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'MASH' - The TV Series
In 1970, Robert Altman released a film about medics in the Korean War. M*A*S*H was typical Altman fare: a chaotic, ensemble-driven comedy that, while it was based on the Korean War, was seen by many as a snipe at the ongoing Vietnam War, which was still raging when the film was released.
Based on a novel by Richard Hooker, the film was a reasonable success and a TV series was commissioned, premiering on 17 September, 1972. Following the lives of the doctors, nurses and staff of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (hence 'MASH'1), the series lasted 11 years; four years longer than the UN 'Policing Action'2 in the Korean Peninsular that had inspired it.
A MASH unit is basically a small hospital a short distance from the front line that takes injured soldiers and performs emergency surgery on them before they are sent to permanent hospitals away from the fighting. Because the unit had to be within helicopter and ambulance range of the front line, it was exposed to hostile fire, including mortar and sniper attacks. This added to the already tense situation.
While most of the roles from the film were recreated in the series3, only Gary Burghoff, who played Radar, starred in both the film and the series.
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson)
Lt Col Blake was the commanding officer of 4077th M*A*S*H unit. He was an able doctor, but was well aware that most aspects of running an army unit were beyond him. He was lucky in this regard to have Corporal 'Radar' O'Reilly to run everything for him. Although he had a wife back in Bloomington, Illinois, he was happily carrying on with Nurse Leslie Scorch (Linda Meiklejohn) in Korea. His tent was always full of drying women's laundry.
Blake: Radar, whatever it is, sign it, cancel it or order five more.
It was obvious that Blake did not really want to command the unit and preferred just drinking with 'the guys' or fishing. His headgear of choice was a fly-fishing hat and he normally wore a fishing jacket. His job was not made any easier by his officers. Both Major Burns and Major Houlihan, career army officers, hated his lack of discipline and were often reporting his conduct and lack of ability to command to Blake's superior officers. These reports never came to anything, as the unit performed its job well. Although he was a good friend to them, Hawkeye and Trapper occasionally made him out to be the villain when he had to impose military regulations on them.
Blake: Frank, whatever it is, just write it down and put it on my desk where I can't find it.
Blake was transferred home at the end of the third season. It has been suggested that McLean Stevenson was not happy that most of the jokes were going to Alan Alda's character, Hawkeye. Initially, it was planned that Henry would just go back to a normal life in America, but Alan Alda had other ideas. He secretly rewrote the scene where Radar tells everybody that Henry arrived back safely. In the rewrite, which he handed to Burghoff about five minutes before shooting, Henry's plane had been shot down. Aside from Alda, none of the cast in the operating room had any idea that the scene had been rewritten and the shock on their faces was genuine.
Frank Burns: Radar, put a mask on!
After leaving MASH, McLean had little television success. He was offered a lot of money to have his own chat show, but it bombed. He did make a brief appearance on a chat show to prove he was alive a couple of days after his final episode was broadcast. McLean admitted he didn't know how successful the show would become and would have likely stayed on if he knew it would last 11 years. However, since the writers killed him off, there was no way he could come back. He died in 1996, suffering a heart attack following surgery.
Captain Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce (Alan Alda)
There is no doubt that Alda's Hawkeye was the star of the show. He was your average American doctor from Crabapple Cove in Maine, who was drafted and then spent the next 11 or so years in Korea.
Hawkeye's character is that of an anarchist moralist. He knows the war is futile and tries to retain his humanity while removing bullets and shrapnel from soldiers and civilians. Hawkeye is a brilliant thoracic surgeon and the camp's chief doctor, much to the annoyance of Major Burns. He is quick-witted and a supreme prankster. Initially, his main targets are Major Burns and Major Houlihan, although Burns leaves and Houlihan mellows. As somebody with an obvious dislike of authority, discipline and the army in general, he and Burns are portrayed as polar opposites. When Major Winchester joins the show, Hawkeye finds a more able adversary whom he also admires.
He and Trapper together form the comic centrepiece of the show. However, when Trapper leaves, BJ comes in and in many ways takes over the role of being Hawkeye's stooge. Pierce has a notorious eye for the lady nurses and seems to work his way through a lot of them in the show. He even sleeps with Major Houlihan when they are trapped in enemy territory4.
