logo
Advertisement

In 1968, Dr. Richard Hornberger wrote a novel under the pseudonym Richard Hooker, using his experiences in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War. Several years later, his novel served as the basis for a film that then launched an unforgettable show: M*A*S*H.With 11 seasons released to both audience and critical acclaim, it’s easy to say that M*A*S*H is a truly iconic series. However, there’s a lot about the show that you probably don’t know.

Everyone watched the finale

M*A*S*H is one of the most famous shows of all time and holds several records that no series has been able to beat. It’s still among the highest-rated television shows in U.S. history, nearly 40 years later.

Its final episode was the most-watched television broadcast for 27 years. The finale remains the most-watched finale of any show and is also the most-watched episode of a scripted series.

The last episode of MASH .Goodbye, Farewell and Amen Goodbye, Farewell and Amen remained the most watched television broadcast in American history, Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Alan Alda, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, Allan Arbus Fox Ranch, June 18, 1984 at the Malibu Creek State Park in California Paul Harris / Getty Images

Advertisement

Nobody wanted the laugh track

As with many shows, M*A*S*H had to deal with quite a bit of executive meddling. One of the most notable examples of this was the laugh track. Nobody on the actual production wanted a laugh track, deeming it unnecessary. Executives at CBS, however, worried that audiences wouldn’t understand that the show was a comedy without the canned laughter.

Over the seasons, the laughter got progressively quieter and is completely absent in BBC reruns of the show.

MASH - Alan Alda as Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce (Hawkeye) in episode, 'Divided We Stand.' August 8, 1973. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Advertisement

Hawkeye was purposefully flamboyant

The showrunners specifically wanted a person who was flamboyant and pretty to play the role of Hawkeye, rather than the stoic action hero that most people had come to expect.

Because of this, Alan Alda didn’t even have to audition. Alda has mentioned that the character of Hawkeye had roots in the burlesque scene that he grew up around.

American actor Alan Alda in character as Captain Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce raises a martini glass and speaks on set during the episode 'Divied we Stand' of the CBS Korean War comedy 'M*A*S*H,' California, August 8, 1973. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Advertisement

The series outlasted the actual war

M*A*S*H takes place during the Korean War, which began in 1950 and lasted for three years. However, the show premiered in 1972 and continued to air until 1983, over three times as long as the war itself.

In the later seasons, many of the actors had notably aged, showing visible wrinkles and graying hair. Some of the cast and crew mentioned that this kind of worked in the show’s favor by implying the stress of the war had aged the characters.

Alan Alda, US actor, David Ogden Stiers, US actor, Jamie Farr, US actor, and William Christopher, US actor, saluting in a publicity still issued for the US television series 'M*A*S*H', USA, circa 1975. The medical comedy starred Alda as 'Captain Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce, Ogden Stiers as 'Charles Emerson Winchester III', Farr as 'Maxwell Klinger', and Christopher as 'Father Mulcahy'. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Advertisement

There were so many cameos

Because it was one of the most popular shows at the time and aired for 11 years, a ton of celebrities made cameo appearances. Some notable guest actors include Jason Alexander, Laurence Fishburne, Leslie Nielsen, Noriyuki Morita, Patrick Swayze, and Shelley Long.

The next time you're free, check out the show's credits and learn just how many famous actors popped up in M*A*S*H.

Advertisement

Klinger’s character was very different

In the original scripts for the show, Klinger still crossdressed but was a much more flamboyant, comedic character. He was also canonically gay and had roots in many stereotypes. His crossdressing was the source of jokes and other characters viewed him as strange.

It was his actor, Jamie Farr, who had the idea to play the character differently and have the other characters accept and respect both Klinger and his clothing.

Advertisement

Writers ran out of names

Anyone who has attempted to sit down and write a story knows how hard it can be to come up with names. After several years and thousands of characters, M*A*S*H’s writers had begun to run out of names to use. They gave “generic” nurses names from the military’s phonetic alphabet to make it easier.

Writers also tended to follow a theme with each script. For example, a sixth season episode used names from the 1977 California Angels roster.

Cast members of the television show M*A*S*H on set. Steve Schapiro / Getty Images

Advertisement

Only Alan Alda knew what would happen to Henry

Henry Blake was one of the most popular characters on the show. Spoiler alert, he also has one of the most tragic and heart-wrenching endings. Viewers knew that Henry would be leaving and going home, but nobody was prepared for his plane to be shot down —not even the cast.

Alan Alda was the only actor who knew of Henry’s fate before they shot the scene.

American actor McLean Stevenson (1927 - 1996) in character as Lt. Col. Henry Blake in the episode 'Divided we Stand' of the CBS Korean War comedy 'M*A*S*H,' California, August 8, 1973. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Advertisement

There was lots of executive meddling

Beyond the laugh track, CBS had a lot of influence over the show, especially in the early seasons. Despite its eventual popularity, M*A*S*H had extremely low ratings in its first season. Because of this, CBS was able to control the production significantly with a threat of cancellation.

