be with it for 11 years?
No, I didn't. I was filming on the series Room 222, playing one of the teenagers and during my lunch hour, I went over to the M*A*S*H set. Gene Reynolds was sitting there with his brown bag lunch. I was curious about what they were filming and he and I got talking during the lunch break. Gene Reynolds asked if I would like to come work on the show and I started the next day - as just one of the nurses, we called ourselves Mini Mash. Pretty soon I got small parts as Nurse Able, Nurse Baker or Nurse Charlie.
Was it by accident that you and Nurse Kellye shared the same name?
Alan Alda gave me my name. He said, is Kellye your last name, first name, nickname - we had a long talk about it and had fun with it. He gave me my name Kealani Kellye five years after the show started.
What did you think of Kellye as a character?
She was an incredible person who desperately needed more lines. Alan Alda loved Nurse Kellye. He said she was the emotional nurse partner to Radar. Nurturing, feeling, everybody's friend and underneath a seething sexpot who was cute as hell and could tap dance.
Did you ever talk to any nurses that served in Korean?
Yes, we had a lot of guest nurses visit our set and lots of letters from viewers. Many times the writers would take their general stories and create a script.
"Hey, Look Me Over" is the episode most people remember you for, what were your feelings when you were first approached to do the episode?
Karen Hall (writer, producer) and Alan Alda were collaborating on "Hey" for a few months. It was a secret and a surprise, especially for me. One day they presented me with the script and I just started to cry. They wanted to capture Nurse Kellye as they saw her but also it was a tribute to our friendship and so of course it's my favorite episode.
Most of your scenes in the episode were with Alan Alda, what was he like to work with?
Let's put it this way, if you told me I'd have to run barefoot through glass with 100 lbs. of lead on my back while people shot at me to work with Alan again, I'll say what time do you want me there.
Do people still recognize you as Nurse Kellye?
Constantly. It's a nice identity. Nurse Kellye was a sweet person and fans are always very nice to me when they come up.
The final show got a great deal of publicity, what was the atmosphere like on the set?
It was exciting, charged with electricity and one of the saddest day of my life. And I doubt if any of us ever worked on a show that had as deep the feelings we had for that show -it was a treasured time for me.
Are you surprised by the number of people who still watch the show, many of whom weren't even born when it was made?
Totally surprised and its fabulous. I get fan mail constantly from younger people who had never seen the show before and think it's the first run, but then I also get a lot of fan mail from people in prison.
Do you ever watch reruns of the show?
I wish I could. I always said one day I would get a complete record from the first show to the last. However, I've never had time to do it. We're in different times and my schedule is so hectic that I'm not able to watch, but I think about it often.
Do you think there will ever be a M*A*S*H reunion show?
I think it would be wonderful. We all had such a great camaraderie as friends. But everyone is so busy and I'm not sure if the idea has even been brought up.
Do you feel that working on M*A*S*H caused problems getting other roles?
Yes and no. Sometimes producers call after seeing the show and remembering who I was. Other times, I wouldn't get the role because I was too visible a personality and it might detract on their project. People would think, oh, there's that Nurse on M*A*S*H. I was once up for a role as a Nurse on ER and told that it might be too confusing to the public to have a nurse from Korea show up on their show. That type of thing happens quite often. It often happens to sitcom actors who've been on a show for a while.
Last year you made a brief guest appearance in "NYPD Blue" what was that like?
"NYPD Blue" - it was a ball. I was hoping that they were going to make the janitor lady a recurring character because I had so much fun with the rest of the cast and they were terrific. I love doing little spots on different shows and surprising people.
You now spend a lot of time painting, is this something you've always done?
Yes, it's been my life work. It's what I started doing before working on M*A*S*H or any acting. I did it while I was on the show but not as much as I'd like due to time constraints. Now I can pursue my work full time.
Are you still acting or is most of your time spent painting?
I now act for fun or if I really like a project. I try to paint every day and my studio is so successful that I don't have time to do much else. I was thrilled with the Kellye Wallett Gardens Collection. We had a show last year at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena where over 800 people attended and the show sold out in one night, incredible!
We are having a special showing and reception at Borders in Pasadena on Friday, April 23rd at 8:00 p.m. We are expecting a huge crowd and everyone is invited. If you want more information contact my business partner, Wendy Anderson at 626-683-8243. We anticipate various other shows in other parts of the country later this year. This takes most of my time and I'm loving it!
Mike Farrell, William Christopher and Harry Morgan were at one of your showings recently, do you have much contact with the other cast members?
Yes, we love getting together when our schedule permits. Just this June, before my big show at the Pacific Asia Museum, the entire cast and crew that could make it came to my house for a huge potluck. It was all the writers, producers, cast and crew. We hadn't all been together in one place in years. It was a secret that was very well kept - we had our own M*A*S*H reunion. Bill Christopher bought a Thai veggie wrap, Harry Morgan brought pasta I think. Loretta Swit brought something healthy, like dessert, Burt Metcalf brought fabulous wine and my favorite writer, Dan Wilcox brought scrumptious shrimp. All I know is the tables were stuffed and filled with food and everyone had a wonderful and incredible time.
Gary Burghoff is also a talented artist, what do you think of his work?
Gary sent me some of his pieces because he couldn't' make my show in June and I sent him some of my work. He's a wonderful artist. He specializes in wild life paintings that are just beautiful. I'm thrilled to see how successful he is as an artist. He's also a lovely friend and a wonderful man.
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