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Dramatic Stories From Behind The Scenes Of ‘M.A.S.H.’

Updated December 19, 2019 153.1k views14 items

After 11 seasons, M.A.S.H. ended its stories of life in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital with a series finale, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," that became the most watched show in American television history with 106 million viewers, a record that stood until the 2010 Super Bowl.

The half-hour show was always a mix of comedy and drama. But M.A.S.H. behind the scenes wasn't always a smooth success story, with the show's creators, actors, censors, and network often creating drama of their own. 

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  • Photo: CBS

    Aside From Alda, The Cast Didn’t Know Col. Henry Blake Would Not Survive Until The Day The Episode Was Filmed

    McLean Stevenson, who played Col. Henry Blake, decided to leave the series after Season 3. In the season finale "Abyssinia, Henry," Blake is discharged from the Army and takes off in a helicopter for the airport, supposedly to fly home to the United States. But the final scene shows a shaken Radar coming into the operating room to deliver the message that Blake perished when his plane was taken down by enemy fire over the Sea of Japan.

    Gelbart, Reynolds, and Metcalfe came up with the idea as way to make the loss more personal to the other characters. But they didn't give cast members a script for the last scene until right before filming; they wanted the actors' natural reactions. Gelbart said Alda was the only cast member who was told ahead of time about the final scene.

    Gary Burghoff (Radar) said when he saw the last page of the script, he told Stevenson if the latter didn't want Burghoff to do the scene, he wouldn't do it. He hoped the finality of Blake's passing, shutting the door on Stevenson's return to the show, would get his fellow cast member to change his mind about leaving the show. It didn't. Instead, Stevenson told Burghoff he had to do the scene, reminding him of the show's goal to try to show the realities of military conflict.

    The scene was filmed in two takes. Gelbart and Reynolds said that they received more than 1,000 letters from viewers upset that Stevenson's character was gone. CBS was upset as well; in at least one repeat broadcast of the episode, the network cut out the final scene.

     

  • Photo: CBS

    The Episode In Which A North Korean Brings A Hand Grenade Into The Operating Room Is Also Based On A Real Story

    To capture the feeling of life at a M.A.S.H. unit, the show's creators, producers, and writers interviewed actual surgeons who had worked in the units.

    Writers based the Season 8 episode "Bottle Fatigue" on a story they heard about a North Korean soldier brought in for surgery who took out a hand grenade and pulled the pin. One of the doctors wrestled with the soldier to grab the handle of the grenade. Meanwhile, anyone not doing surgery got down on their hands and knees until the pin was found and placed back in the grenade.

  • Photo: CBS

    A Medical Student Bought Radar’s Teddy Bear For $11,800 And Resold It To Actor Burghoff

    On M.A.S.H., Radar had a well-worn teddy bear that seemed to act as a kind of security blanket for the young company clerk. Co-creator Gelbart introduced the prop by writing it into an early script, but years later he admitted he had some regret for doing so, saying the teddy bear became "far too coy."

    When Burghoff left the show (Radar's character was written out by getting a hardship discharge from the Army after his uncle's passing), Radar left the bear behind, giving him to Hawkeye. In the "As Time Goes By" episode, Hawkeye offers the teddy bear as an item to be placed in the time capsule, saying it could stand as a symbol for all the soldiers who had come to Korea "as boys and left as men."

    What happened to the prop bear after the series ended was a mystery for more than 20 years. At first, people thought it might have been given to the Smithsonian Institution along with other props from the show, but it wasn't part of a M.A.S.H. exhibition that opened at the National Museum of American History in 1983.

    Finally, in July 2005, it turned up in an auction of M.A.S.H. memorabilia held by Profiles in History. The bear sold for $10,000 ($11,800 including the buyer's premium), well above the presale auction estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. According to Burghoff, a medical student bought the bear and sold it to the actor.

    Burghoff later sold the bear in an online auction via One of a Kind Collectibles in March 2014. The winning bid, including the buyer's premium, was $14,307.50.

  • The Creators And Cast Worried The Show Would Get Canceled After Its First Season

    Although the series ended up running for 11 years, it was in danger of being canceled after Season 1. CBS had scheduled it at 8 pm on Sunday nights, opposite two Top 30 shows: NBC's The Wonderful World of Disney and ABC's The FBI. Against such strong competition, M.A.S.H. struggled to draw viewers, ending the year ranked 46th in the Nielsen ratings.

    In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the widow of William Christopher (who played Father Mulcahy) remembered that at the wrap party for the first season, Alda wondered whether he and her husband would ever see one another again. In the same interview, Farr revealed the wife of CBS founder William S. Paley supposedly convinced her husband to renew the show, telling Paley it could be the network's "crown jewel."

    For its second season, the show moved to Saturday night, between All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and ratings improved.