Childhood & Early Life
Loretta Jane Swit was born on November 4, 1937, in Passaic, New Jersey, to Nellie and Lester Swit. Her parents were Polish. They were also huge film buffs. Her mother often took Loretta to theaters with her. Hence, Loretta became interested in the films during those formative years of her life.
She once stated that watching movies was like going to school for her. Thus, she began dreaming about a career in acting ever since she was a kid. Her parents supported her and enrolled her into dance classes.
She turned out to be an artistic child and won an arts plaque when she 6 years old. Additionally, she was also quite an introvert and did not like to play outside much. Her mother often screamed at her to make her play with other kids.
However, as she grew up, her parents became stricter about her future. Once, while she was performing at a local theater, her parents came to watch her show. They became worried and asked her to focus on her academics. However, by then, Loretta had become determined about building a career in acting.
She graduated from the ‘Pope Pius XII High School’ in Passaic. She then moved to Bloomfield, where she worked as a stenographer. However, her interests lay elsewhere. She moved to New York City to study acting and singing at the ‘American Academy of Dramatic Arts.’ Additionally, she also trained in acting under Gene Frankel in Manhattan, who taught her the details of method acting.
She also began doing theater around the same time and toured around the country. By the late 1960s, she had also begun auditioning for film and TV roles.
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She made her acting debut in 1969, playing multiple roles in four episodes of the police-procedural drama series ‘Hawaii Five-O.’ She made guest appearances in series such as ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Mannix.’
In 1972, she made her film debut with the supporting role of ‘Hilary McBride’ in the comedy film titled ‘Stand Up and Be Counted.’
The same year, after appearing in guest roles in series such as ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Young Dr. Kildare.’ She made a major TV breakthrough, playing one of the main roles in the war comedy–drama series titled ‘M AS H.’ Her character was that of a lusty, talented head nurse named ‘Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan.’ The series was set against the backdrop of the Korean War.
During the first few seasons, her character was shown as a single and highly patriotic girl, but as the series progressed, her character mellowed down. The series was a huge critical and commercial success and ran for 11 seasons, covering 256 episodes. At its time, the season finale, which was telecast on February 28, 1983, was the most-watched episode in American TV history.
Loretta received huge acclaim for her portrayal and won two ‘Emmy Awards.’ The series ran until 1983, and in between, Loretta also appeared on other remarkable TV shows, such as ‘Love, American Style’, ‘The Merv Griffin Show,’ and ‘The Bobby Vinton Show.’
In 1973, she began appearing on the hit game show titled ‘Pyramid,’ and until 1979, she had appeared in 90 episodes of the show.
Around the same time, she also appeared on another popular game show, ‘Match Game’ (51 episodes). She also appeared on the talk show titled ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ (six episodes).
Her film career ran smoothly in the 1970s, with major appearances in films such as ‘Deadhead Miles’ and ‘Freebie and the Bean.’
The 1975 horror film titled ‘Race with the Devil’ featured her as ‘Alice,’ one of the lead roles. The film, which had Peter Fonda playing the lead role, was a huge critical and commercial success.
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She also appeared in key roles in films such as ‘Beer’ and ‘Whoops Apocalypse.’
Her TV career in the 1980s was mostly spent doing TV films. Throughout the decade, she appeared in many TV films, such as ‘The Kid from Nowhere,’ ‘The Execution,’ and ‘A Christmas Calendar’ (TV special).
The frequency of her on-screen appearances lessened to a great degree in the 1990s, as she appeared in a handful of films during that time. One of them was ‘Forest Warrior.’ She played a supporting role in the film. It was an average critical and commercial success. She also appeared in the film titled ‘Beach Movie’ (1998) around the same time.
She mostly appeared in guest roles on TV, appearing in series such as ‘Diagnosis: Murder’ and ‘Cow and Chicken’ (voice). Additionally, she appeared in six episodes of the game show ‘Hollywood Squares.’
Her last film appearance to date was in the film ‘Play the Flute’ in 2019.
She has written a book titled ‘A Needlepoint Scrapbook,’ detailing various needlepoint designs.
She received her own “star” on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 1989.