Hawkeye: You're out of uniform, soldier.
The surgeon's tent, which Hawkeye shared with Trapper (and later BJ) and Burns (and later Winchester) was called the Swamp, which was a rather apt description. Hawkeye and Trapper constructed a still inside which produced a lethal-tasting spirit.
Pierce was the only character to appear in every episode (he even had one entire episode to himself) and was the second-last character to leave the camp. It was notable that as Alda, one of the most prominent American left-wing actors, gained more control behind the scenes, the show changed to become more moralistic and less zany. It has been suggested that Alda had a clause in his contract which stated that, to show the horrors of war, there had to be a scene in the operating room in each episode. To many observers it seems likely that Hawkeye also had to call the operations 'meatball surgery' at least a dozen times a season, just to emphasise the speed with which they had to operate on patients! Many fans of the film, including author Richard Hooker, prefer Donald Sutherland's goofball to Alda's self righteous portrayal. Hawkeye had a couple of nervous breakdowns: one was caused by overwork and lack of sleep, which led to him towing a toilet containing a General into enemy territory; while another was caused by him watching as a mother smothered her baby to death trying to keep him quiet while avoiding a Chinese patrol.
At one point, the army declared Hawkeye dead and it wouldn't accept Pierce telling them otherwise. It also meant that Hawkeye had to break the news to his dad that he wasn't dead.
Hawkeye: Dear Dad, I am not dead. Stop. Hope you are the same. Stop. Thinking of selling my golf clubs? Stop. Spending my insurance money? Stop.
Pierce refused to carry his gun even when he was called to the front line. This blatant disregard of military regulations, which could put him and others in danger, demonstrated the character's conviction that his ideals were more important than anything else. At one point he tried to operate on an officer who had nothing wrong with him, just to stop him going back to the front line. This was obviously a breach of his doctor's oath, but he saw it as working for a greater good.
MASH made Alda a household name. He has appeared in many films, including a host of Woody Allen comedies. He has also acted in plays and his most recent high-profile role was as Republican presidential candidate Arnold Vinick in The West Wing, where he participated in a live improvised debate in-character. He has fronted a PBS show on science for many years. Alda is also a notable campaigner for woman's rights.
Captain 'Trapper' John Francis Xavier McIntyre (Wayne Rogers)
Trapper John was another of the 4077th's surgeons. While the producers had assured Rogers that the role would be as an equal to Hawkeye, it didn't quite work out that way. It became obvious that Trapper was playing second fiddle to Hawkeye. In the book, Bostonian Trapper was the chief surgeon in the camp, but that honour was given to Hawkeye for the show. Trapper was another draftee and shared Hawkeye's disregard for military rules and delight in annoying Frank and Margaret.
Margaret: Those two are ruining this war...for all of us!
Trapper had a lighter, zanier sense of humour than Hawkeye. He was a committed family man, but still had his own string of nurses. At one point, his homesickness got too much for him and he packed up and left for home, knocking out Hawkeye on the way, but he got too carried away with insulting Frank to actually go AWOL5.
At the end of the third series, Rogers decided that he had had enough of being the supporting artist and left the show. The producers were not impressed and Trapper did not get a big goodbye. He left for Boston while Hawkeye was on leave. Hawkeye drove to the airport, but missed his friend by ten minutes. He did, however, meet Trapper's replacement, Captain BJ Hunnicut.
After Korea, Trapper worked in a hospital and even got his own TV series, Trapper John, MD.
After the show, Wayne Rogers had various roles as an actor, director and writer. He retired from acting and has become a regular guest on money reports for Fox News.
Major Frank Marion 'Ferret Face' Burns (Larry Linville)
It would not be fair to screen villains to include Burns in their number; he was more of an anti-hero. Greed, cowardice and thoughtlessness were some of his better qualities. He only just scraped through medical school by buying the answer papers before he joined the army. Army life suited Frank; he liked the order and discipline - and then he was placed in a camp with Henry, Hawkeye and Trapper, his polar opposites. Major Burns was also a committed Christian.
