Jameel Farah sat in the dark for hours some days, watching the stars streak across the sky even though it was the middle of the day. They studded the ceiling of Toledo’s Paramount Theatre, played hide-and-seek with painted clouds that drifted by while William Powell and Myrna Loy flickered on the screen.

He could see stars that hung in the windows of the houses near his in the North End. Families placed a white star in the window when a loved one went off to war, in Europe or in the Pacific theater. They turned the star over to a gold star when their pride turned to grief.

Sometimes he could see actual stars dot the heavens, when they weren’t blotted out by the light of the factories that ran day and night. During World War II, Toledo thrummed with the furious energy of a war-horse, its Champion and Autolite and Willys-Overland factories churning all hours of the day and night to bring victory. Jameel lived in the glow of the jeep, long before he became Jamie Farr.

Willys production; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http:///images2

Willys production; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http:///images2

It’s fitting that the most famous jeep driver in history has an all-American story to tell. His mother Jamelia was a seamstress and took in washing that would hang on the line, where factory soot made them more dirty than when they were washed. Her parents arranged her marriage to Samuel when they lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Samuel learned the butcher trade and accepted a job offer in Ohio. With daughter Yvonne, the family moved to Toledo, where Jameel Farah was born in 1934.

In Toledo, Samuel worked 14 hours a day to run a grocery store during the Depression, and Jameel would wait up to speak with him—in English, the only language his parents allowed in the home. When he was old enough, Jameel grabbed boxes of cereal for patrons at the top of the shelf with a pair of pincers. When the war came, it engulfed the family and their hometown.

Willys production; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http:///images2

Willys production; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http:///images2

The grocery store where Samuel worked fed Willys workers, and Jamelia mended their clothes while Yvonne took an overnight shift at the jeep plant, which would build more than 300,000 war machines during World War II.

The city had boomed before the Depression; by the time it ran full-bore to arm the services during the war, Toledo counted nearly 300,000 people, twice as many as it had at the turn of the century. Its neatly paved sidewalks teemed with people who shopped at LaSalle’s department store, watched the Mud Hens play at Swayne Field, or took in a movie at one of the lavish movie palaces like the Paramount, the place where Jameel saw the stars that would guide him west.

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

A wedding cake confection of a theater, a fairyland of plaster figures and gilded terra-cotta, the Paramount Theatre was Toledo at its richest. It had cost nearly $3 million to build and opened in February 1929. It had its own chorus line, its own house orchestra, and a $55,000 Wurlitzer organ. When he wasn’t watching Toledo Mud Hens baseball games from a knothole in the fence for 50 cents’ admission, or begging bar patrons at Tony Packo’s to buy his gang hot dogs and eating them in the parking lot, Jameel would go to the movies, three times a day at 12 cents a piece, and watch his idols on screen. He watched Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman light a cool romance in “Casablanca,” saw Hope and Crosby knit a friendship in their road movies.

He saw the war in newsreels before the films, and war movies too. “But when you're a kid, you don't realize the horror of war,” Farr says. “It's the bad guys and the good guys and you don't realize what the explosives do, and bullets and machine guns and bayonets and all those kinds of things that really do. It's make-believe on the screen until you get older and you realize war is really ugly and it's terrible.”

That reality of war hit home in Toledo often. For the families that lost men and women to combat, some solace came from the jeep. It had become a turning point in the war effort—General Eisenhower found it indispensable—and it was made in Toledo. When the war ended in Europe, the news crackled across the Glass City as factory whistles shrieked the joyful news. “It was late at night,” Farr recalls, “and some people even went outside in their pajamas...people didn’t care. (They) were kissing one another, hugging one another.” The jeep had played its part, and now it was Jameel’s turn.

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Jameel left on the train for Hollywood in 1952 to become a star, and Jeep followed.

With the war won, Toledo could turn the grim determination of wartime to hope. Few knew the city already had peaked: postwar prosperity meant families could move out of the crowded North End to shiny new suburbs made affordable by the GI Bill. The jeep had become Jeep, and part of Kaiser, but Toledo had begun to slowly fall apart.

Jameel had been a star in high school: An actor, a piano player, a class president and a features writer for Calvin M. Woodward High School’s Tattler newspaper. In between movies he read Theater Arts magazine, which ran an ad in the back for the Pasadena Playhouse of the Arts. On a hunch, Jameel applied and was accepted. He got the $600 tuition from selling his savings bonds. He would go to Hollywood on a late-night train headed west. His friends John and Larry took him downtown to say their goodbyes to their anxious friend. It was the first time he’d be on his own.

