50 Surprising Facts You Might Not Know About M*A*S*H
The television series M*A*S*H premiered on CBS in September 1972 and changed television forever. The story followed the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War and seamlessly blended comedy and drama like never before. The series was embraced by critics and viewers alike, and it served as one of the most well-known military-based television shows of all time. M*A*S*H is now a household name. The series ran for eleven seasons and was nominated for more than one hundred Emmys, winning fourteen.
Radar's Left Hand
If you really look closely while watching M*A*S*H, you will see that Gary Burghoff hardly ever shows his left hand. He will typically have it inside a glove, behind a clipboard, in his pocket, or just not in view.
The reason he hides his left hand is that three of his fingers were deformed because of a birth defect. Most people never even noticed because it wasn't obvious. Not to mention he can play the drums pretty well despite the deformity.
The U.S. joined the Korean war at the end of June 1950 and remained until the armistice was signed in 1953. Many doctors and nurses at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals were there for three Christmases.
The producers of M*A*S*H didn't realize this, and as a result, the staff at the 4077th celebrated the holiday four times. One of the episodes was Boxing Day but it took place on Christmas night.
Mike Farrell's Captain B.J. Hunnicutt replaced Trapper John in the fourth season; he was a young, clean-shaven, mild-mannered doctor. He had some stubble from time to time, but he remained mostly clean-shaven during his first few seasons.
Before the series' seventh season, Farrell's best friend, Alan Alda, asked him to grow a mustache. He wanted to distinguish the two characters, and the mustache also coincided with a change in B.J.'s attitude toward war and the military in general.
Real And Fake Wildfires
While filming M*A*S*H's series finale, the staff had to leave because of an incoming brush fire. When everyone returned to the site, all that was left were the foundations of the wood and metal buildings.
Everything was destroyed by the intense heat of the wildfire. It wasn't originally in the script, but after the Santa Monica Mountains were destroyed, Alan Alda and the rest of the writers incorporated it into the story.
One of the most famous props on the set of M*A*S*H was the signpost that sat in the middle of the camp. Some of the original cast started the signpost, and it grew as the show continued.
In season six, Major Charles Winchester added a sign for his hometown of Boston. Hawkeye and Radar did not have one up there for their hometown, but most of the staff did.
The television series M*A*S*H was actually based on a book written by Richard Hooker. The book was titled MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors and is about the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea.
The book is fiction, but it is based on the experiences and knowledge of a former surgeon in the military, Dr. H. Richard Hornberger. He wrote the book with W.C. Heinz, and Hooker was their shared pen name.
The Writers Had Secrets
The writers of the show had many secrets that they kept from the cast. One example is how they killed Henry Blake off the show. The cast would also often change the script on the actors if too many of them complained.
For instance, after several cast members complained, the writers changed the script to make the actors wear parkas, pretending it was cold weather. In reality, it was 90 to 100 degrees on set. They eventually stopped taking input from the cast members.
Laugh Tracks Were Quiet On Purpose
Many fans noticed that even when jokes were cracked in the operating room, there wasn't a laugh track while Hawkeye and company were at work. That is because the track was muted for these scenes.
Also, because the show had more of a serious nature, producers pushed for no laugh track at all. CBS compromised and muted the laughs only for operating scenes but lowered the volume of the laughter during other scenes.
Lots Of Future Stars Made Appearances
There were many guest stars on the show throughout its eleven seasons, and several of them became stars later on. Actor and director Ron Howard had an appearance as a Marine on the show.
Patrick Swayze played a soldier who suffered an injury and had leukemia. Also appearing on the show were: Shelley Long, Laurence Fishburne, John Ritter, Rita Wilson, Blythe Danner, and Leslie Neilson.
The Time Capsule's Fate Wasn't Very Exciting
The characters on the series M*A*S*H buried a time capsule in the episode "As Time Goes By." Most people that watched the episode figured it would be just as exciting when the time capsule was found.
The person that found the time capsule wasn't very impressed; he found it just a couple of months after the show ended. The man was a construction worker, and after he found it, he asked what he should do with it.
Alan Alda Made History With The Show
Alan Alda made history with the series M*A*S*H. He was the first person to win an Emmy for writing, directing, and acting in a show. He is also known for his memoirs, involvement in kids' science events, and hosting Scientific American Frontiers.
Alan has won several Emmys and Golden Globes Awards. He has remained a popular actor throughout his lifetime, appearing in The Longest Ride, The Blacklist, and guest starring on 30 Rock and ER.
Patriotism Was Enforced
During the show's run, patriotism was always enforced. The show depicted many truths to the war and would often avoid some that painted the troops in an unpatriotic light.
CBS would downright refuse to do episodes that showed soldiers standing outside in the cold to intentionally become ill enough to be sent home. There were plenty of other details that were changed, omitted, or exaggerated.
It Had The Most-Watched Episode In The History Of American TV
Most season finales have a lot of people tuning in, but most won't compare to the number of people that watched the finale of M*A*S*H. The finale aired on February 28, 1983, and the episode was titled "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen."