Frank Burns: Why does everyone take an instant dislike to me?
Frank was married to a rich woman back in Indiana. Although he probably didn't like her that much, he was very much in love with her money. Frank and Major Houlihan were carrying on an affair for much of his time at the unit. It was from Frank and Margaret's pitiful attempts at talking dirty in the film that Margaret got her nickname of Hot Lips. Their mutual love of army life and discipline as well as their dislike of Hawkeye and Trapper brought them together. Although they tried to keep their affair secret, everybody in the camp knew about it. Although Frank had promised to divorce his wife, he never did. Even when his wife found out about the affair he lied to patch it up.
Frank Burns: I'm sick of hearing about the wounded. What about all the thousands of wonderful guys who are fighting this war without any of the credit or the glory that always goes to those lucky few who just happen to get shot?
Frank disliked Henry Blake because he wasn't disciplined enough. Whenever Burns was left in charge, he tried to impose a strict military rule that often backfired. After Blake left, Burns was put in charge briefly, but he was crestfallen when Colonel Potter arrived. Frank believed the role of CO should have been his and didn't warm to Potter like the rest of the camp, making a number of cracks about his age.
Burns's ability as a doctor was limited at best. He was the butt of jokes by the other doctors, who had to repair the mess that he made. It was his lack of medical ability that meant Hawkeye became head surgeon ahead of Burns.
Hot Lips and Frank split up because she was tired of him. Larry Linville thought that the character of Frank was getting too one-dimensional so he asked to be written out at the end of season five. When Margaret got married, Frank went to Seoul and went mad, got chased by the police and accosted a general's wife in the public baths. The US army, in their wisdom, promoted him and shipped him back stateside, much to the annoyance of BJ and Hawkeye.
Frank Burns: Spontaneity has its time and its place.
Frank was the victim of most of the practical jokes played in the camp. These included:
As well as being the butt of all jokes, Frank was used to show how absurd some military, Christian and right-wing viewpoints were. When he was written out, he was replaced by Major Charles Winchester.
Frank Burns: It's the way these yellow devils think. It's burned into their brains. Kill Americans, kill, kill. They don't respect human life the way we do. I'd like to take him out and shoot him.
Larry Linville died in 2000 from pneumonia after undergoing cancer surgery.
Major Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan (Loretta Swit)
Major Houlihan was brought up with strict military discipline. Her mother was an army nurse and her father was a general. At the start of the show, she was a very strict, by-the-book officer and made it very clear to the nurses just who was in command.
Hawkeye: Did anyone ever tell you, you have the voice of a songbird slowly drowning in tar?
Her partner-in-crime was Major Burns, with whom she was having an affair. They tried to impose military order on the camp, reported Colonel Blake to his superiors and suffered as the butt of Hawkeye, Trapper and BJ's jokes. Burns's refusal to leave his wife, as well as his tactless mention of her at inappropriate moments, meant that Margaret eventually dumped him.
When Colonel Potter arrived, Margaret took to him because he was a military man. The two had a good working relationship. She also had a rather rushed romance with Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscot. Their marriage led to a heartbroken Frank going mad and leaving the show. Colonel Potter and Hawkeye warned her against the rush marriage and they were proved right when it was revealed that he had been cheating on her.
Major Winchester: Part seductress and part Attila the Hun.
Margaret's manner got more relaxed as the series continued. This was a change that split fans of the show. As well as coming on to Trapper while drunk, she had a number of long kisses with Hawkeye, one in front of Frank7 as the nurses were being evacuated and, most memorably, one goodbye kiss in the last episode.
Loretta Swit was one of only two actors (the other being Alan Alda) that were in both the first and last episodes of the show and Hot Lips was one of only four characters that were in every series. After the war, Margaret returned to America to serve in an army hospital.
After the show, Loretta Swit had various guest roles on TV and has also produced her own line of jewellery. She played the role of Christine Cagney in the pilot of Cagney and Lacey, but couldn't take the role full-time because of her M*A*S*H filming.
