Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan was a fictional character first created in the book M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker. Actress Sally Kellerman portrayed her in the Robert Altman film adaptation (where the character was renamed "O'Houlihan"; however, like many of the M*A*S*H* characters, Hot Lips is probably best known from the television series, where her part was played by Loretta Swit. Having the advantage of an 11-year run on television, Swit's Houlihan became a significantly more developed character than originally portrayed in the film by Kellerman, in many ways demonstrating characteristics that would have been almost antithetical to the cinematic Hot Lips.
The character of "Hotlips Houlihan" was inspired by real-life Korean War MASH head nurse "Hotlips Hammerly," also a very attractive blonde, of the same disposition, and also from El Paso, Texas.
Major Houlihan is a member of the Army Nurse Corps and in charge of all the nurses at the MASH 4077 unit. She is devoted to her army career, having been born into the tradition. Her father, Colonel Alvin "Howitzer Al" Houlihan, was her role model for her career. As an army brat she was born in an army hospital and grew up on army bases, most notably Fort Ord.
Relationship With OthersEdit
Margaret can be very strict and deplores anyone who does not live up to her standard of military discipline, but she also displays her passionate side in the early part of the series through her relationship with Frank Burns. This relationship eventually ran its course (there were hints that she really wasn't happy with Frank and knew he wasn't the man they both liked to think he was) and Margaret became engaged to, and then married, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscot (which precipitated Frank's departure). Colonel Potter and even Hawkeye and BJ feared she was making a mistake, caught up in the euphoria of being too happy, of being in love with the idea of being in love, and in the end, they were right. The marriage did not last very long, as Donald mistreated and cheated on her. Later, she had a brief affair with Jack Scully, but that did not last very long, either with his increasingly obvious dismissal of her rank and her worth as a woman. In early seasons of the television show, it was shown that Margaret had a crush on Captain Trapper John McIntyre, professing how attractive she found his crooked smile and sturdy frame. She also had a brief relationship with Hawkeye Pierce, whose talent for kissing often left her speechless.
Hot Lips spent the early part of the series battling Hawkeye and Trapper along with Frank and, additionally, criticizing Lt. Col. Henry Blake for his lack of authority when not going over his head, filing formal complaints. Many early jokes were at her expense, such as when a gassed boxer fell on her and Frank and when she said the oxymoronic description of Hawkeye & Trapper John: "They're ruining this war for all of us!" While she didn't seem to hate Henry as an individual, she once described him as a "golf playing figurehead" and later as a "fly fishing impostor". She also referred to him as "Col. Bubble-Head." Henry generally let her criticisms roll off his back, but at one point he mocked Hot Lips by saying that she'd gone over his head so many times she'd given him "athlete's scalp". Still, she and Frank both wept for Henry when they heard of his death. By contrast, she got along very well with Colonel Sherman T. Potter, the camp's 2nd CO, who was something of a father figure to her.
The most noticeable of her physical feminine attributes among her male counterparts was her well-shaped voluptuous rear-end housed in very tight Army pants and was often literally the "butt" of jokes. One of which was when Hawkeye needed to give her an inoculation shot and coaxed her into letting him give it to her in the caboose. Hawkeye had only one word to say and that was "Magnificent!" Another was when a rash of practical jokes was sweeping through the camp including an unknowing Margaret parading around the camp in her bathrobe with the backside portion cut out resulting in several whistles, howls and a marriage proposal. (It was later revealed in the episode that Margaret made up the latter incident as part of B.J.'s elaborate practical joke on Hawkeye.)
Over the run of the show Margaret mellowed from a completely "by-the-book" head nurse (who was also not above using her romantic contacts with superior officers to attempt to get her way), to a more relaxed member of the cast who tempered her authority with humanity. Key episodes in this development were "The Nurses" which had Margaret making an emotional tirade to her nurses about how their disdain of her hurt, which thoroughly stuns them, and "Comrades In Arms" where Hawkeye and Margaret make peace once and for all while lost in the wilderness. When the show ended Margaret was on her way back to the US to take up a position in an army hospital. Not coincidentally, the change came when Linda Bloodworth-Thomason joined the show's writing team.
Some fans regretted the change of heart in Hot Lips' character. While some loved how she became a kinder, more gentle person, others felt that she worked better as strict, no-nonsense antagonist with a slight problem regarding her passion. Even at her most antagonistic, she was generally allowed more humanity than her fellow antagonist, Frank Burns.
The name "Hot Lips" originates from an infamous scene in M*A*S*H, the movie, in which Margaret O'Houlihan is played by Sally Kellerman. During sex with Frank Burns, Margaret is unaware that the public address microphone has been planted beneath their cot, broadcasting graphic details of their sexual encounter throughout the camp on its public address system. Other members of the camp overhear her asking Frank to kiss her "hot lips" (presumably her labia). This nickname was used - without the sexual meaning - more in the earlier seasons of the TV series but was used less and less as time went on.
Several times throughout the series, the awards that Major Houlihan had earned during her service in the army could be seen on her uniform. She had earned the:
- Army Commendation Medal
- Korean Service Medal
- United Nations Service Medal