M*A*S*H, one of the most beloved series of all times, ran for a legendary 11 seasons. One of the best series to ever air on CBS, the show was based on real-life events in the Korean War. The show still has an extremely dedicated fan base and goes down in history for its multiple awards, interesting plot lines, and launching the careers of stars like Alan Alda.
A Rocky Start
M*A*S*H was the smash hit that almost wasn’t. It was the first military drama of its kind, and although it was in line with what was happening on a global scale, at first, audiences didn’t really love the show.
Larry Gelbart, producer, who wrote the pilot show in two days, was living in the United Kingdom at the time and wasn’t as familiar with Hollywood. He decided to write M*A*S*H because he was a fan of Robert Altman’s film. The film wasn’t nearly as popular as the television show became, with many fans not realizing it was based on a movie at all.
Telling of the Times
Throughout the series, the network only rejected one episode, which was impressive for a show that covered such diverse subject matter. This episode, the one and only that was ever rejected, contained a line of soldiers competing for a bid to return to the states. The episode was deemed unpatriotic and disrespectful to those away at war. It must be said that the episode was indeed very realistic, as many soldiers did want to return home.
As everyone now knows, the war was a highly controversial one, and many Americans, those overseas in the military as well as those at home, did not agree with the war at all. The controversy was very telling of the times, the pressure to be marketable along with the desire to tell an authentic story.
A Military History
M*A*S*H was Alan Alda’s largest role, with him playing Captain Hawkeye Pierce. Alda was perfect for the role, as he served in the Army Reserve in the Korean War. He had enlisted after graduating from Fordham University, similar to a lot of other men in that time.
Alda was a gunnery officer. Jamie Farr, or Corporal Klinger, also had previous military experience serving in the Korean War. Farr even had experience acting in Army training films. The background helped both men get into the mindsets of their characters, enabling them to feel the frustrations of a life abroad in war.
While M*A*S*H eventually became a huge hit, it wasn’t always successful. In the first season, ratings tanked. Viewers didn’t seem to click with the show, causing the network to doubt their decision to keep it on. Before deciding to cancel the series because of the low viewership, the network revived it by moving it to a different time slot.
When M*A*S*H moved to Saturday nights from its old time, after popular show All In The Family and before The Mary Taylor Moore Show. It immediately boosted the ratings of the show, resulting in it keeping its place as one of America’s favorite television programs.
Harry Morgan, who played Colonel Potter on the show, wasn’t shy about his love for his character. Morgan got so into M*A*S*H, he actually brought a photo from home to display on Potter’s desk. The framed photo depicting the character’s wife, named Mildred, was actually of Morgan’s actual wife, Eileen.
Before his time on M*A*S*H, Morgan also starred in films such as High Noon and Thunder Bay. Morgan eventually switched to radio and television, hosting radio show Mystery In The Air. He joined M*A*S*H in the third season, replacing McLean Stevenson, who had left the series in order to pursue more lucrative projects.
Though the creators of M*A*S*H tried to remain authentic in their writing, there were nonetheless many inaccuracies. The boots worn by the actors weren’t actually army boots, as they were too loud. The boots were also notoriously uncomfortable for actors to wear, so most of them wore sneakers instead. Scenes were strategically shot to hide this.
Other inaccuracies included the use of aluminum cans, the pinball machine that was shown in the officer’s club, and candy bars with UPC codes printed on the back of them. All of these items were historically inaccurate, not created until the 1960s and 1970s.
A Strange And Sad Coincidence?
M*A*S*H had a strange crossover with actor McLean Stevenson and Roger Bowen, resulting in an eerie coincidence. Stevenson played Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake on the TV series but left the series to pursue other acting opportunities. His career declined after M*A*S*H, which unfortunately resulted in ridicule from the cast and crew members.
Sadly, Stevenson passed away from a heart attack in 1996. Roger Bowen, who played the role in the 1970 M*A*S*H film, also died of a heart attack that year. In an even stranger coincidence, the two men died within a day of each other.