Father John Francis Patrick Mulcahy (William Christopher; George Morgan for the pilot)
Father Mulcahy was the camp's chaplain. He was a devout Catholic but still performed his duties for people of any religion and denomination. Softly spoken, he was often on hand to hear people's problems, give out advice or to help out around the camp.
Father Mulcahy: This isn't one of my sermons. I expect you to listen.
As a priest, he had a lot of useful contacts. He was able to acquire medicines and equipment from the black market and also knew which monasteries to place orphaned mixed-race children in so that they could be sent back to America. He used to be an amateur boxer, but hated violence.
Initially, Mulcahy was uncomfortable with the sight of blood in the operating room, but after having been forced to perform a tracheotomy in the field, he became more useful in the theatre. By the later seasons, much was made of how he was still a lieutenant and how he wanted promotion, which nobody outside the camp seemed to want to give him. He eventually got his promotion to the rank of captain.
Mulcahy was not opposed to drinking and even played poker with Hawkeye and the others; however, all his winnings went towards the local orphanage. It is worth contrasting Mulcahy and Burns, who are both strict Christians. Burns typifies the reactionary right-wing Christian American, while Mulcahy shows how a Christian of faith can do good in the midst of madness.
In the final series, Mulcahy was deafened by a shell blast, though he persuaded BJ to keep this quiet. He was one of the only characters to stay in the show from start to finish. After the war ended, he stayed in Korea to help care for other deaf people. Eventually, when his hearing returned, he came to work in a veterans' hospital.
In the film, Mulcahy was played by Rene Auberjonois of Star Trek Deep Space 9 fame. When the character was rewritten for the small screen, his nickname of 'Dago Red', which referred to cheap red wine, vanished.
William Christopher had a large amount of television and film roles after MASH. He is also a spokesman for the National Autistic Society.
Corporal Walter Eugene 'Radar' O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff)
Radar was a young company clerk who grew up on a farm in Iowa. He was played by Gary Burghoff, who was the only actor to reprise his role from the film. Radar was essentially the glue that held the unit together; he was highly organised and had an uncanny knack of being able to predict orders and carry them out before he was asked. Orders were not the only thing he could predict; he could hear the arrival of helicopters with casualties before anybody else, hence his nickname.
Radar had a network of contacts among some of the other corporals in Korea. This meant that he could normally be relied on to get his hands on almost anything - except medical equipment, which the army seemed rather unwilling to send to a hospital! One of his main contacts was Sparky, who was the man at the other end of the telephone.
Radar got on well with Blake and looked up to him as a father figure, though that didn't stop him from raiding Henry's drink supply or carrying on semi-legal schemes behind his back. The writers reined that in and Radar became more honest and upstanding. He also looked up8 to Hawkeye, until Hawkeye had to operate on him and walked out drunk, marking a change in their relationship.
When Potter took over he took to Radar as a son, especially after Radar gave him a horse for his birthday. Radar always slept with a teddy bear, which was meant to show just how young and naï ve he was. In many ways he seemed to get more naï ve as the show went on and the writers decided that he now didn't understand the doctor's dirty jokes. As he grew up on a farm, he was fond of animals and kept a collection in the camp.
Burghoff has a slightly deformed hand and he normally hid it behind something, because he knew that nobody would be drafted into the army with a hand like his.
As the show went on, it was getting more obvious that Burghoff, who was 30 when the series started, was getting too old to play a teenager. He wanted to work on other projects, though Alda tried to talk him out of it, pointing out that Rogers, Stevenson and Linville had had little success after the show. Alda was right and, following a television film called W*A*L*T*E*R based on Radar's new job in the police force, Burghoff focussed mainly on his other skills as a jazz pianist and an artist, for which he received much acclaim.
Radar was given a hardship discharge after his uncle died so that he could go back and help his mum run her farm. His role of clerk was given to Klinger. Klinger was hopeless at the beginning, as nobody realised how hard Radar's job was, but Father Mulcahy explained to Potter how disorganised Radar was when he first arrived and Klinger eventually grew into the role. Radar left his teddy in Korea, symbolising how he had now become a man. The teddy was eventually buried in a time capsule in the final series.
