One of the most popular shows of the 1970’s and 1980’s, MASH was a dark comedy which showed average Americans a little of what it was like to be in a field hospital during the Korean War in the 1950s. However, a show this long has a good amount of secrets behind the scenes which enabled this series to become one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and a show which is still quoted and talked about nearly four decades after it ended!
There were real soldiers on set
One of the reasons that MASH was so successful was due to the fact that several of the actors had previously not only served in the US military, Jamie Farr and Alan Alda were on active duty during the Korean War! Alan Alda, the creative genius behind the show, served in the US Army Reserves for six months, Wayne Rogers (who played Trapper John McIntyre) was a ship navigator in the Navy, and Mike Farrell (who played B.J. Hunnicut) was in the Marine Corps!
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A famous comedian turned down a role
Robert Klein, who was a famous comedian at the time, was asked to be on MASH when the show first aired. He was picked to play the part of Trapper John but decided to turn down the role in the end. Despite rumors and reports that he regretted the decision to not take the roll, it turns out he was still ok with turning down this major role.
Laughter wasn’t supposed to be a part of the show
The executive producers on CBS wanted to make MASH as much of a comedy as possible. Therefore, they decided to put as much canned laughter into the show as possible. However, the writers of the show were completely against this, feeling that this trivialized the actual soldiers in the Korean War. As the show went on the laughter got progressively quieter and quieter. However, the show’s creators were able to get the laughter out of the operating room scenes.
The pilot episode was written quickly
Screenwriter Larry Gelbert was the one who was tapped to convert MASH the book into MASH the movie, and ultimately MASH the TV series. He had lived and worked in Hollywood for a while before he grew sick of the city, moving to dreary London. But when he was asked to write the pilot for the show, he jumped at the opportunity, and wrote the entire pilot in two days! For that, he received $25,000.
The producers kept the actors in the dark
One of the reasons that the acting was so good in the show MASH was because a lot of the time, the actors weren’t even acting! The directors of the show wanted to keep certain things secret so that when they were said on set, the reactions by the cast would be genuine. One of the most famous examples of this came at the end of season three, when it was announced before the entire shocked cast and crew that Henry Blake died.
A ton of famous people appeared on the show
A whole bunch of really famous actors got their start in minor roles on the show. For instance, Ron Howard played an underage Marine, Patrick Swayze played an injured soldier with leukemia, and Leslie Nielsen played a Colonel. Lots of other people who ended up becoming famous were first treated at the 4077th unit’s MASH, including the likes of John Ritter, Rita Wilson, Laurence Fishburne, Shelley Long, Blythe Danner, Andrew Dice Clay, and even Teri Garr!.
The show lasted longer than the war itself
One would think that due to the length of the show that the war in Korea must have lasted quite a long time. However, while the show, which ran for over a decade, does in fact accurately portray what life was like in a MASH unit, it doesn’t portray time well (as we’ll see later). The actual war lasted, in its entirety, a mere three years, one month, and two days.
The cast got really close and stayed close once the show ended
Working together for over a decade, many of the actors on the show continued to be best friends even after the show stopped taping. For instance, Loretta Swit became close to almost all of the cast and crew, and even became neighbors with her former co-star Harry Morgan! The two lived in the same neighborhood until Morgan passed away in 2011. The Alda family is also still very close to the Swit, the only other actor who’s credited in all of the episodes.
Alda was super versatile
Alan Alda was quite the master when it came to making television and knowing what MASH was all about. In fact, Alda himself directed over 31 MASH episodes – including the world famous MASH series finale. He also co-wrote 13 episodes, and he did this all while he was acting in the show at the same time! He is the first person to ever receive an Emmy for writing, directing, and acting on the same series.
Someone bought Radar’s bear
Gary Burghoff’s character Radar on MASH was famous for having a teddy bear with him wherever he went. But after the series ended, the teddy was nowhere to be found, and was just considered to be lost forever. That is until one day a medical student called Burghoff up and offered to sell him the bear back. It turns out that the med student had bought the bear at an auction for $11,500!
Someone found the famous time capsule
The characters buried a time capsule in the second to last episode of the show under a place called “the Fox Ranch.” The land ended up getting sold to developers who began digging in the area in order to build infrastructure such as sewers and water mains. A mere two month after burying the capsule, a construction worker accidentally uncovered the capsule. The construction worker apparently reached Alan Alda to see if he wanted it back, but Alda told him to keep it.
