For many authors, a tour is a necessary evil, something to be tolerated and maybe silently dreaded. Mike Farrell, famous for his role as B.J. Hunnicutt on the TV classic “M*A*S*H,” had a quite different experience.
Author, actor and activist Farrell will appear at the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater at 7 p.m. March 3, to discuss his most recent book, “Of Mule and Man.”
The book, a tale of a cross-country odyssey, evolved as an extension from one of the most common types of promotion for an author: The cross-country book tour. The tour for his first book, “Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist,” was an unexpected joy that blossomed into opportunity.
“When I wrote the first book — and the publisher that released it, Akashic, is a small publication company, and they frankly didn’t have the money, the budget, to fly me from place to place, and they asked me if I would be willing to drive. And I said, ‘Actually, my wife and I love road trips,’ ” Farrell said in an interview.
So, Farrell and his wife drove up and down both the east and west coasts, loving the kind of trip that most authors would shudder to think of. “For us it was a ball. And, I suppose, it is unusual, but for us it was great fun,” he said.
So, when the paperback edition of “Just Call Me Mike” was released, his publisher asked if he’d be interested in doing it again, only this time across the whole country. Farrell instantly agreed, resulting in the trip which is chronicled in “Of Mule and Man.”
The book evolves as a story of not just the experiences of Farrell discussing “Just Call Me Mike,” but also of the relationship between Farrell and his car, a Prius which he nicknamed “Mule.” Since his wife was injured and could not accompany him on his trip, Farrell traveled by himself and the car he drove developed as a character in the story.
“The car, because I was alone, really became someone with whom I interacted, and was, in some cases, very angry at, and, in some cases, very grateful to,” Farrell said. “So it really kind of became a relationship, and hence the title.”
The trip became much more than a book tour, however. Farrell was also able to speak out on behalf of many causes, from human rights to his opposition to the death penalty. His conversations and debates are chronicled in “Of Mule and Man,” and Farrell said they served to underscore Americans’ similarities, not their differences.
“For me, it was a kind of reaffirmation of my belief that, despite the fact that the media and the political world wants to separate us, there’s a great kind of agreement across the country,” he said. “I think I say in the book, there are no such thing, in my mind, as ‘blue states’ and ‘red states.’ I really think that there are people of good will and willingness to discuss issues respectfully — whether they agree or disagree — wherever you go.”
He also said his involvement with a television show as popular and beloved as “M*A*S*H” also helps him bridge that divide, as his appearances draw a wide range of people who still revere the show.
“The combination of my being involved with something that was in their living rooms — or in some cases their bedrooms — for so many years, and having been accepted and embraced the way it was, and then the concerns I am speaking to, it seems to really bring a kind of cross-section of people out to the places I go, that I find just extraordinarily, deeply meaningful,” Farrell said.
The effect may be amplified here, as few cities have a connection with a single television show like Toledo has with “M*A*S*H.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Farrell said with a chuckle. “I just got an e-mail from Jamie (Farr), actually. Yeah, Jamie made Toledo a part of the show.”
And Farrell said he hopes that the talk he gives here will evolve in much the same way the events discussed in “Of Mule and Man” did, leading to a wide-ranging discussion that encompasses not only the book itself, but a myriad of other issues.
“What I also want to do is be mindful of the fact that, as you’ve suggested, some of the people that are coming there are interested in the issues that I’m talking about, and others really want to know about ‘M*A*S*H,’ and really want to know about, even the extension of that, Hollywood, or motion pictures and television, or ‘Providence,’ the other show I was involved with. So, I want to be respectful of peoples’ needs and desires, and give them the time.”
Jeff McGinnis posts weekly pop culture reviews and stories at www.toledofree press.com. He appears on the Andrew Z radio show Tuesdays at 7 p.m. E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.