Radar was a much loved character that other shows have made reference to. In Sesame Street, Big Bird's teddy bear is called Radar. In Stargate SG-1, the sergeant who sits in the control room and has a slight nack for anticipating orders is called Walter.
In the show's credits, the opening scene showed the back of Radar's head as he watched a helicopter come in. When he left the show, the scene was removed.
Corporal/Sergeant Maxwell Q Klinger (Jamie Farr)
Klinger was originally only included for one episode in the first series. Here was a man who so disliked the army he had taken to wearing women's clothing to try and get discharged on psychological grounds, a so-called 'Section 8'. The producers liked the idea so much they kept Klinger in the show for its entire run.
Of Lebanese decent and from Toledo, Ohio, Klinger's family had a proud tradition of being declared unfit for duty and Klinger tried his best to follow in the tradition. Some stunts that he pulled included:
Henry Blake: Here's an oldie but a goodie... half of the family dying, other half pregnant. Klinger, aren't you ashamed of yourself?
Klinger refused to accept a dishonourable discharge, preferring to take the honourable way out, wearing dresses! At one point, he got so depressed that Potter gave him a discharge on grounds of depression; however, that cheered him up so much that the discharge no longer applied.
Catch-22 is a term made famous by the novel of that name by Joseph Heller. Essentially, if you declare yourself mad to get out of fighting, then you must be sane because only a madman would willingly go to fight. Colonel Potter admitted that he didn't know which one the madman was: Klinger, who wanted to return to America, or Burns, who loved Korea and the war.
Klinger: Colonel Potter, sir; Corporal Klinger. I'm section eight, head to toe. I'm wearing a Warner bra. I like to play with dolls. My last wish is to be buried in my mother's wedding gown. I'm nuts. I should be out.
Klinger got married twice in the show. Firstly, he persuaded Father Mulcahy to marry him over the phone to his high-school girlfriend, Laverne. After she left him for his best friend, he married Soon Lee, a Korean woman.
Charles: Klinger, you are a gentleman and a lady.
Klinger was initially just a general soldier whose duties ranged from being an orderly to guard duties. Klinger generally performed his tasks well, which probably accounts for the patience that his commanding officers used when dealing with him. After Radar left, Klinger took over his job as company clerk. Although he was disorganised at first, he eventually proved himself in the job. As befits a man who could get hold of all the latest female fashions in the Far East, he was able to source equipment as easily as Radar.
Klinger eventually stopped wearing women's clothes, as Jamie Farr didn't want his real-life son to know him only as the transvestite solider. Klinger's new-found acceptance of army life was rewarded with promotion.
At the end of the war, it was ironic that Klinger chose to stay in Korea to look for his wife's parents. He eventually returned to Ohio, where his family rejected him and his new wife. He reappeared as Colonel Potter's clerk in the show After MASH.
Captain BJ Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell)
BJ arrived in Korea as a replacement for Trapper at the start of the fourth series. His part was probably the most like-for-like of the three replacement characters. He became Hawkeye's best mate and partner in crime. However, he preferred to take the role of straight man to Trapper's clowning. He was also an excellent surgeon.
Charles: Hunnicutt, I've known a lot of people in my life. You are not among them.
BJ was a raw recruit when he arrived, but eventually became more relaxed in his ways. He prided himself on being a master practical joker and his stunts, such as flooding Frank's fox hole or altering Charles's trousers so that he thought he was gaining weight, were quite inspired.
Like Trapper, he had a wife and family back in America - Peggy and daughter Erin. Unlike Trapper, though, BJ tried to remain faithful to his wife. He had a one-night stand when comforting a heartbroken nurse, Carrie Donovan (Ann Sweeny), and was incredibly ashamed by the experience.
Colonel Flagg: I've got to nip this guy in the bud. This sort of behaviour is contagious, you know. One guy decides he's not gonna fight anymore, it catches on, and pretty soon you know what we've got?
The last episode saw BJ refusing to say goodbye to Hawkeye. As Hawkeye's helicopter took off, BJ was standing by the word 'goodbye' written in stones. BJ rode off on a motorbike.