The Best of the Best
The final series of M*A*S*H, which aired on February 28, 1983, made television history when over 106 million viewers tuned in. This record has only been set by The Super Bowl. M*A*S*H’s eleven-season run was impressive, considering the first season’s slow start, along with the failed spin-off, After M*A*S*H.
The finale, called “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” was two and a half hours long and was even directed by series star Alan Alda. Alda was heavily involved with the creative process throughout the series, writing thirteen episodes, directing some episodes, on top of his series regular duties.
The show inspired not one, but three spin-offs after it wrapped in 1983. Trapper John, M.D. focused on the character’s life after the military, as the Chief of Surgery at a hospital in San Francisco. It ended after three seasons. Wayne Rogers did not reprise his character. W*A*L*T*E*R, a show focused on Radar’s character, was supposed to be about his life in St. Louis.
After the war, the character was written to become a police officer, unsure of his direction after the army. The pilot was not picked up. AfterMASH, a show starring M*A*S*H stars Harry Morgan, William Christopher, and Jamie Farr, was short-lived due to its failure to live up to the popular show The A-Team.
Where Are They Now?
Gary Burghoff, before his role as Radar O’Reilly, pursued a career in music. He was the drummer for a band that was called The Relatives, and he shared the stage with the one and only Wonder Woman, aka, the famous and beautiful Lynda Carter. The two remained friends and Carter’s influence actually helped Burghoff land a guest spot on her hit series. So, it could be argued, there would be no Wonder Woman without Gary Burghoff.
After the series wrapped, Burghoff quit acting and pursued his childhood interest in animals. Combining it with his natural artistic talent, Burghoff became a successful artist and is currently working as a full-time wildlife painter.
As mentioned earlier, Klinger was a bit of a cross dresser and a wedding dress he wore got plenty of love. Apparently, his wedding dress was sported on three different occasions each time by different people. Why didn’t the makers just get another dress for these people to wear? Maybe it was just to save money.
The times it was worn and who it was worn by goes as follows; Klinger when he married Laverne Esposito, Margret Houlihan, when she married Lt. Col. Donald Penobscott and Soon Lee, when she married Klinger. Hopefully, they washed those threads well enough for everybody!
The UK Was Not Having It
Sometimes, success depends purely upon location. For example, an athlete can be traded to another team and not thrive there like he or she did back on their original team. In the show’s case, M*A*S*H was not as huge of a hit in the UK as it was in America. You would have thought that it could have been a universal show, but alas, it apparently only appealed to an American audience.
One thing that may have caused its less than sparkling success overseas was the “laugh track” that you hear in many of the sitcoms in the US. The British thought this effect was quite annoying. And we can’t really blame them; at times it can actually be annoying if what happened was not super funny.
Taking criticism can be rough for anyone, especially if it’s about something you’ve worked particularly hard on. It often makes people crack under pressure. For a TV series to take criticism it can lead to the show failing or trying to act on the critics and do things they are not supposed to do. Luckily, M*A*S*H didn’t go down that path.
The show ended up being put to the flame for appearing to go against the Army. Well, it actually was a bit of a critique and the creators admitted to that. However, the show was specifically anti-incompetency and anti-bureaucracy. It was not against the institution of the army itself. Way to own up to things.
I Put That on the Set
Did you know that there were two different sets used on the show? One of the sets was in the mountains near the beautiful Malibu, California. This set was used for the outside and tent scenes for the first couple of seasons. This was strictly an outside set.
For the other set, which was an indoor set, it was obviously for the indoor scenes for the show. This set was located at Fox studios. During the filming, this set was renovated to allow more outdoor scenes to be shot there. In no time both sets ended up being used for outdoor shots depending on where it made more sense.
Writers often are inspired and creative people and those for this show are no different. We know that Klinger was in the Army and there was a time when he was trying to get thrown out. Naturally, he worn women’s clothing as his attempt to be disqualified.
That idea came from Lenny Bruce. Bruce was given a dishonorable discharge from the Navy for an identical reason. To those in the Military, this is not a practice that is advised. If you commit to serving the country and end up with cold feet, you are better off finishing out your contract before you try and leave. A dishonorable discharge is not good.