The finale was two and a half hours long and was viewed by seventy-seven percent of the people watching T.V. that night. There were a total of 121.6 million people watching the finale, making it the most-watched episode in the history of American T.V.
Some Actors Were Veterans
Several of the actors in the series M*A*S*H were veterans and had been to war. Jamie Farr and Alan Alda, who played Klinger and Hawkeye, were both military men and both served in the Army.
Alda spent six months in Korea with the Army Reserve, and Farr was stationed in Japan and Korea. Wayne Rogers was in the U.S. Navy, and Mike Farrell served in the Marine Corps.
Klinger Was Cast For A Single Episode
Klinger was actually supposed to only be in one episode of the series M*A*S*H, and the character wasn't even in the book. However, audiences really loved the character, and he was written in as a regular on the show.
Klinger is a very 'out there character,' and audiences loved seeing what he would be wearing every episode and what stunts he would pull to attempt getting discharged.
A Plot-Hole Of The Past That's Easily Resolved Now
When the show first aired, there was no internet. One of the first plot holes found in the series could've easily been solved if they would have had the internet. The characters always stated that there was an eighteen-hour time difference between the U.S. and South Korea.
Which caused them to mention incorrect time differences throughout the show. Actually, there is only a sixteen-hour time difference between L.A. and South Korea and thirteen hours between New York and South Korea.
A Minor Mishap With Comic Books
Corporal Walter O'Reilly is one of the main characters and is called Radar. Radar had a thing for comic books, and there is a scene where he is cuddled up with a teddy bear and an issue of The Avengers comic book.
However, the initial comic book released wasn't until 1963, and the show was set during the Korean War, between 1950 and 1953. There was a little mishap, or it was Radar secretly traveling to the future to sneak in some of his favorite issues.
An Imaginary Character
There is an episode where Captain Tuttle is listed in the credits as having played himself. It's interesting because the captain was just a figment of Hawkeye's imagination and didn't actually appear in the episode.
Many wondered why a character that never appeared in the episode would be listed in the credits. It very well could have been the show's creators being funny and playing a prank to see if fans would notice.
Wayne Rogers Never Signed A Contract
Wayne Rogers could get out of the show whenever he wanted because he never actually signed a contract. There was a creative disagreement going on around the set; Rogers felt the show focused too much on Alan Alda's character, Hawkeye Pierce, and that his character wasn't explored enough.
He left the show after just three seasons and was never given a proper send-off on M*A*S*H. His departure was totally legitimate and legal because he didn't sign a contract.
Radar's Teddy Bear Was MIA For A While
Radar's teddy bear made an appearance in the iconic scene in which Hawkeye Pierce says, "Let the bear symbolize all the boys who came over here that left as men." He then put Corporal Radar's teddy bear in the time capsule. The bear was on the show for all its seasons as Radar's fluffy companion and was named Tiger.
When the series ended, no one knew what happened to the bear, but twenty-two years later, the bear was found at an auction and was sold for more than eleven thousand dollars to a medical student. However, the student sent the bear back to its original owner, Gary Burghoff.
It Only Took 2 Days To Write The Pilot
The screenwriter for the series M*A*S*H, Larry Gelbart, was actually a veteran who was drafted during World War II and worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service. He had previous experience and knowledge, so it only took him two days to finish writing the pilot episode of the show.
The men that wrote the book that the series is based on stated that they didn't like the show because it "softened the anti-war and anti-authoritarian spirit of the movie."
The Famous Wedding Dress
M*A*S*H was ahead of its time in many of the themes it tackled. Jamie Farr played the character of Maxwell Klinger, who was known for cross-dressing throughout the show, and one of his dresses was very popular with the cast.
It was a wedding dress that was spotted on three separate occasions by three different characters. Klinger wore the dress when he married Laverne Esposito, and Margret Houlihan wore it when she married Lt. Col. Donald Penobscott. In addition, Soon Lee wore it when she married Klinger.
Jamie Farr's Character Was Supposed To Be Totally Different
Jamie Farr's character was actually supposed to be completely different than he ended up being. He was supposed to only appear in one episode and be the token "effeminate gay" character.
However, he became a cross-dressing heterosexual man who tried to get out of the Army. He was a fan favorite that ended up being in two hundred and fifteen episodes instead of the originally planned one episode.
Alan Alda Wrote Some Episodes
Alan Alda is best known for starring in the series M*A*S*H as the chief surgeon, Hawkeye Pierce, but he actually did much more than just acting in the show. Alan actually wrote thirteen episodes and directed thirty-one episodes.
In addition, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, David Ogden Stiers, McLean Stevenson, and Jamie Farr all directed and wrote some episodes as well. When it came to recasting, Alda said, "when characters left the show, we didn't try and replace them with similar characters or characters that would fit into that spot. We had the chance to search for new ideas, new relationships."