Actress Lauretta Swit was in nearly every episode
Playing the role of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, Lauretta Swit is the only member of the cast to have her name in the credits of every single MASH episode, and has an on camera role in every single one of the episodes except for 11. She was also the first of any of the cast members to actually pay a visit to the Korean peninsula when she went to South Korea as part of a documentary called Korea, the Forgotten War.
They couldn’t get the time difference right
For some reason, the show could never get the time difference between South Korea and the United States. The show continuously makes the mistake by saying that the United States is 18 hours behind South Korea, especially when the characters are talking about making a (very) long distance phone call. However, in reality, the time difference is actually between 12 and 14 hours, depending on Daylight Savings Time!
Many of the stories are real
A lot of the storylines acted out in MASH are actually real stories which came from real MASH units which were operating in Korea, taking the stories from actual patients, doctors, nurses, and other soldiers who were serving on the Korean peninsula. Ken Levine, one of the screen writers for the show, even said that some of the stories were so graphic and insane that the writers actually had to tone them down!
Baseball had a huge impact on the show
When the screenwriters began to run out of name ideas, they went to professional sports to source out the names for their characters. For instance, there is an entire episode where the soldiers are named after the 1977 California Angel’s infield players! They also used various actors’ ex girlfriends to be stand in names for the show, along with the names of their wives and children. What a way to honor your kid!
The cast whined a lot
The cast would regularly complain about this thing or the other, various script issues, or just general, prima donna whining. Whenever this would happen, the writers would all of a sudden decide to film a cold weather scene. Why a cold weather scene? Because it forced the actors to get into heavy, winter weather clothes while they were filming in the middle of 90 degree hot Malibu! Once the actors caught on to what was going on, they quickly stopped complaining.
The finale was one of the most watched shows ever
The shows series finale still holds the record to this day in terms of percentage of US viewers watching the show’s final two and a half hour episode, titled “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” with 77 percent of the US population tuning in. Thats over 121 million people! Meanwhile, advertisers on the show had to pay $450,000 for a 30 second spot – over $1.1 million today. That’s the same price as some Super Bowl ads!
MASH had several spinoffs
MASH was such a hit that it inspired several spin offs, none of which particularly succeeded to the same extent as MASH itself did. One of these spinoffs was Trapper John, MD, which was on the air for seven years, and detailed the life of John Trapper as a surgeon in the US after the war. There was also AfterMASH along with WALTER, which followed the exploits of Radar as a St. Louis cop.
Wayne Rogers never signed a contract
Wayne Rogers left M*A*S*H after season three, but had a much easier time getting out of his contract than others, particularly because he didn’t have one! He never signed anything, and particularly objected to what was called a “morals clause,” saying that the idea of having one was simply “antiquated.” When the studios came after him to sue him for breach of contract, he just laughed, since he never even had one to begin with!
There were several Nurse Bakers
Despite all the nurses being named after the old NATO phonetic alphabet, they weren’t always the same. Some episodes would see nurse Baker (named after the phonetic letter B), being played by actress Patricia Stevens, other times she would be a different character, and nurse Baker would be played by Lesley Evans. And craziest of all, no one ever seemed to notice!
Purple hearts on the show were awarded wrong
The show saw several people received “awards” for their “service” on the show, including getting purple hearts. However, the soldiers were “awarded” their medals in an incorrect manner. It turns out that you’re only able to get a purple heart after you’re injured your first time. Any time you get injured after receiving that first purple heart, and you get an oak leaf cluster.
Where were the Korean actors?
Amazingly, most of the MASH actors playing Koreans weren’t even Korean themselves! This is because there simply weren’t enough Asian actors to go around in Hollywood at the time, let alone Korean! However, there was one real Korean actor on the show – Soon Tek Oh. He, like many of the other actors, was forced to play many different roles – both North and South Korean!
Klinger’s wedding dress has a crazy history
Klinger’s character got super lucky as he was only supposed to appear one time throughout the entirety of the 11 year long show. However, what might have gotten even more attention is his wedding dress, which was worn by three different people. It was worn by Soon Lee when she married Klinger, Margret Houlihan when she married Lt. COl. Penobscott, and the first time when Klinger married Laverne Esposito.
The cast voted to end the show
It’s hard to keep a show fresh for a decade, and after the 10th season, the MASH cast and crew felt as if “the cracks were beginning to show” in the series. Therefore, the cast and crew took a vote and decided to quit while they were at their pinnacle as opposed to letting the show get stale and fade into obscurity. CBS offered MASH one more season, but a shortened one so that they could have a grand finale send-off.