Based on a Book
Richard Hooker, the author of the novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, is the reason the beloved show was even created. After serving in the military, he wrote his novel based off his time in the Korean War. In a matter of four years after it was published, the TV show was created.
He wrote two more novels that following this big success. But of course, this was the one that drew the most attention as it had enough meat on its bones for writers to create 11 entire TV show seasons out of it. There must have been something about the novel that made the creators want to pick it up and turn it into a series. Great writing, Hooker.
A Laughing Matter
In the beginning, CBS said it was mandatory that the show used a laugh track. They wanted the laugh track despite the actors and producers not wanting to use it. Even though the show was quite funny, the laugh track just seemed not to fit in during a war, right?
Because back then shows had live audiences, CBS thought it should be added because the viewers would not know when things were supposed to be funny. They thought the audience wouldn’t have known the show was a comedy. Today, if you get the DVD version of the show, you can turn off the laughs.
This slide can be taken in any way you want to take it, but because there were not that many Korean actors around when this show was being filmed, the producers just hired a number of people of Asian descent to play the roles of Koreans. There was a mix of different types of Asians in the series, but all of them were portraying Koreans.
There was a Chinese-American, a Japanese woman, and a Japanese American. There was only one real Korean actor playing the role of a Korean. This lets you know how diverse Hollywood was back in the day, and even still, there are not that many Korean actors today.
The Two-Day Pilot
This was briefly mentioned earlier, but it is time to go in deeper on it. The pilot of the show was only written in two days by Larry Gelbart. After writing it, Gelbart was paid $25,000 big ones. That’s a lot for two days of work! However, the writer of the book and the filmmaker of the movie that the series was based on were not particularly a fan of the show.
Robert Altman said the show, “softened the anti-war and anti-authoritarian spirit of the movie.” That is a harsh take to dish out but since he made the film he is probably entitled to that kind of opinion.
Alda Was the Man
Alan Alda has been discussed this slide a bit, but let’s discuss his importance again. If you had to guess how many episodes Alda wrote, what would you say? The correct answer is 13 for that one. And when it comes to directing the episodes he wrote, the tally rises all the way up to 31.
He was the first person to win an Emmy for the triple threat of writing, directing, and acting on the same show. We can all assume that it was not easy, but Alda sure made it look like a walk in the park. And that is what you can consider him as real Hollywood talent.
The character of Radar had a nameless teddy bear that was nearly a character in itself. The bear was housed at the Smithsonian for a while, before going to auction with a starting bid of $500 in the summer of 2005. The bear, which included a letter of authenticity from Gary Burghoff, who confirmed that not only was the bear the actual one from M*A*S*H but that the stuffed animal was one of its kind.
There were 19 bidders hoping to land the bear, but the final bid for the nameless bear came in at over $14k. The bear found its place on M*A*S*H simply by being found on the set at Fox Ranch.
Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger
Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger, played by Jamie Farr, initially was supposed to be the token “effeminate gay” character and was slated to appear in just one episode. The character turned out to be a great addition to the show, so the writers kept Farr around.
Throughout the series, he was known for his schemes, such as cross-dressing, get-rich-quick schemes, and other plot lines that portrayed him as a zany form of comic relief. Also telling of the times, the writers chose to make him a heterosexual character instead and ditched the original scheme to have him attempt an early release by failing a psych exam.
While M*A*S*H helped jump start the career of many of its series regulars, a few guest stars also gained notoriety. Before hitting it big, Three’s Company star John Ritter was on M*A*S*H, as well as film star Laurence Fishburne and Dirty Dancing’s Patrick Swayze. Ritter starred as a recovering soldier who snaps during his treatment, even taking a hostage.
Fishburne was a part of a controversial episode where a racist commander is exposed for intentionally sending African American soldiers into hazardous battle. Swayze, who starred as a terminally ill patient, ironically passed away in 2009 of a terminal illness, pancreatic cancer.
