R.I.P. Sally Kellerman, star of the second Star Trek pilot

By: H&I Staff     Posted: February 25, 2022, 9:46AM

Acclaimed actress Sally Kellerman, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan in the Robert Altman film M*A*S*H, has passed away.

While the actress is best remembered for her turn as the no-nonsense major, her career started where no man has gone before. For many, the image of Kellerman is in the second pilot episode of Star Trek, titled "Where No Man Has Gone Before." The image of Kellerman with glowing eyes as she is filled with godlike power is one that lingers in the mind of every TOS fan.


She picked up a few more guest-starring roles on TV, but her major breakthrough came in 1970 when she was cast in Robert Altman's Korean war drama, M*A*S*H.

However, the role almost fell into obscurity. In fact, when Kellerman received her script, Hot Lips only had four lines.

She burst into tears upon seeing the script. Once the tears faded, she got angry — angry enough to call her agent and tell them to instruct Altman to "go jump in a lake." When Altman returned her call, he assured her that she could beef up the character with improvised scenes during filming. 

The expanded role turned out to be magic, and it earned Kellerman a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 1971 Oscars. She worked steadily, landing movie roles for the next few years until she ended up in the second movie for which she would become famous: the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School. 

In Back to School, Kellerman plays Dr. Diane Turner, the literary professor and love interest to Rodney Dangerfield's obnoxious lead.

Kellerman noted that when fans recognized her on the street, they would usually call out "Hey, Hot Lips!" in reference to M*A*S*H or "Call me sometime when you got no class!" from Back to School.

"I'd be lying if I said it doesn’t push a button or two every time someone calls me Hot Lips," Kellerman wrote in her memoir Read My Lips. "I've been working for more than fifty years and made at least fifty movies, but for better or worse, I'm most notably remembered as Hot Lips Houlihan."

However, as time went on, Kellerman embraced being known as the iconic major. "Recently, as I walked through New York City, a truck driver leaned out the window and yelled, 'Hey, Hot Lips!' That put a big, crooked smile on my face."

The actress was 84 years old.