Hawkeye actually hated guns
In one of the episodes, Hawkeye and Potter are under heavy fire and taking cover in a foxhole outside of the operating tent, when Potter orders Hawkeye to fire his weapon at the enemy. It is at this moment that we learn that Hawkeye absolutely hates guns and killing despite the fact that he is so close to both all the time. When Potter asks if Hawkeye hates his life so much that he won’t defend it, Hawkeye says, “I hate guns that much!”
Who was Captain Tuttle?
In the episode “Tuttle,” which stars both Hawkeye and Captain Tuttle, the credits credit the actor playing Cpt. Tuttle as “played by himself.” This is because in the show, Captain Tuttle was just a figment of Hawkeye’s imagination, and is a sneaky way to show that there really was no Captain Tuttle there!
Some episodes have random power lines
MASH takes place in the middle of the forests of Korea, and, as can be seen in the signs around the MASH base, is located 34 miles away from Seoul, the capital of Korea. However, every once in awhile, there are shots where it is possible to see power lines! This is because the production company simply didn’t have the money to edit out the lines, as that was a super expensive process at the time.
The cast switched roles
MASH had a ton of characters, but not a lot of actors. Therefore, if you are binge watching the show, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces, but as different characters! For instance, actress Lois Foraker was three different nurses, and Bobbie Mitchell was cast as ten different characters! Most of the women – all nurses – were named Able, Baker, or Charlie, taking their names from the old style NATO phonetic alphabet letters for A, B, and C.
Klinger was supposed to be part of the LGBTQ community
In a surprising move for a show not only set in Korea, but one that was filmed in the 1970s and the 1980s, main character Klinger was actually meant to be a part of the LGBTQ community! This was at a time when people from the LGBTQ community were not only allowed in the US military, but even certain states due to laws against them! However, the writers turned him into a man who so didn’t want to be in Korea that he cross dressed to get a discharge from the military.
The darkest episode
Many people have argued that the darkest episode of the show was the Dreams episode, which was episode 22 of season eight. The premise of the episode is that there are wounded soldiers piling up outside the MASH unit and the doctors are trying their hardest to save them all. In between, they get to sleep a little bit, and we get to see inside the characters’ nightmare
The cast did IBM commercials
After the success which was MASH, IBM wanted to create the same kind of splash with their newest product – the home, personal computer, or PC. They decided to hire the old cast of MASH and had them closely reprise their own characters, but in a “modern” (read 1980s) office setting. Instead of talking about the wounded, it is surreal to hear them talking about computers. What innocent times those were.
The Capt. Tuttle episode was based on a French play
Screenwriter Larry Gelbart revealed the inspiration behind the episode with the most famous fake captain in MASH history – Capt. Tuttle. It turns out he was inspired by an English version of a French play about an illiterate Russian soldier who was sent to work in a military office. He was writing a letter dictated by an officer, but because he couldn’t spell, he mistakenly wrote to a “Lieutenant Tenant,” and had to keep making things up as he went.
Lucky red bandana
In episode 12 of the first season of the series called “Dear Dad”, we see the character Max wearing a red bandana. He says that it is a good luck charm which his mother gave him before he shipped off to the Korean front, and claims that he has not nor will not take it off. However, he never has the bandana on again after the episode. Good luck?
Good firearms safety
In one of the episodes titled “Rally Round the Flag Boys,” Mr. Pak Sr. gets up to try and leave the camp. It is then that Col. Flagg takes his pistol and points it at the man, threatening to shoot Mr. Pak should he leave. However, upon closer inspection, it is possible to see that there is no bullet magazine inside the gun. Maybe that is because it is against military procedure to keep weapons locked and loaded?
Wrong looking x-rays
For a medical show, one would think that the creators would try to make it as accurate as possible, from how the medicine works to how the x-rays would look. However, any time in the show that they take an x-ray of someone who has shrapnel wounds, the shrapnel comes out looking dark. However, because shrapnel is metal, they should show up as white splotches, something which doesn’t happen on the show.
Alan Alda is still relevant
Alan Alda may have had an incredible career in the 1980s with MASH as well as in the 1990s with The West Wing, but he is still remaining (or at least trying to remain) as relevant as ever. In fact, as recently as June 17, the famous actor and screenwriter appeared on The Late Show with Seth Meyers. The two spoke at length about what the famous actor is doing now, and it turns out that he is still doing a lot at age 81.
Alda is currently a professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, and helped found the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Sciences there. He has recently written a book which talks about how the best way to get your message across is to do it through empathy. Alda says that it is nearly impossibly to communicate effectively without being able to see a person’s body language or facial expression. Maybe we really should get off our phones.