Let’s Play Ball
Similar to modern day shows such as The Office, writers gained inspiration for M*A*S*H characters from real life individuals. Many of the patients from M*A*S*H’s season 6 and 7 were named after baseball players from the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the Angels.
Writers also drew inspiration from their personal lives to name everyone from Radar’s love interests to real-life family members. Radar’s love interests were named after previous girlfriends of one of the writers. Actor Mike Farrell, who was shown talking to his character’s family on the phone, requested that his daughter have the same name as his actual daughter, Erin.
Alan Alda was on M*A*S*H for eleven seasons, commuting from Los Angeles to New Jersey. Every weekend, Alda would fly back to NJ to be with his family. He opted not to move his family out to California, saying that he wasn’t sure how long the show was going to last. After the show ended, Alda developed a long, healthy acting career in film and television.
He had a guest appearance on ER as a doctor and worked with Woody Allen in Manhattan Murder Mystery. Alda also starred in The West Wing, 30 Rock, Blacklist and Horace and Pete. Alda went on to be nominated for 21 Emmy Awards, winning six. He also won a Golden Globe Award.
Actors also took cues from real life events, told to them by individuals who had experienced the Korean War first hand. The patients and doctors who had the first-hand experiences told such detailed stories about the war, the writers actually had to leave some of it out.
The show regularly censored content that could be perceived as sensitive, such as graphic scenes depicted by Korean vets. Actor Gary Burghoff, who was also famous for playing Charlie Brown in an off-Broadway musical, actually has a deformed hand in real life that he hid on the show. It’s frequently hidden behind set items, or stuffed in his pocket.
Goodbye, Henry Blake
McLean Stevenson, who was leaving the show anyway, was the focus of the show’s 72nd episode, titled, Abyssinia, Henry. In the episode, Blake was to be honorably discharged. The character spent the episode saying goodbye to his fellow soldiers and making plans to go home and see his family. However, the writers had another scene up their sleeves.
During one of the last scenes, Blake departs the base. After he leaves, the surgeons of M*A*S*H are operating when Radar bursts in, announcing that his transport plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan and that Henry did not survive the crash. The fans were outraged by this, and CBS got over 1,000 complaint letters.
No Feedback, Please
The writers on M*A*S*H were open to feedback but grew weary of the constant, tedious notes that the actors gave. Wanting to get back at the cast, while also ensuring that the notes stopped, the writers wrote in unnecessary details for the scripts. One time, the actors had to wear heavy parkas, acting as if it were the dead of winter while in reality, it was a hot summer day in Malibu.
After that incident, the complaints and notes stopped. However, many cast members were unhappy with being one of many stars on set. McLean Stevenson actually left the show for this reason, hoping to find more success elsewhere.
When Wayne Rogers, who played Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre, decided to leave M*A*S*H, the producers told him he’d be in breach of contract. It turned out that Rogers, a fan favorite at the time, had never actually signed a contract, helping him get out scot-free. Rogers, who had initially auditioned for Hawkeye Pierce, was unsatisfied with how gruff Pierce was.
He requested to read for Trapper instead, and the role fit. Rogers found some success in film after the series wrapped, but went on to produce, write and direct in Hollywood. He also dabbled in finances, even creating his own stock investment corporation and appearing as a guest contributor on Cashin In.
To reflect the reality of war, a lot of nurses were cast on M*A*S*H, and they didn’t last long. They didn’t have large parts, so writers gave them bland names. The writers drew inspiration from the HAM operators and military, giving the nurses names from the phonetic alphabet. Kellye Nakahar, an actress who was frequently credited as Nurse Kellye, also appeared under other nurse names.
Nakahar was called Nurse Yamato, Nurse Charlie, and Nurse Able. Her role eventually expanded into a speaking part, with her most significant scene in the eleventh season where she got into an argument with Hawkeye.
To advertise during this show it would have cost you a cool $30,000 when the show first started. That is a lot. And we can assume that the creators hoped that whatever was advertised during this show made them that $30,000 back with profit. Because the show was so popular it probably did.
Now remember we mentioned that the finale of this show had set a record? How much do you think it cost to advertise during the finale? if you guessed one million dollars you are wrong. If you said over a quarter of a million at $450,000 then you are correct.
