During the 1970s and early 80s, there were few shows that rivaled M*A*S*H for sheer popularity. Not only did M*A*S*H outlast many of the other great sitcoms of all time, but it also managed to end while it was still the most popular show on TV, even drawing the largest audience in history for its series finale! Here are some little-known and intriguing facts about this amazing show.
Actors With Military Experience
Even if you’re taking a comedic approach to a war-themed TV show, it’s nice to have some people on set with real military experience to draw upon. Fortunately for the producers of M*A*S*H, the show was created when there was no shortage of young actors who had served. Alan Alda and Jamie Farr served in the Korean War, Wayne Rogers was in the Navy, and Mike Farrell was in the Marines.
The Original Trapper John
Many people are not aware that actor and comedian Robert Klein was the first choice of the producers of M*A*S*H to play Trapper John. Unfortunately for Klein, he decided to turn down the role in a decision that he certainly must have regretted. Fortunately, he still had a great career in Hollywood which includes roles in nearly 100 movies and television shows to date.
No Laugh Tracks Wanted
Although CBS and the producers of M*A*S*H both knew that the show would have a great deal of humor, there was contention between the two parties on the subject of laugh tracks. The producers didn’t want any laugh tracks, and many fans noted that the sound of canned laughter got progressively quieter as the show went on.
M*A*S*H was first a book, then a movie, and finally a TV series. Screenwriter Larry Gelbert was at the helm of turning what had been M*A*S*H into a successful show. He was living in London when Hollywood came calling to ask him to write a pilot for M*A*S*H. He agreed and received $25,000 for his work, which he completed in just two days.
Although M*A*S*H was a scripted television series, the producers and writers liked to spring little surprises on the actors to keep them on their toes and get more natural reactions out of them. One of the best examples of this practice came in season three of M*A*S*H, when the cast wasn’t told until they arrived for filming that the character of Henry Blake had been killed off.
Home To Future Stars
M*A*S*H may have been where Alan Alda first got his big break, but it wasn’t just Alan that owes a lot to the show. Many other famous actors appeared on M*A*S*H over the years before they made it big. For example, Patrick Swayze starred as an injured solder, while Leslie Nielsen played a colonel and Ron Howard an underaged Marine. Other guest stars included John Ritter, Rita Wilson, Laurence Fishburne, and more.
What A Run
The show M*A*S*H had quite a run, staying on the air for over a decade and dwarfing the length of the actual Korean War in the process. While the Korean War lasted just over three years, M*A*S*H was a mainstay on American television sets for years and years. That fact is a testament to the show’s success with audiences.
Great Working Relationships
From time to time, you hear about actors, actresses, and directors who just couldn’t get along on set. However, this is certainly not the case with the stars of M*A*S*H. Loretta Swit said she enjoyed becoming friends with all the people she worked with and even lived in the same neighborhood as Harry Morgan until he died in 2011. Alan Alda and family are also great friends with Loretta and her family.
Doing Alda Work
Everyone remembers Alan Alda’s star turn on M*A*S*H in front of the camera, but how many fans realized that Alda actually directed 31 episodes of M*A*S*H, including the finale? His talents extended beyond acting and directing and into writing as well, as he helped pen 13 episodes. In fact, Alda won Emmy Awards for his writing, acting, and directing on the series.
Give Radar Back His Teddy!
On many long-running shows and movies alike, actors tend to take their favorite props home with them as mementos. So you’d think that Gary Burghoff, who played Radar on the show, would have snagged the teddy bear that the character always had with him. However, this was not the case, as the bear ended up missing until a medical student told him he’d bought it at an auction. He offered to sell it back for the $11,500 he’d paid for it.
What Happened To The Time Capsule?
Many M*A*S*H fans will recall that in the second to last episode of the show, the characters buried a time capsule. In real life, the land that they buried the capsule in was sold to developers. One of the construction workers who found the capsule asked Alan Alda if he was interested in having it, but Alda told him he could just keep it.
Along For The Ride
On a show that runs as long as M*A*S*H, it’s quite an accomplishment to be on the credits of each episode. Actress Loretta Swit accomplished that, and she appeared on camera in all but 11 episodes, too. The actress, who portrayed Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, also visited South Korea to participate in a documentary on the Korean War.
Not Always So Accurate
Although the show strived to included some semblance of historical accuracy while portraying the Korean War in a light-hearted way, there were some areas in which this just didn’t happen. For instance, the characters sometimes referenced the U.S. being 18 hours behind South Korea when making phone calls to loved ones at home, but the time difference is actually several hours shorter than that.
Based On A True Story
Considering the light-hearted tone of the show, most viewers wouldn’t expect to see many storylines that were based on real life. However, a lot of the stories were influenced by the personal accounts of doctors, patients, nurses, and soldiers that served in Korea. Of course, screenwriter Ken Levine couldn’t include many of the stories as they were told, since they were too graphic for TV.
