Do you recall the 1970s CBS hit television series, set during the conflict in Korea, which was medical-themed and similar to “Combat Hospital” in its format?
If you haven’t guessed it already, we are referring to the American television series M*A*S*H.
One of the most popular shows ever, the television series redefined the portrayal of conflict environments by adding humor and artistry, making for a light-hearted combo for audiences recalling stressful war times.
M*A*S*H resonated with so many fans that it garnered several millions of viewers, and 28 years on still holds the record of the most-watched series finale of all time.
Although we are not likely to see it return to screens (unless some genius producer decides to revive it with an epic re-make), its unforgettable performances and captivating storyline makes it a show worth looking back on.
That being said, from the premise of the show to some really interesting facts, here is everything you need to know about M*A*S*H.
What is M*A*S*H?
Based on a true story, M*A*S*H, also known as Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, was a television series adapted from a book written by Army surgeon H. Richard Hornberger in collaboration with writer WC Heins.
The book revolved around his experiences as part of three army doctors who served in the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital During the Korean War.
Before M*A*S*H appeared on tv screens in 1968, Robert Altman had adapted it into a movie about the fictional 4077th unit (inspired by the 8055th unit).
Two years after the film was released, M*A*S*H resurfaced on screens as an 11 season series, with 255 episodes that aired between 1972-1983. The series won 14 Emmy Awards over its course, as well as a Peabody Award in 1975.
The show’s initial main characters were Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce and Captain John McIntyre, two army surgeons who treated wounded soldiers in a mobile hospital.
The two military surgeons serve long hours in intense sessions but make the most of their life in the isolated camp through mischievous shenanigans. They defy ethical practices with their strong affinity for nurses and excessive consumption of bootleg alcohol.
Eventually, their behavior causes friction between them and superior officers Maj. Margaret Houlihan (played by Loretta Swit), the ranking nurse, Maj. Frank Burns (played by Larry Linville), and Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester.
Although their characters make the series gain a reputation for being patriarchal, it gets away with its somewhat stereotypical sentiments by spinning them off with humor.
Producers used several permanent characters and guest stars to show the depth of the work done in the field hospital and the variety of roles in the Army camp.
Incompetent Leut Col. Henry Blake commands the base. Unfortunately, he’s later replaced by Col. Sherman Potter.
Corp. Max Klinger has a hand in looking after the base operation but quickly wants to free himself from his duties by frequently cross-dressing, hoping to earn a medical discharge and be given a ticket back home.
Viewers of the show would know that Radar O Reiley played by Gary Burghoff, is the only overseer who seems to get a hold of the daily operations of the base.
Gary Burghoff is the only actor to have played the same role in both the film and series. His outstanding performance resulted in Gary receiving six Emmy awards nominations, and he was rewarded one for “Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series” in the show’s 1977 season.
Gary Burghoff eventually left the series, as did many others, such as Wayne Rogers, Hawkeye’s partner in crime. Despite a frequent change of characters after its first three seasons, the series drew traction through its consistent plausible script, written by producer Larry Gelbart and strong performances from actors. During its 11 year period on tv, the characters and actors efficiently evolved in a way not often seen in sitcoms.
In addition to utilizing multiple plot lines, the series also remained captivating by using long takes and tracking shots which took the viewer from one character to another.
Despite being based on the Korean War from 1950-1953, M*A*S*H aired near the end of the Vietnam War, with some audiences saying it played a pivotal role in propagating anti-war sentiments.
Interesting facts about the show
During its time on air, M*A*S*H garnered over 100 million loyal viewers, who paid attention to the storyline with such detail, they would probably attest to not missing a single aspect of the series. But like every show, they are often behind-the-scene dealings that even the most cult-like fans would not know about.
So, whether you are embarking on binging the series for the first time or are a M*A*S*H old-timer who wishes to uncover some of those suspicions you always had about the show, below we reveal some interesting behind-the-scenes facts about M*A*S*H.
The awkward laugh track
An awkwardly memorable aspect of the television series was the unusual laugh track that played throughout an entire episode. Viewers and even actors of the series could not grapple with the fact that a laugh track played throughout a story which, for the most part, showcased wounded soldiers – what seemed as inappropriate.
It turns out the reason for the unnecessary laugh track had to do with CBS classifying the series as a comedy and expecting producers to adhere to the rule that all comedic shows at the time needed to add laugh tracks. Luckily, despite the laugh track being frustrating, it was not irritant enough to throw off its millions of viewers from watching the series.
Wayne Rogers left the show because he hated being overshadowed
Some of you might remember when original cast member Wayne Rogers decided to leave the show in its third season. The move came as a shock to many fans considering Rogers played the pivotal role of Trapper John McIntyre, alongside Alan Alda’s Hawkeye.
