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R.I.P. Kellye Nakahara, who played Nurse Kellye on 10 seasons of M*A*S*H

Image: The Everett Collection

Of all of M*A*S*H's many nurses, from head nurse Margaret Houlihan to Hawkeye's original sweetie Lt. Dish, Nurse Kellye arguably brought the most sunshine. Played by Kellye Nakahara in her first-ever acting role, Nurse Kellye appeared in 167 episodes, just 10 shy of Gary Burghoff's Radar.

Nakahara was from Hawaii, but as a young artist, she’d recently moved to San Francisco. That’s where she met her husband, David Wallett, who swept her away to Los Angeles and encouraged her to try acting. Soon, she landed a bit part on M*A*S*H as "Nurse #1."

Nakahara was initially in a minor role, as it was her first experience as a hired actor. She made her uncredited debut in the season-two episode "Divided We Stand."

She worked out her nerves on set by doing silly things like tap-dancing to shake them out. The crew noticed her antsy antics and the next thing she knew, Nakahara told NPR in 2016, the character started being shaped to be more and more like her authentic self: "One of the scenes is me tap dancing, and it was really hilarious because I would think I was tap dancing and trying to practice tap dancing – which was awful – in my boots all the time while waiting for a scene to start. And all of the things that I really was off-screen, they put into my character."

Beyond fleshing out her onscreen persona, Nakahara also sparked friendships that ensured Nurse Kellye stuck around.

She told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, "Gene [Reynolds] and Alan [Alda] liked me. All of a sudden, I was being written in as Nurse 123 and then Nurse Able, Baker and Charlie. At some point, Alan said he couldn't keep calling me 'Nurse 1.' 'You're Kellye. Nurse Kellye.'"

Nurse Kellye did not remain such a minor presence.

There's "Hey, Look Me Over," where she's the episode star, challenging Hawkeye on his superficial views and sharing two memorable dances with Alan Alda. In "Mail Call, Again," she draws a laugh in a close-up shot, puffing on a cigar to celebrate the birth of Harry Morgan’s character Potter’s granddaughter. She’d share an even more significant scene with Morgan again when it came time to shoot the show’s final episode. For "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," a scene was famously added to the episode in which an overnight bombing sparks a wildfire in the forest surrounding the camp, forcing an evacuation.

Nakahara told The Hollywood Reporter, "I was the first Asian who didn't play one. I was just an American soldier, a nurse on the same level as everyone else. My true ethnicity never even came up."

Following M*A*S*H, Nakahara-Wallett made sporadic guest appearances on series such as NYPD Blue and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch but largely pursued her painting. 

It was her Kellye Wallett Studio Facebook page that broke the news that Kellye passed away on February 16.

"Yesterday we lost one of the most beautiful souls on earth. We will miss you so much Kellye!" they posted on Monday, February 17. TMZ confirmed the news. The actress was 72.

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