Mike Farrell was involved in writing and directing a few of the episodes. After the series ended, Farrell played various guest roles. He has been a notable campaigner, both as an officer of the Screen Actors Guild and for Human Rights Watch. He has been notable in supporting the pro-choice and anti-death penalty movements. He was particularly outspoken when Stanley 'Tookie' Williams, a gang leader who spent his time on death row campaigning against gang violence, was executed in 2005.
Colonel Sherman T Potter (Harry Morgan)
After Henry left, Burns was put in charge of the unit. His reign was short-lived, as World War I veteran Potter soon arrived. Although they initially worried that he was 'regular army', Potter managed to get on well with BJ and Hawkeye and they also respected him as an able surgeon. Major Houlihan was relieved that he was a much more competent CO than Lt Colonel Blake. In fact, everybody got on well with Potter expect for Major Burns, who thought Potter had taken his job.
Potter originally joined the army as a 17-year-old in the cavalry. After World War I, he became a surgeon and served various positions in the army. He loved horses and was delighted when Radar, Hawkeye and BJ rescued a white horse called Sophie, which he rode around the camp. He and his wife, Mildred11, had a number of children and even some grandchildren.
Potter was an enthusiastic artist and painted a number of portraits of various members of the unit. Coming from Missouri, Potter had a unique line in colourful curses. Some of his best include 'buffalo bagels!', 'jumpin' jodphurs!', 'What in the name of Marco blessed Polo?' and 'What in the name of Great Caesar's salad?'
After the war, Potter retired from the military to return to life as a country doctor. In America, he went on to administer a veterans' hospital in the show After MASH.
Morgan had already played a mad general in one of the early episodes of M*A*S*H. Prior to the show, one of his most notable roles was as Officer Bill Gannon in Dragnet. He reprised this role after M*A*S*H in the film of the police series and in an episode of The Simpsons. Morgan has had many guest and film parts since the end of the show.
Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers)
When Frank went off to Seoul, Potter put in a call to get a temporary replacement. The administrator of the Tokyo General Hospital had lost money betting with Winchester and sent him to Korea in retaliation. When Frank was transferred back to America, Potter made Winchester's placement permanent, much to the major's disgust.
Charles was not written as a replacement Burns. For a start, he was a draftee and disliked Korea just as much as BJ and Hawkeye. Unlike Frank, he was an excellent surgeon and was intelligent and savvy enough to be a worthy and respected adversary for the two captains.
Charles came from a large family of Boston 'blue bloods'12 and was used to the high life. He was a respected doctor and was due to become head of Thoracic Surgery at Boston General Hospital13 before the army took him to Japan. When he first arrived, the arrogant major didn't win over the other doctors, but he performed a heart operation using techniques that none of the others knew about and won everyone's respect. While his skills are beyond doubt, he made it obvious that he felt that patching up soldiers was beneath him and his perfectionist attitude meant that it took him much longer than BJ, Hawkeye and Potter to operate. It took him a while to get up to speed with combat surgery and it also made the audience aware of how different surgery is in the field with a queue of dying soldiers outside, compared to the way things work at a proper hospital.
Charles came over as cold and haughty and treated most people as being beneath him. He also objected strongly to having to perform the chores associated with being an officer at the camp. Being told to lodge in the Swamp with Hawkeye and BJ must have come to a shock for a man more used to solid accommodation. However, he does have a sense of humour and likes watching cartoons. He is secretly rather generous and gives out sweets to the local orphanage for Christmas.
Charles: One does not wax philosophical when one is about to be sent to Leavenworth... My God, that's in Kansas.
Unlike his predecessor, Charles was not beyond the occasional act of kindness, be it befriending a stuttering solider and reprimanding his commander for mistreating him, lending BJ money for a downpayment on his house or sitting with Hawkeye as his father underwent surgery in America. Being a reluctant draftee, Major Winchester was not enthused with command and was willing to let the camp go about its business when he was left in command.