Improv to doctors?
In his “retirement” (it seems like he is busier than ever), Alda has taken it upon himself to teach improvisation courses to doctors. He noticed that when doctors speak to patients, it is usually in medical speak, using words that only specialists know. However, Alda is trying to get doctors to understand how to explain what they are doing to common people so that less medical mistakes happen and so that people really understand what is going on with them.
Alda was supposed to be a doctor
During an interview by Alan Alda on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Alan Alda admitted that his father wanted him to be Dr. Alan Alda, but the screenwriter we all know and love had absolutely no interest in doing so. After much convincing, Alda finally agreed to take one pre-med chemistry course when he was in college. However, he went into the class knowing that he wanted to fail, and even tried (and got) a 10 percent on the final exam. Yikes.
Ratings were down at the beginning
When the show M*A*S*H* first appeared on the air in 1972, people were not really into watching it. The Korean War had ended less than a decade prior and the United States was still embroiled in the Vietnam War. Additionally, MASH was put up against shows which had extremely strong ratings, thereby putting the show at number 46 in the rankings. However, it would go on to be in the top 10 the second season and never leave that list.
Despite this slow start in the world of television, MASH would go on to win a whole plethora of awards. The hospital war drama went on to win six People’s Choice Awards, eight Golden Globes, and an astonishing fourteen emmys including Best Television Series in 1982 as well as the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. The also won a Peabody and even a TV Land Impact Icon Award.
Loretta’ Swit’s nickname
While filming on the set, the cast and crew all got really close to each other, and inevitably, they all started coming up with nicknames for one another. Loretta’s Swit’s name was all at once obvious, easy to come up with, and just a little bit on the misogynistic side. Throughout taping and filming, her colleagues on set called her Switheart or Her Switness.
Houlihan and Hawkeye sitting in a tree
In one famous episode in the middle of the series, Hawkeye (played by Alan Alda) and Houlihan (Loretta Swit) finally, after years of tension, kiss in the middle of a thunderstorm. However, this kiss was originally intended to have occurred in the beginning of the series. It did not happen until much later due to the fact that both Alda and the directors felt that they needed to develop the characters more before audiences would be comfortable with the kiss.
Houlihan’s strength and integrity
As the show continued and the character of Margaret Hotlips Houlihan continued to grow and expand, actress Loretta Swit firmly insisted that the fiery nurse continue to be written as “the best nurse in Korea.” While Loretta did not mind if her character had a sense of humor, she still wanted Houlihan to be a strong woman who was the best at her job. This kept the character strong and inspiring to female viewers.
Main character Lt. Col. Henry Blake left the show and the last shot we see of him is in a helicopter. However, we later go on to see that his plane that was supposed to take him back to the United States was shot down over the sea of Japan. This was the first time a main character got killed off, and fans of the show were furious, writing a multitude of angry letters. The producers’ response – this is what happens in war, and this is why you should lobby your representatives to end war.
Still going strong
Loretta Swit is still acting and performing even at 79 years of age. However, she has forgone film and television acting in favor of stage acting. Swit has most recently headlined the musical Mame, which is about a wealthy woman who must take in her nephew during the great depression. She also starred in the romantic comedy Amourous Crossings in Jacksonville, FL.
The show, like any other television program ever made, was always under a tight deadline. Each episode took four days to make, but these days were not from 9 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon – they were 12, 13, and sometimes even 15 hour days. But, as Alan Alda said in a recent interview, there is nothing more fun than seeing success after all your hard work.
New York Sewers
The series finale of MASH was the most watched television program in American history, with the vast majority of American television viewers tuning in to watch the finale. There were so many people watching the show in New York City for instance, that it was possible to tell when the commercial breaks were. How? Because people who did not want to go to the bathroom during the show went during the breaks – and it broke the sewers.
Never gonna happen again
When Alan Alda was asked in an interview by an Australian reporter whether or not he thought that it would ever be possible to have over half of the United States watching a single series finale, he said no. Alda explained that due to the insane amount of content on television now from cable and streaming video services, Americans are so diffused in terms of what they watch, compared to when his series ended and there were only three channels.
Six decades of love
Alan Alda has been married to his wife and love of his life Arlene. She even has a little nickname for him – Fonsi. This is because Alan Alda was not born Alan Alda, but Alfonso D’Abruzzo. When asked about how the two have been able to stay together for so long, Alda claims his wife says that she has a short memory. Who knows, maybe that helps.
