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"The little-known stories behind well-known inventions"

Everyone knows the man who invented Chum Magic          By Paul Niemann

[SEPT. 28, 2006]  Ever since I started working with inventors in my first business, back in 1995, I've been approached by two main types of inventors: golf product inventors and fishing product inventors.

When you analyze why there seems to be such a disproportionately high percentage of inventors who created these two types of products, it makes perfect sense. These two sports are very hard to master, so there's always a market of golfers and fishermen who will buy nearly anything that promises to help improve their golf game or fishing game. Golfers and fishermen, by their very nature, have to be optimistic in order to continue their hobbies.

The same could be said of Cubs fans, but I digress.

An inventor named Gary was born in 1943 in Bristol, Conn., as the younger of two brothers. Or it may have been Ottumwa, Iowa, but I'm not sure because for some reason Ottumwa just sounds right for him. His father worked for a clock company, and his mother directed a local theater and was also a professional dancer.

Gary invented a fish attracter device that he named Chum Magic. The device holds chum (bait) and floats on the water. He claimed that it would help you catch three times more fish than normal. This reminds me of the time that my brother once caught 45 fish in an hour on the Niemann Family Farm. Personally, I always thought that he was just fooling us by catching the same fish over and over again, but whether you catch 45 different fish or the same fish 45 different times, it's still a pretty good hour.

Now back to our story. Gary had a habit of carrying around a teddy bear, and what's surprising about this is the fact that he did this not just as a child but also as an adult. For 7 1/2 years -- from 1972 to 1979 -- he carried it around with him on his job! You could say that it had something to do with the fact that he was born with a deformed left hand, but that wasn't the real reason.

He and his wife, Elisabeth, have two sons, and he has a daughter named Gena Gayle from his first wife. Gena went into acting, despite Gary's early advice against it.

Gary has two other patents in addition to his Chum Magic fish attracter device. Chum Magic never achieved the kind of commercial success that Gary did in his day job, which you may have heard of.

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Maybe it would help if I gave you his full name: Gary Burghoff.

If that name doesn't ring a bell, then maybe his "hometown" of Ottumwa, Iowa, will.

Why Ottumwa, Iowa?

Because that was the hometown of the fictional character Gary Burghoff played in the TV show "M*A*S*H." He played Radar O'Reilly.

There are a couple of other interesting facts about Gary Burghoff:

He played the role of Charlie Brown in the off-Broadway production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" more than 1,000 times. It was this role that led the producer of "M*A*S*H" to give him the screen test that led to his role of Radar in the movie.

The reason why you never saw his deformed hand on the show is because the cameras never showed it, often using props to hide it.

He was the only actor to star in both the original "M*A*S*H" movie and the TV series.

The man formerly known as Radar O'Reilly has written a couple of books about pets and even had his own show about pets on PBS in 1999. He also paints and sells his own collections of wildlife art.

As an accomplished drummer, Burghoff recorded albums and played in jazz clubs across the country.

"M*A*S*H," by the way, went on far longer than the Korean War did. It was on TV for 11 seasons, while the Korean War went on for three years.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann may be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2006

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