Jameel moved to California to attend class and live with his sister, who had married and moved to L.A. He had grown up listening to Red Skelton on NBC Tuesday nights on a crystal set; in Hollywood, his rich, woody voice got him a role on the Skelton radio program, as the comedian’s sailor buddy, Snorkel.

The Skelton show opened up the world to Jameel. He traveled to Seoul to boost American troop morale after the cease-fire in Korea. Soon he landed his first film role—as Santini in “The Blackboard Jungle,” a part he won while working at an Army/Navy store in L.A. to pay for his rent and food. He’d watched movies with MGM stars in Toledo; now he was one and ate in the commissary along with Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, and Elizabeth Taylor.

War would be a constant echo in Jameel’s life. Like Elvis, his career halted when he was drafted. In 1957, Jameel went on active duty to Japan and Korea, then came home to serve two years with the reserves, where he drove a Jeep on weekends. It was a sort of homecoming, but it had nearly snuffed out his fledgling acting career, just as his friends had landed starring roles—friends that included Dennis Weaver, Robert Blake, and Clint Eastwood.

Jameel had become Jamie Farr by then, but he still wore a gold baptismal cross for faith, one that still had the imprints of his baby teeth. He relied on faith to sustain him through the long dry spells between parts. By 1964 he grew so desperate that he stopped at a St. Jude shrine and begged of the apostle to give him a sign—should he stick with acting, or give it up? His answer came in the form of a phone call when he got home after his plea. He’d landed a role in “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” a movie in which he’d end up playing Jude Thaddeus, St. Jude, the apostle of the hopeless.

Jamie Farr Day and a Half; courtesy the Toledo Blade

Jamie Farr Day and a Half; courtesy the Toledo Blade

As Jamie Farr, Jameel appeared on all the familiar shows of the 1960s, from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “The Andy Griffith Show” to “I Dream of Jeannie.” After a decade of those bit parts and supporting roles, Farr went back to war.

In 1972, a friend had developed a new show based on the hit movie about the Korean War, "M*A*S*H*." The producer, Gene Reynolds, had directed Jamie in “F Troop.” He knew Farr was the only person to play what was planned for a one-time appearance, Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger. Farr hadn’t been working, and took the part for a day’s work of $250. It would change his life forever.

In the episode, Klinger wore dresses in an attempt to get a Section 8 discharge. In the middle of the Vietnam era, Farr played a man trying to escape war to the extremes, and it resonated. He appeared in more episodes in the first season before he was named a regular—and became one of two cast members who served in Korea, along with Alan Alda. Farr wore the dog tags from his own military service during the show’s run.

Klinger’s Section 8 ploy formed a major story line for the era-defining sitcom’s first few years on the air. Klinger’s drag wasn’t female impersonation, it was camp, whether he dressed as Scarlett O’Hara in yellow organza or as the Statue of Liberty, complete with a flaming torch, or as Cleopatra complete with gold cone-shaped breasts. The Cleopatra gown had originally been worn by Ginger Rogers in another film, and Farr saw her on the 20th Century Fox lot after his show had aired: It looked a helluva lot better on you than it did on me, Rogers winked at him.

"M*A*S*H*" made Farr a household name and he shared his star with Toledo. At the height of the show’s run, Farr returned to his hometown for his 25th high school reunion, a hero once more. On June 21, 1977, the city staged a “Jamie Farr Day and a Half,” complete with a lookalike contest and a flotilla that sailed the Maumee River, backed up by the Woodward High School band. An entire platoon of Toledo civic leaders were drafted into drag service as Klinger’s Kollection of Kuties: a motel owner wore a coral chiffon gown and head scarf, a real estate agent wore hostess pajamas, and a labor committee director “was exquisite in a backless Grecian chiffon.”

His civic debt to Toledo even made its way into scripts, in a way. In season 5’s “38 Across” episode, Klinger decides his cross-dressing isn’t enough, and he attempts to eat a jeep to make his case. He strips parts from a jeep (“the one with the squeaky seats”), drops a nut into a soup pot, and sips from what looks like motor oil, tucks in a checkered napkin and sprinkles the bits with salt and pepper, then swallows a piece. Dip it in a little 30-weight motor oil, pop it in and let it slide down the gullet like a bluepoint oyster! He says, then rips off a wiper blade and chews it. The blade was licorice; the motor oil, a sugar syrup. When the script first came around, Farr’s first reaction was in jest: "That's cannibalistic. It's like eating one of your own. You can't do that!"

