Kellye Nakahara Wallett, who brought her bubbly, positive energy to her portrayal of Nurse Kellye Yamato on the sitcom “M*A*S*H,” died on Feb. 16 of cancer. She was 72.
Halfway through the first season of “M*A*S*H,” she got the part of Nurse Kellye, appearing continuously thereafter, with her role getting bigger every season. In total she appeared in 167 out of 251 episodes of the popular sitcom, which ran from 1972 to 1983.
In a 2016 NPR interview, Nakahara Wallett revealed that much of her own personality was incorporated into Nurse Kellye.
“All of the things that I really was off-screen, they put into my character. You know, a very, very competent person who was positive and upbeat and sweet,” she said.
“And when she just stood up to Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and told him off, she made it clear that there’s so much more to me than you think there is. And I got mail. I still get mail. I have people coming up to me that say, as far as being Asian, you’re the first role model that I had of an Asian that wasn’t portrayed as an Asian, just as a person.”
In the episode “Hey Look Me Over,” Nurse Kellye shares two dances with Hawkeye while also challenging him on his superficial views of women.
Alda, reflecting on the passing of his co-star, said, “What a good, feeling person she always was. Sensitive, kind and talented. I think often how, without even trying, she gave life to that spunky, adorable character in ‘Hey Look Me Over.’ And how, as a person, she possessed so much more.”
“She was a treasure,” said Loretta Swit, who played Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. “She was sunshine on the set. Sparkle. Laughter. Everyone loved her.”
“A light has gone out of the world,” said Mike Farrell, who played Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt. “A light that spread love and joy and beauty in every place, every time and every dimension in which Kellye moved. May her memory continue to brighten our days.”
“A warm, nurturing, caring soul. Kellye is forever my friend, a mentor, and cute as hell,” said Jeff Maxwell, who played Pvt. Igor.
In his blog, “M*A*S*H” producer/director/writer Ken Levine wrote, “She wasn’t just a co-worker from long ago. She was such a lovely person, had such a wonderful spirit, and brightened everyone’s day. And she was a terrific actress. Every line we gave her she delivered with honesty and warmth. We even gave her jokes. To me Kellye Nakahara was as much a part of ‘M*A*S*H’ as the names you see in big block yellow stencil letters in the opening credits.
“Longtime fans of the show began to recognize her. And because ‘M*A*S*H’ has been so successful in syndication, her episodes and memory will live on. She was a dear heart. I will miss her. We lost a member of the family. Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”
Nakahara was born on Jan. 16, 1948 on Oahu. She moved to San Francisco to establish herself as a professional artist, selling her watercolors of the San Francisco waterfront through the Polk Gallery. In 1967, she married David Wallett, a high school teacher, and moved to Los Angeles, where she began her career as an actress.
After “M*A*S*H” ended, Nakahara Wallett spent the next several years traveling the country appearing in TV commercials as a spokesperson for IBM.
Her film credits include “Clue” (1985), “3 Ninjas Kick Back” (1994) and “Doctor Doolittle” (1998). Her other TV credits include “Little House on the Prairie,” “Matt Houston,” “Hunter,” “Growing Pains,” “Dream On,” “NYPD Blue,” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”
In 1998, Kellye Wallett Studio was launched, with her friend of 30 years, Wendy Anderson, at the Pacific Asian Museum with over 800 attending featuring her collection “The Gardens of Pasadena,” features historical landmarks, gardens and neighborhoods in Pasadena.
Her master paintings are on indefinite loan to the City of Pasadena and still on exhibit at Pasadena City Hall.
In 2008, Nakahara Wallett was invited by Rep. Adam Schiff to paint a Christmas ornament for the Official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room and attended a dinner reception at the White House hosted by First Lady Laura Bush and a special recognition at Schiff’s holiday gathering.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend, Kellye Nakahara Wallett,” said Schiff, who has become a household name because of the impeachment hearings. “While Kellye was known nationwide for her role as Nurse Kellye on ‘M*A*S*H,’ Pasadena knew her as a compassionate neighbor and talented artist who always gave back to her community. For many years, Kellye served as a judge for our district’s Congressional Art Competition … In 2015, I honored her as one of our district’s Women of the Year. I am thinking of her friends and family during this difficult time. Our community is more colorful and wonderful for having Kellye in it. We will miss her dearly.”
Nakahara Wallett also served as the “ambassador” for the Cherry Blossom Festival SoCal in Pasadena and Los Angeles for 10 years, which attracted over 60,000 attendees.
Recently, Nakahara Wallett was commissioned to paint the Pasadena Civic Auditorium by the Pasadena Center Operating Company on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the auditorium, where it is on exhibit.
She is survived by husband David; daughter and son-in-law Nalani and Lee Coleman; son and daughter-in-law Will and Tatia Wallett; and grandchildren Maxton, Grayson, David, and William.
MeTV has posted some clips of Nakahara Wallett’s appearances on “M*A*S*H.”