Most of the meddling came in the form of censorship of blood or language. Executives also nearly canceled the show for using more dramatic plot points, claiming the audience would never watch these episodes.

Elliot Gould (left), US actor, talking with a uniformed officer smoking a cigarette, and Donald Sutherland (right), Canadian actor, examining an x-ray in a publicity still issued for the film, 'M*A*S*H', 1970. The black comedy, directed by Robert Altman (1925-2006), starred Gould as 'Captain John Francis Xavier 'Trapper John' McIntyre', and Sutherland as 'Capt. Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce'. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Advertisement

It had three spin-offs

It’s not surprising that executives attempted to capitalize on the success of M*A*S*H with some spin-offs. However, none were very successful. Because the spin-offs took place in the U.S. after the war, they lacked the driving force that kept M*A*S*H going. Trapper John, M.D. was the most successful spin-off, while AfterMASH was the most faithful to the original. The third, W*A*L*T*E*R, never made it past the pilot episode.

CBS Television advertisement as appeared in the October 17, 1981 issue of TV Guide magazine. An ad for the Sunday primetime programs, Trapper John, M.D. (starring Gregory Harrison as Dr. George Alonzo "Gonzo" Gates; Christopher Norris as Gloria Brancusi R. N.; and Pernell Roberts as Dr. John McIntyre). The CBS fall campaign features the slogan, Reach For The Stars On CBS. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Advertisement

Real life dictated an entire episode's plot

In the episode, "Preventative Medicine," Hawkeye and B.J. discuss falsely diagnosing an overzealous Colonel with appendicitis and then removing the healthy organ to keep him from resuming command. Mike Farrel, who played B.J., objected to this plot point, saying a doctor would never be justified in doing this and that B.J. wasn't the type of man who would do such a thing.

This led to arguments with Alan Alda, who felt that it was worth it to save other lives. Their arguments and ultimate reconciliation made it into the script and became the main plot of the episode.

Advertisement

The original creators hated the show

The real Hawkeye and the original novel's author, Dr. Richard Hornberger, reportedly hated the M*A*S*H series, claiming it "trampled on his memories," and the only thing he would miss from it were the royalty checks. One reason he gave for despising the show was Hawkeye's notable anti-war sentiments.

Robert Altman, the director of the original film, also disliked the show, saying it missed the point of the film. He felt that it softened the anti-war and anti-authoritarian spirit of the movie. Altman also called the show racist, claiming that the basic message of many episodes was that Asian people are the enemy.

Advertisement

Hawkeye was a bit too flirtatious

Alan Alda felt very uncomfortable with how flirtatious Hawkeye was in the early episodes of the show. He and several other members of the production worried that the character's behavior not only lessened Hawkeye's character but also reduced the women to nothing more than potential conquests for Hawkeye.

As a result, these events either took place offscreen or the women ignored them.

Kieu Chinh and Alan Alda star in 'In Love and War', an episode of the television series 'M*A*S*H', which aired on 1st November 1977. Alda also wrote and directed the episode. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Advertisement

Many of the stories were real

Because the writers needed to come up with so many plot points, they were worried they may fall into tropes and cliches. They decided to reach out to veterans, doctors, nurses, and civilians who had experience with the Korean War, asking them to provide stories.

Many episodes were somewhat based on actual events. In the later seasons, the writers actually had to reject some veterans' stories because they had already done episodes that were similar.

Actors in a scene from the long-running US television series, M*A*S*H (1969-1977) about a US Army medical surgical unit during the Korean War. (L-R) McLean Stevenson as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake, Gary Burghoff as Corporal "Radar" O'Reilly, Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, and Wayne Rogers as "Trapper" John McIntyre. Bettmann / Getty Images

Advertisement

The show's time capsule was immediately found

In the show's penultimate episode, the characters bury a time capsule. The crew actually did bury this time capsule and left it behind after the show ended. Several months later, the owners of the land sold the area.

A construction worker for the new owners quickly found the capsule and contacted Alan Alda. After speaking with the man, Alda let him keep the time capsule. Afterward, Alda noted that the man "didn't seem very impressed."

MALIBU, CA - JUNE 18, The last episode of MASH .Goodbye, Farewell and Amen Goodbye, Farewell and Amen remained the most watched television broadcast in American history, Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Alan Alda, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, Allan Arbus Fox Ranch, June 18, 1984 at the Malibu Creek State Park in California Paul Harris / Getty Images

Advertisement

More on Facty



Popular Now on Facty


Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. The information on this Website is not intended to be comprehensive, nor does it constitute advice or our recommendation in any way. We attempt to ensure that the content is current and accurate but we do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. You should carry out your own research and/or seek your own advice before acting or relying on any of the information on this Website.