His main method of escaping the horrors of war was through classical music. He had both a record player and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. In one episode, Charles found a supply of music for a wounded concert pianist that allowed the man to perform music with only one hand. In the final episode, he found a group of North Korean POWs able to give a half-decent rendition of a Mozart piece. He spent a lot of time with them helping them learn more classics, but the truck that was taking them to a prisoner exchange had an accident and all of them were killed. Charles said that he now couldn't listen to classical music without being reminded of the horrors of Korea.
It was one last indignity to Charles that he left the unit in a garbage truck. After the war, Charles went on to become head of Thoracic Surgery, but at Boston Mercy Hospital rather than Boston General. David Ogden Stiers went on to do the usual array of guest and movie roles, notably starring in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stiers's rich voice has been heard in a lot of Disney movies, including Beauty and the Beast, Lilo and Stitch and Pocahontas.
Among the supporting at the 4077th were:
The surgeons in the army, their brains they are profound. But we'll take chopper pilots, they'll get you off the ground.
The nurses seemed to spend most of their time being shouted at by Margaret or being chatted up by Hawkeye. The writers were not the most imaginative when naming them. Throughout the show's run there were five different Nurse Ables and five different Nurse Bakers. On the other hand, actresses like Lois Foraker and Lesley Evans turned up playing different nurses.
Nurse: Does every new nurse fall in love with you here?
Nurse Kellye (Kellye Nakahara) was, apart from Margaret, the most recognisable and committed nurse in the show. The short, round Asian woman was incredibly caring and a dedicated nurse. Alan Alda wrote the episode 'Hey, Look Me Over' about her being a vital part of the healing process.
Captain Calvin Spalding ( Loudon Wainwright III) appeared in a few episodes. He was a guitar-playing doctor who used to hang around with Trapper and Hawkeye and sing protest songs. He disappeared from the show, possibly because his character was rather contrived.
Captain Oliver Harmon 'Spearchucker' Jones (Timothy Brown) was the African-American doctor and professional American football player who was recruited to the unit for an American football match in the film. He originally stayed in the Swamp, but the writers soon realised that they wanted to concentrate on Hawkeye and Trapper14 and that there were no black doctors in Korea and so got rid of the character during the first series.
Major Sidney Theodore Freedman (Allan Arbus) was an army psychiatrist who occasionally dropped in to visit. He got on well with Hawkeye, BJ and Trapper. He first appeared to examine Klinger in the first season, but returned throughout the show. When Radar left, they considered bringing in Freedman as a regular character, but Arbus preferred to be an occasional guest star.
Lieutenant Colonel/Colonel Sam Flagg (Edward Winter) was an intelligence officer who appeared in a number of guises to try and root out communists and subversives. He had two fans in Burns and Houlihan, but was otherwise universally disliked. He used Blake's love affair with Nurse Scorch to manipulate him, but wasn't as successful with the other officers. Potter refused to be bullied. Hawkeye, BJ and Trapper were among Flagg's chief suspects; however, they delighted in outsmarting him. Freedman diagnosed Flagg as schizophrenic. Flagg really met his match in Winchester, who got him to raid a poker game, thinking it was a meeting of conspirators. The game included the Mayor of Seoul and the Chief of Police, who obviously weren't best pleased. Flagg wasn't seen again.
Colonel Flagg: This won't look good on your record.
The PA Operator (Sal Viscuso) had a rather dark sense of humour; he announced the week's movie or incoming arrivals.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, lunch will be served today.
Attention all personnel: Due to a lack of casualties, today's midnight movie will be shown at nine in the morning...and midnight has been cancelled.
Attention all personnel: Due to the shortage of oil and wood, tonight's movie will be burned at 1800.
Attention, all personnel: some party guests have arrived - dressed as wounded soldiers.
Attention, all personnel: Rise and whine, we have more wounded. Don't make any plans for the weekend...or the week.
Attention, all personnel: We interrupt your sweet dreams to bring you the following nightmare.
Attention, all personnel: The wounded you've all been waiting for have finally arrived in person...report to the Big Top immediately; the circus is about to begin.