According to reports, Rogers decided to leave the show for reasons associated with the magnitude of his character. Reports claimed Wayne Rogers was happy that Trapper John was initially supposed to be the main character, equivalent to Hawkeye, but ended up being overshadowed by Hawkeye’s more prominent character.
Having his character depicted as a supporting role to Hawkeye was the main reason he left the show. For a while, many viewers were unaware of his departure as Rogers left without a proper send-off.
While viewers may have expected his contract would have at least obliged him to finish the series and bring closure to his character, it turned out Rogers never signed a contract to begin with, meaning he could up and go at any time.
Radar O Reiley’s teddy bear was part of the show’s treasures
Hawkeye’s scene in the television series holding Radar’s teddy bear, and stating it was a symbol of all the men who came to fight as boys and left as men, could undoubtedly go down as one of the most iconic moments in the show.
The teddy bear was a regular sight on the show, as Radar’s companion amid what everyone would probably agree, the most grueling times of his life.
While the teddy bear was not given an official on-screen name, Radar’s Gary Burghoff was quite fond of it and named it Tiger.
Even after the show ended, the teddy bear remained a big part of its legacy, becoming memorabilia, being auctioned for $11500 to a medical student 22 years later.
Despite being valuable, the medical student opted to sell it to, unsurprisingly, the original owner, Gary Burghoff.
Some actors on M*A*S*H experienced war
Series don’t usually get to hire real-world professionals to make storylines more believable. However, M*A*S*H was fortunate enough to be created when many actors had once been enlisted by the military, having first-hand experience of what it meant to be a soldier at war.
Alan Alda, who played Hawyeke, and Jamie Farr, who played Maxwell Klinger, served in the US army. Before appearing in the series, the two were soldiers in combat during the war.
After the 1953 cease-fire, Jamie Farr served in Japan at Camp Drake and eventually toured and saw action in South Korea with his friend Red Skelton.
After serving in the military, Alda joined the acting company and appeared in several productions before being cast for M*A*S*H in 1972. Arguably, their experience with war made these actors portray their characters a lot better – no wonder they were amongst fan-favorites.
It took two days to write the show’s pilot episode
Have you ever wondered how the script and direction of M*A*S*H managed to be both accurate and patriotic without sacrificing either?
Well, the answer to that lies with screenwriter Larry Gelbart who was a veteran. During World War II, he worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service.
Many spectators believe his experience with the Army was why Gelbart completed the pilot episode of his show in only two days.
And because his pilot was that good, Gelbart received $25,000 for that one script. The quick turnout of the pilot also stemmed from the fact that he didn’t take issue with having the series resemble H. Richard Hornberger’s 1968 book M*A*S*H and the book’s 1970 Robert Altman film adaptation.
Gary Burghof’s left hand is slightly deformed
According to IMDB, Gary Burghoff went the extra mile to hide that he was born with a rare malformation known as Poland Syndrome, characterized by the underdevelopment or absence of muscles on one side of the body, affecting the appearances of the chest, shoulder arm, and hand. In the case of Burghoff, the abnormality was prominent on his hand.
According to his producers, he went to great lengths to hide his left hand, which had had three middle fingers shorter than his right hand, in his pocket. But after delivering such outstanding performances on the series, the last thing fans had in mind was to uncover he hid his hand in his pocket.
The real-life Hawkeye Pierce hated M*A*S*H
Mentioned a couple of times in this article, H. Richard Hornberger, a skilled surgeon who served during the Korean War, wrote the book that inspired the development of the series.
While he penned the book, reports claimed he did not quite like the tv adaptation of his creation. The television series portrayed the harsh realities of being a surgeon amidst a gruesome war. It delved into elaborate details of his time at the military hospital located at the 38th parallel, now infamously known as the border between South Korea and North Korea.
In addition, the series showed his utmost dedication to treating wounded soldiers. The series highlighted how Hornberger defied camp rules and regulations that prevented surgeons from repairing damaged arteries. M*A*S*H emphasizes how Hornberger was the first military surgeon to repair arteries in the hopes of saving as many soldiers as possible. While Hornberger must have felt proud of the tributes made to him on the series, the show’s anti-war sentiments made him feel somewhat misrepresented.
Hornberger was a Political conservative who opposed the show’s liberal interpretations of his beliefs. According to History, his son, William Hornberger, his father had not intended to write an anti-war book. “My father was a political conservative, and he did not like the liberal tendencies that Alan Alda portrayed Hawkeye Pierce as having,” he said.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances that Hornberger did not like the portrayal of his character in the series, it does not take away from the multitude of contributions that, through sharing his experiences, the series made to informing audiences about American History while providing them with a good laugh.
It also served as an opportunity to show gratitude for his and fellow medical caregivers’ work to save the life of many soldiers.