Farr acted in dozens of movies while the show ran—he appeared in all three “Cannonball Run” movies—but he remains most remembered for Klinger, in both “M*A*S*H*” and “AfterM*A*S*H*,” which ran two more years after the original show’s finale on Feb. 28, 1983. The show about endurance through hardship ended with Klinger married and set to remain in Korea, full of irony, to help his new wife find her family. While 125 million Americans cried through the show’s bittersweet ending, Farr and the rest of the cast and crew ate and drank as a family at a Mediterranean place in Westwood. For Toledo’s most famous son, it was a good way to end the war one more time.

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

Paramount Theatre, Toledo; courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://

An old Midwestern trope says that Michigan and Ohio fought a war over Toledo—and that Michigan won.

It’s an old Northwest Territories joke, maybe the only Northwest Territories joke on record, but the war Toledo fights is the same one all struggling industrial cities fight. Since the war Toledo has lost jobs and families, and that has left behind a downtown core that’s half-empty.

“So many places that used to be aren’t anymore,” Jamie told People magazine in 1983. “I’ve been robbed of my childhood.”

Fewer people live in the city of Toledo than did in 1930, just before Jameel was born. His beloved Paramount Theatre had been closed after a final showing of “How The West Was Won,” long since demolished in 1965 to make way for a parking lot. A nadir for Toledo came in the 1990s when Jeep Wrangler production moved to Canada.

Farr has done more than his part to help his hometown, with his every mention of the Mud Hens or Tony Packo’s on the still-in-reruns series. He has funded scholarships for local students. For years, Farr ran a golf tournament that bore his name. The city even named Riverside Park in his honor in 1998.

Jamie Farr Park dedication; courtesy Jamie Farr

Jamie Farr Park dedication; courtesy Jamie Farr

Farr remembers a city from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, one that no longer exists.

When he came back to Ohio last Christmas to perform with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, he stood on the stage with his friend Richard Kauffman conducting and thought to himself, as he usually does when he contemplates his path to stardom: “How the hell did I get here?”

Kauffman wanted to go back to the old neighborhood, to see Riverside Park—Jamie Farr Park —and everything else. “I told Richard, I said, ‘I'll go with you only because you want to see the neighborhood, but you have to remember, this is not the one I grew up in.’" The contours are the same, defined by the murky brown Maumee River that splits the town in two, but everything else has changed. That connects like a punch to Jamie, who turns 85 years old on July 1, 2019.

“Your memories, it’s not the same,” he recalls from a Malibu home almost consumed by wildfire in recent months. “All of the things that I told you about...it doesn’t exist anymore.”

2019 Jeep Wrangler in Toledo

2019 Jeep Wrangler in Toledo

An empty parking lot stands where the Paramount Theater once towered like a wedding cake. His old North End neighborhood stands only in passages. Some of his former homes are gone. Others stand dilapidated, haunted by broken windows.

To see Toledo as Jamie did—as Jameel did during the war—you have to see beyond the parking lot where the Paramount once stood, the North End streets where a few neatly kept homes wear barred windows and smell of fresh cut grass, the weathered foursquares and train tracks that frame Jamie Farr Park.

Hope is not the most fragile emotion, it is the strongest. Hope is new windows in empty storefronts, fresh asphalt on broken North End streets.

It blooms at the massive Jeep complex. Since Jamie left the “M*A*S*H*” set it’s been sold three times: to Chrysler, Daimler, and Fiat. The new plant built in the Daimler era wears shiny white armor and waves a greeting at freeway drivers: "Thank You, Toledo!" in kitschy script, on a postcard-like billboard.

Hope flowers at Tony Packo’s where workers groom the sidewalks in the morning hours before opening time.

It takes flight at the Mud Hens ballpark, a focus of Toledo’s effort to revitalize downtown. The Hens had folded in 1955, after Jameel left for Hollywood, only to be revived in 1965 at Lucas County Stadium. In 2002, the Hens moved downtown into Fifth Third Field. The Hens inducted Jamie into their Celebrity Hall of Fame at Fifth Third, and retired the Mud Hens jersey he wore on “M*A*S*H*” in 2017.

America’s particular version of hope means the windows will no longer be broken. That the Jeep factory will keep humming. That the Hens will pull ahead of the Durham Bulls tonight though they’re third in a division of four, more than a dozen games out of first. That another Jameel watches the game from the bleachers. That they will hear the whistle and sizzle of fireworks after the game, a sound like the one that woke Toledo up that night in 1945 when the war was over, because fireworks always sound like victory.

Follow along with us as we explore what Jeep means and how an icon changed the world.

Archival photos courtesy Toledo-Lucas County Public Library