The show was filmed on Stage Nine at the 20th Century Fox studios in Hollywood. The exterior shots were filmed on the Fox Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains in California. Fox donated the ranch to the state of California during the filming of the show and it was renamed the Malibu Creek State Park. The donation meant that they had restricted filming access to the ranch, so the final season had fewer exterior shots, though they did manage to work in a brush fire that was raging during the filming of the final episode.
Some of the places that were featured in the camp were:
A Subversive Show
It is worth remembering that when the show first aired in 1972, America was mired in what up to that point was the least popular war in its history. After fighting the Second World War on two fronts, being involved in the 'Policing Action' in Korea and having lived under threat of Soviet missiles throughout the 1960s, much of the American public was tired of fighting. The Vietnam War saw protests throughout American society and M*A*S*H captured the country's war-weariness.
Potter: By the way, what war is this?
While it seemed like the lunacy mixed with incompetence was pure comedy, a lot of it was based on actual occurrences. Characters like Klinger were inspired by people who had served in the Korean War. In fact, a lot of the show was based on events that veterans had recounted to the show's researchers in interviews. The staff of M*A*S*H 4077th's main enemy was not always the North Koreans. With gung-ho Generals, artillery aiming at their own people, an impossible maze of red tape and paranoid intelligence officers, the US army was every bit as dangerous. Within this mess, MASH portrayed a team of doctors and nurses dedicated to saving human life no matter the colour of their skin and what uniform they did or did not wear.
Hawkeye: War isn't hell. War is war, and hell is hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
In popular culture, war was portrayed as very much black or white. People either died or survived on the front line and that was that. In concentrating on the fight to save lives, with people wrist-deep in the guts of an American infantryman or a Korean civilian, the show portrayed the human cost of war.
When the show began, all four of the doctors were having affairs with the members of the nursing staff. Aside from Hawkeye, the doctors were married and in many cases so were the nurses. Although the show cut down on the extra-marital action with the departure of Henry, Trapper and Frank, the effect on the viewers must have been demoralising. For those whose husbands and wives were abroad, fighting in Vietnam or stationed in Europe, the prevalence of romantic entanglements must have worried them and increased the pressure to end the fighting.
BJ and Hawkeye: Oh, the surgeons in the Army, they say we're mighty bright. We work on soldiers through the day and nurses through the night.
In the days before email, mobile phones and satellite communications, the postal service was almost the only way to communicate with loved ones at home. Mail call was one of the biggest morale boosts in the camp; however, letters home played a more important role in the show.
It seemed like whenever the show's writers were stuck for a narrative idea for a show, they made one of the main characters write home to their families. Whether it was Father Mulcahey writing to his sister, Potter to his wife, Hawkeye to his dad or Charles recording a tape for his family, it gave an episode not only something to move the story along but a chance to see what the characters thought of the people they were forced to spend the war with.
The theme tune for the show was an instrumental version of the song 'Suicide is Painless' by John Mandel. The lyrics by Mark Altman were felt to be too controversial for the TV producers to use. However, after the series ended, a version of the song, complete with lyrics, went to number one in the UK singles chart.
The Big Finish
The show had been struggling for ideas for a couple of series, but the strength of the writing and the characters had seen it last longer than both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
When it was obvious that the war was coming to an end, they buried a time capsule featuring some of the objects from the series. Notable among them was Radar's teddy bear. Charles asked why nothing belonging to Burns was put in. Hawkeye responded that he was thinking of putting in the Major's scalpel, but he thought it was classed as a deadly weapon.
That is one major difference of the show, compared with many dramas and comedies that came before it. When a character was written out, the cast still made reference to them, rather than writing them out of history.
The final episode saw the ceasefire being signed and the staff going their separate ways. It gave Hot Lips and Hawkeye a chance for one last long kiss before saying goodbye after a long war. Klinger and Father Mulcahey stayed in Korea while the others took different methods of transport, ranging from motorbike through helicopter through garbage truck to leave for home.
This last episode, which was two and-a-half hours long and directed by Alda, aired on 28 February, 1983. Nearly 106 million people (77% of the American viewing public) tuned in to watch it - still a record audience at the time of writing.
People's Choice Award
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