Dramatic Stories From Behind The Scenes Of ‘M.A.S.H.’
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.
- Photo: CBS / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Richard Hornberger, The Real-Life ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce, Hated Alan Alda’s Portrayal
H. Richard Hornberger, under a pseudonym, published his novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors in 1968. The book, based on Hornberger's 18 months serving as a surgeon attached to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) during the Korean conflict, was adapted as a feature film directed by Robert Altman, then turned into a television series.
The character of Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce was a romanticized version of what Hornberger wanted to be like while serving in Korea. "Hawkeye does things I wish I could," Hornberger has reportedly said.
But Hornberger ended up distancing himself from the television series. He was particularly unhappy about Alan Alda's portrayal of Hawkeye. A political conservative, Hornberger thought Alda changed the character into "a liberal," and altered the novel's heroic Hawkeye into a much more flawed human being.
Hornberger also didn't like that the public thought he was against military intervention because of the television series. He told Newsweek that although the show was accurate in its physical portrayal of a M.A.S.H. unit, it "tramples on my memories."
Author Dale Sherman, in his book MASH FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Best Care Anywhere, suggests Hornberger's novel M*A*S*H Mania, published in 1977, was an attempt by Hornberger to reclaim his original version of Hawkeye Pierce.
Series Creators Gene Reynolds And Larry Gelbart Refused Network Requests To Lighten The Show's Tone
When M.A.S.H. was greenlit to be a television series, co-creators Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart did not want to make a show that suggested military conflict was fun and games. They wanted to honestly reflect its horrors and the reality of people who lived through it.
So the series showed blood in the operating room, soldiers perishing, and villages getting shelled, as well as more lighthearted moments. In his scripts, Gelbart decided to place serious and comedic storylines side by side; neither he nor Reynolds believed a show had to make the audience laugh at regular intervals.
This led to some clashes with the network, who wanted the show to be lighter. Burt Metcalfe, an executive producer, director, and writer for the show, said that at the end of the first season, a CBS executive claimed the creative team had ruined M.A.S.H. He specifically cited the episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet," in which an old friend of Hawkeye's, a reporter, is injured when he goes to visit the front and ends up perishing on the operating table.
Other members of the creative team said Reynolds and Gelbart were prepared to quit if the network didn't let them stick with their vision of the show. Both did eventually leave after the fourth season, although that decision was mainly because of burnout and a desire to work on other projects.
Only One Episode Was Rejected By The Network
Depite the constant fights between M.A.S.H.'s creative staff and the network, in the entire history of the series, CBS ended up rejecting only one episode.
The episode had nothing to do with how the creators were portraying the Korean conflict; the rejected plot centered instead on the character of Hawkeye Pierce having simultaneous affairs with two nurses.
After A Fire Wiped Out The Entire Set, Footage Became Part Of The Show’s Finale
The cast and crew had just finished filming for the day when a major brush fire swept through the show's California shooting location on October 9, 1982, destroying most of the set. The producers decided to use footage of the fire in the finale; it appears in scenes where the camp staff must leave to escape a fire caused by incendiary devices, and again when they return.
In February 2008 the set was partially re-created at the original Malibu Creek State Park location. When workers reached the original set, all that they found were the rusted-out hulks of an Army jeep and an ambulance. They used old blueprints supplied by 20th Century Fox to rope off locations where the actual tents and other structures had been.
When the Woolsey fire swept through Malibu and the surrounding areas in November 2018, the set was damaged.
- Photo: CBS / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Corporal Klinger Was Originally Supposed To Be An Over-The-Top Gay Character Who Would Appear In Just One Episode
The character of Corp. Max Klinger (played by Jamie Farr) reportedly came to life after co-creator Gelbart read that comedian Lenny Bruce, while serving in the Coast Guard, once showed up at morning reveille wearing a dress. According to Farr, Klinger's character was meant to appear in only one episode.
Co-creator Reynolds told him to dress in a woman's Army uniform and high heels for his scene, but after Reynolds left the set, the director instructed Farr to play the part as if Klinger were gay. Farr, who was out of work and needed the pay, agreed. The following day, however, Farr's agent told him Reynolds didn't want Farr to play Klinger as gay, so the actor portrayed Klinger as straight when they filmed the scene.
Klinger, who dressed as a woman in a deliberate attempt to get a "Section 8" - a discharge from the Army for mental instability - proved so popular that Farr earned a recurring role in the first three seasons before being made a regular cast member beginning with Season 4.
The Series Finale Featured The Most Expensive Kiss In TV History
In the series finale episode "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," the Korean conflict has ended and the M.A.S.H. 4077 crew start to go their separate ways. As Hawkeye Pierce and Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan clumsily attempt to say goodbye, they come together for a long, passionate kiss as others awkwardly stand by.
This kiss between actors Alda and Loretta Swit lasted 30 seconds (including reaction cutaways). A 1983 Time magazine story reported that the cost of a 30-second commercial during this series finale was around $450,000; accordingly, that is how much the kiss would've cost.
"It was called the most expensive kiss ever on TV," Alda said.