The Time Capsule
There was an episode where the cast buried a time capsule at the ranch. The name of the episode was “As Time Goes By.” After this episode, the land where the capsule was buried was sold two months later. You would think that time capsules would not be found so quickly but a construction worker found the capsule in that two months.
He got in contact with Alan Alda and proceeded to ask him what he should do with the capsule. Alda ended up telling him to keep it and the construction worker, “didn’t seem very impressed.” We wonder just what it was inside of there.
The comedian known as Robert Klein had another vision for his life. Before we dive into the details of what that means, let us talk about turning down opportunities. Many people have turned down chances that have turned out to be great. Does that mean that person is incompetent for not seeing how great the opportunity is? Not at all.
Klein was offered the role of Trapper John but he turned it down. He turned it down to stay focused on his goals for comedy, more specifically his stand-up routine. That doesn’t make him crazy, it just means he knows what he wants.
The Finale Wasn’t Filmed Last
Here’s an interesting fact, the finale of the show was not even filmed last. That seems like an odd way to go about things. Didn’t the actors get sentimental when they knew it was the last episode? Why would you put them through again when you have to film another episode?
The episode that was really filmed last was the one about the time capsule, “As Time Goes By.” For 11 years these actors were spending their days together and getting to know each other better each and every day. To have to sit through another last filming twice must have been hard.
Many times when something gets created based off something else, you will see little Easter Eggs (clues) referring to the original edition. In this case, it has to do with the opening credits of the show and the movie this show was based on. The man himself, Alan Alda, is seen wearing a hat in the opening credits.
The hat you see in the image above was also worn by Donald Sutherland in the movie. The crazy thing is, the hat was never shown again in other parts of the series except for that opening credit scene. Smooth little Easter Egg for you.
It Came Down to a Vote
There are many reasons why shows come to an end. Sometimes it is because the ratings are not doing well or even because the writer just does not want to work on it anymore. In the case of this show, they took it to democratic levels. It was decided by a vote.
The choice to finish the series was because of a vote that was held by the cast members of the show. And because some of them voted to keep the show rolling, they were the ones who appeared on After MASH back in 1983. What a different way to end a show, right?
Hawkeye Was No Fan of Guns
Hawkeye despised guns. Even thought the Army had regulations he would never have a sidearm when he was Officer of the Day. Potter pleaded that Hawkeye have a pistol on him when they went to an aid station. He did not comply in a very graceful manner; he screamed and shot rounds into the sky.
That is like being a lifeguard and not wanting to get in the water. It does not make sense to be in the military and not like guns. There are just too many things wrong with that situation; it would have been better if he stayed out of the military in the first place if that was the case.
Do You Remember the Captain?
In the episode called “Tuttle,” Captain Tuttle is seen in the credits as playing himself. That is weird considering that this character was just a creation of Hawkeye’s imagination and no one ever got to see him or hear him. Why would they include him if that was the case?
But it did not matter; he was still in the credits. If they did that for everybody the cast imagined, then the credits would be too long, right? Someone has to get to the bottom as to why they included him. Maybe it was a prank to see what fans would notice it. Well, we’re here to say we noticed.
Too Many Purple Hearts
War is a dangerous time. Many people do not get to come back home because they are killed or even taken hostage. The lucky and blessed ones make it home with no physical harm done to them; however, they sometimes suffer mental distress. If you are injured in the military and make it out alive, you are awarded a Purple Heart. The rules are that you only get one.
In the show, however, many characters are given more than one Purple Heart. If you are injured more than once you get an oak leaf cluster, not more Purple Hearts. The show could have paid more attention to this pretty important detail.
All in All
The longevity of the show proves that it was a great one. If you are flipping through your TV guide you will often see many re-runs of it. There is a reason that it broke records for the series finale. This show is in a league of its own.
Now you are a certified master of M*A*S*H. If anyone ever asks you a question about it, you can easily refer back to this article and confidently answer anything they have to ask. This show might continue to live on for generations. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
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