Saved by an Aussie
Back when Alan Alda was a child, polio was still a scourge upon the earth, affecting hundreds of thousands of people every year including many children. Then an Australian nurse by the name of Elizabeth Kenny came to the United States and began lecturing on a brand new way to treat polio. She was there two years before Alda contracted the disease, and because of her and her treatment, Alda survived and brought us MASH.
The holy soldier
William Christopher played the role of Father Mulcahy on MASH during every season of the worldwide television phenomenon. However, this was not his first time portraying a soldier on national television. He previously played Private Lester Hummel on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C, which itself was a spinoff from the Andy Griffith Show. It looked like he really moved up through the ranks, going from the lowest rank in Gomer Pyle all the way up to Captain in MASH.
Love is blind
Have you ever been on a blind date? Your friend says that he has someone really special that you should meet, they set you up, and you… well most of the time it does not work out because it turns out the two of you have nothing in common. However, this is not what happened with William Christopher. He was set up on a blind date with a woman named Barbara, and they immediately hit it off. They wed in 1957.
Helping the disabled
William Christopher and his wife adopted two infants, but it turned out that one of them had autism. This was at a time when any and all disabilities were frowned upon and when you had to hide the child or person who had the disability. However, the Christophers decided to be very public about their son’s condition, writing a very well read book on the subject as well as chairing the National Autistic Society.
The drummer on set
The man who played Radar, Gary Burghoff, was not only a fabulous actor but also a well known and accomplished musician. He is very versed in percussion, and even played in a band called The Relatives. The band was hired to play at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. However, he left the band after three months in order to pursue a career in acting.
Gary Burghoff is a renowned animal rights activist and outdoorsman in the state of California. In fact he not only paints wildlife, but he is also licensed by the State of California to take in wounded wildlife and nurse them back to health. On the other end of the spectrum, he is also an avid fisherman, having fished in 49 of the 50 states in the United States (he has never fished in Alaska). He also has patents on at least five types of fishing lures.
Wayne Rogers, investor
Wayne Rogers, who played the role of Trapper John on MASH, was a money whizz. He was the one who all of the cast members turned to when they had money issues or needed advice on how to invest their residuals from the long running television show. He was able to make the residual money grow not just for himself, but also for the other cast members. He knew how to read the stock and real estate market and succeed.
Just because M*A*S*H went off the air did not mean that Wayne Rogers did too. In fact, he stayed on nearly until the end of his life, but in a very different role. He became a regular contributor to Fox Business News as a business and market analyst. He was known for constantly cracking jokes, using giant words nobody understood, and just generally someone who wanted to give people good market analyses.
Wayne Rogers & Co.
After leaving M*A*S*H, Wayne rogers became something of a business guru. He became interested in the field while he was still playing Trapper John, and became so good that he would give his friends on the show advice. He was able to read the markets so well that he ended up opening up his own investment firm called Wayne Rogers & Co., specializing in the real estate and stock markets.
Wayne Rogers Net Worth: $75 Million
Wayne Rogers was able to make nearly $75 million by the time he died in 2015. What is interesting is that he is one of the few actors ever to take their acting money and actively invest it and grow it to the extent that he did. While he may have made a few million dollars from his role as Trapper John, he was able to multiply his money through smart investing and good market forecasting.
Author of his own demise
The reason that Wayne Rogers got so into investing was because he had heard of so many other actors who went broke after their acting careers ended. He looked at John Wayne who’s manager stole nearly all of his money, and he decided that if he was to lose all of his money, he might as well do it himself as opposed to have someone steal it all. He invested small amounts at first, and as those investments grew, he started reinvesting the dividends.
Competition brings freedom
In an interview with PBS affiliate WSRE, Roger says that one of the things that brings freedom in the United States is the fact that there is such a free market and that the invisible hand of government does not guide it. He also says that the free market and capitalism is the name of the game in the United States and that he is just playing the game.
Testifying before Congress
Wayne Rogers was actually called upon by the United States House Committee on the Judiciary to be an expert witness to defend the Glass-Steagall act which separated investment banking from commercial banking. However, in 1999, the US Congress ended up passing a bill which got rid of the Glass-Steagall act called the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act. According to Rogers, the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act helped to set the stage for the 2008 financial crisis.
The show is based on a book
MASH started out as a book titled MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors written by an actual MASH surgeon who served in the Korean War. The author, H. Richard Hornberger, wrote under the pen name Richard Hooker so that he could more freely write about his experiences during the war. The book, based on the fictional 4077th MASH unit, eventually became a movie directed by Robert Altman before turning into one of the most watched television series ever.