America’s Favorite Pastime
Along with watching sitcoms, one of America’s favorite pastimes has always been baseball. So it only makes sense that M*A*S*H would have some situations that were inspired by the sport. On one notable episode, all the extras that were referred to in the script were named after 1977 California Angels players. Other names were inspired by actors’ exes, spouses, or even their children.
Give Them Something To Complain About
Many people remember being kids and hearing their parents threaten that if they didn’t stop complaining, they’d get something to really cry about. Well, the producers of M*A*S*H took that to a new level. If the cast got to whining too much, they’d decide to shoot a cold weather scene, which meant the actors had to put on coats, gloves, and hats to film in 90-degree Malibu weather!
What A Finale
The series finales of long-running sitcoms have a rather hit-and-miss record. Some, like that of Roseanne, are widely panned. Others, like those of Seinfeld or Friends, are merely forgotten. However, M*A*S*H had a finale that was a hit in respect to ratings and quality. Over 121 million people tuned in for “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” a 150-minute extravaganza. Advertisers paid $450,000 for a 30-second ad.
After The Show
A lot of hit television shows in the 60s, 70s, and 80s would inspire spin-offs after the main series had ended. M*A*S*H was certainly a part of this trend, as it spawned such shows as Trapper John, MD, which told the story of John Trapper after the war. AfterMASH and Walter were other spin-offs that came out of M*A*S*H.
Back in the day, things were sometimes done a little differently in Hollywood. For instance, actor Wayne Rogers never had a contract to appear on M*A*S*H. He simply had a verbal agreement due to his objections to the “morals clause” in the original contract, which he thought was old-fashioned. When he left after season 3, the network wanted to sue him for breach of contract, but they found out he didn’t have one!
Will The Real Nurse Baker Please Stand Up?
You didn’t have to be particularly eagle-eyed to notice that there were a number of Nurse Bakers throughout the history of M*A*S*H. Patricia Stevens played Nurse Baker in some of the episodes, but Lesley Evans played her in others. To make matters more confusing, Patricia Stevens sometimes appeared as another character entirely!
That’s Not How You Do It
Earlier, we discussed the fact that while M*A*S*H included some attempts at historical accuracy, the show didn’t always get everything right. This was the case with the manner that some soldiers received their commendations, such as purple hearts. In real life, getting multiple purple hearts was possible, but rare. Not so much on the show, where it happened somewhat regularly.
Lack Of Asian Actors
Nowadays, there are many established Asian actors in Hollywood of all nationalities. This wasn’t always the case when M*A*S*H was filmed, so many of the actors that played Koreans weren’t actually Korean. In fact, Soon Tek Oh was the only Korean actor to appear, and he actually ended up playing multiple roles throughout the series’ history!
Say Yes To The Dress
The history of actor Jamie Farr on M*A*S*H was kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, he was only supposed to appear as Maxwell Q. Klinger one time on the series. However, it’s debatable that people remember the wedding dress that he wore one episode more than him. What a lot of people don’t know is that Soon Lee also wore the dress to marry Klinger and Hot Lips herself wore it to marry Penobscott.
Just about everything about M*A*S*H was a little peculiar, and the end of the show was no exception. M*A*S*H ended not because of flagging ratings or exorbitant cast demands, but because the cast and crew wanted to quit while the show was still on top. They voted among themselves to end the show after ten seasons, but CBS offered them another, shorter season during which they could say goodbye to viewers.
Not A Fan Of Guns
Hawkeye was a very interesting character. Not only was he quite amusing, but he was also something of a pacifist. During one famous episode, he and Potter are in a foxhole taking cover from the opposition, and Potter wants him to fire on the enemy. Hawkeye balks, noting that he hates the notion of killing. Potter asks him if he’d rather die than shoot another person, and Hawkeye said that he hates guns that much.
The Secret Identity Of Captain Tuttle
Sometimes, the credits of TV shows hide secrets from the audience to keep them from discovering anything. This was the case with Captain Tuttle, who was listed as being played by himself. In the show, Captain Tuttle was actually a figment of Hawkeye’s imagination, so the decision to list him this way in the credits was definitely an artistic choice.
Did You Spot Them?
During the eleven seasons of M*A*S*H, did you notice the random power lines in some of the shots of the show? The base is supposed to be far from civilization, 34 miles away from Seoul, South Korea. However, they obviously didn’t film on location and needed power for the set. The lines couldn’t be edited out in post-production, as that was quite expensive at the time.
Hey! I Know You!
For a show as long as M*A*S*H was, it’s only natural that there would be a need for a lot of characters. In fact, the producers often hired the same actors repeatedly to play different roles. Lois Foraker played three separate nurses on M*A*S*H, but even she couldn’t compete with Bobbie Mitchell, who played ten different roles on the show!
The Serious Side Of M*A*S*H
Although M*A*S*H had a lot of comedic moments, it was still a series set during the Korean War and therefore, often explored more somber subjects. In particular, the 22nd episode of season eight is considered to be one of the most serious in the show’s history. In the episode, the doctors are barely able to keep up with all the wounded soldiers accumulating at the base and suffer from sleep deprivation, to boot.