R.I.P. Louisa Moritz, the nurse who slapped Hot Lips on 'M*A*S*H'
When it came to M*A*S*H, "Hot Lips" Houlihan was a true boss in all meanings of the word. She was literally in charge of nurses at the 4077th, and she kept her charges — and everyone else — in line. It was a brave nurse who spoke up against Major Margaret.
But in one memorable episode, "Bombed," an underling slapped Hot Lips square across the face. With good reason. Artillery shells are rocking surgical unit. The lights above the surgical table flash with blasts of fire. The tent shakes, the ground rumbles. And Nurse Sanchez, who is assisting Hawkeye, loses her nerve. She screams with each blast.
Hot Lips pulls Sanchez aside and smacks her on the cheek. Sanchez reflexively slaps Hot Lips right back. It's a brilliant little moment.
Louisa Moritz was the actor behind the surgical mask as Sanchez. Her face is covered for much of the episode, but her mask slips off at one moment, prompting Hawkeye to blurt, "Put your mask on, Sanchez!"
That was a highlight of Moritz's television career, but she got more screentime in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She played Rose, one of the women that McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) sneaks into the ward.
Born in Cuba, Moritz made her way to American during the political upheaval on the island in the midcentury. In 1969, she landed a recurring role on the short-lived The Joe Namath Show, a talk show hosted by the celebrity Jets quarterback. She played the "Mail Girl."
Elsewhere on the small screen, Moritz appeared on Ironside, The Rockford Files and three episodes of Love, American Style.
In 1974, a year before her M*A*S*H appearance, Moritz burst onto the scene — quite literally — in an early episode of Happy Days. She played Verne LaVerne, who jumps out of a giant cake during Potsie's cousin's bachelor party in "Richie's Cup Runneth Over."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Moritz died last month. She was 72.