The actors often had to act in pretty tough conditions. There were times when they had to wear cold weather clothing and pretend like it was freezing out when in reality, it was near one hundred degrees.
Sometimes they had to huddle around a fire barrel to keep warm on a sunny day in California. Anytime one of them complained, the show's writers would make conditions tough for them.
Only One Korean
An interesting thing about the show is that it is set in Korea and about the Korean War, but there is only one Korean actor in the series. However, when the series was filmed in the 1970s, there weren't very many Korean actors in Hollywood to fill those roles.
As a result, the producers cast actors of various Asian backgrounds, but the only actual Korean was Soon-Tek Oh. He ended up playing various North and South Korean characters.
The Urban Legend
There is an Urban Legend that people like to tell about the "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" episode. During the finale episode, people didn't want to get up and go to the bathroom because they would miss part of the show, but the show was two and a half hours long.
Rumor has it that too many people finally went to the bathroom at the end of the episode in New York. This meant a lot of toilets were being flushed at the same time, and it caused some of the city's plumbing systems to break down.
Advertising Slots For The Final Episode Were Pricey
Commercials during the Super Bowl are outrageously expensive as many people are tuned in to watch the game. Well, CBS knew there would be a very high number of people watching the final episode.
As a result, they increased the prices for advertising slots, and it cost up to four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. During the regular season, it started out costing about thirty thousand for a thirty-second slot.
They Had Fun With Naming Patients
The cast and crew had a lot of fun coming up with names for the patients on the show. Many fans probably thought some of them sounded familiar, and that's because the patients were named after real people.
For example, in an episode during the sixth season, four patients were named after players on the 1977 California Angels team. There was even one writer who named all of Radar's love interests on the show after their ex-girlfriends.
Only 3 Characters Lasted From The Pilot To The Finale
There were many characters in the television series M*A*S*H, but only three of them lasted from the pilot episode until the finale. The only characters that were there the entire show were Hawkeye, Margaret Houlihan, and Father Mulcahy.
Also, Alan Alda and Loretta Swit played their characters in all eleven seasons. However, Father Mulcahy was played by two actors. George Morgan played the Father in the pilot episode and then was replaced by William Christopher.
Mike Farrell Asked To Change His Character's Daughter's Name
After Wayne Rogers quit the show, Mike Farrell was cast as his replacement and played Captain B.J. Hunnicutt. On the show, he has a daughter, and Farrell actually asked the producers if they could name his onscreen daughter Erin after his real daughter.
They were originally going to name her Melissa, but they allowed it to be changed to Erin. Another tidbit is that when Hunnicutt is on the phone talking to his wife, he is actually talking to his real daughter. When he took on the role he stated, "I told them I didn't want to come in and be Trapper John. Gene said, 'Oh, no, we have no intention of that. Bj's going to be married, have a child, and not be a womanizer the way Hawkeye and Trapper are.'"
They Rarely Wore Army Boots
Most fans noticed that you hardly ever see the characters' shoes in the episodes. There was actually a very good reason for that. It was standard for military personnel to wear army boots, but producers tried not to use them on set.
The boots made way too much noise, and the actors thought they were uncomfortable. For the majority of the time, the actors were wearing sneakers, but in scenes that had to show the actors' lower bodies, they wore boots.
The Brits Weren't Huge Fans
America usually dominates the rest of the world when it comes to film and television, but some shows are just too American for other countries. M*A*S*H wasn't a very big hit in the U.K.
The British didn't like the laugh track, which was a staple of sitcoms in the U.S. The Brits found the laugh track annoying and therefore were not fans of those types of American shows.
Fans Were Unhappy When Henry Blake Was Killed Off
Actor McLean Stevenson's character Henry Blake was loved by so many fans. However, he decided to leave the show, and in the 72nd episode, he was honorably discharged and said goodbye to his fellow soldiers. The writers had a heart-wrenching plot twist in store that only Alan Alda was aware of.
During his last scene, he departs the base, and it is announced that his plane had been shot down and he didn't survive. The station received more than one thousand complaint letters from fans that were furious that the show had the character die.
There Were Three M*A*S*H Spinoff Shows
Most of the time, when a hit T.V. show ends, there ends up being a spinoff. However, the spinoffs aren't usually as successful, and some aren't successful at all. There were actually three M*A*S*H spinoffs: Trapper John M.D., AfterMASH, and W*A*L*T*E*R.
Trapper was the most successful of the three, and it was about John McIntyre's life as a surgeon in San Francisco after the war. AfterMASH basically picked up where M*A*S*H ended, and the last one never even made it past the pilot episode.
Prolific Screenwriter Larry Gelbart Was Paid Top Dollar For The Pilot Script
Before M*A*S*H, writer Larry Gelbart had left the U.S., saying that he had become tired of Hollywood. However, he was contracted to write the show M*A*S*H, and he stated that he just had to take the chance.
He wrote the pilot episode in just two days and was paid twenty-five thousand dollars for it. Today that would equal about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. He continued to write for the remainder of the show.
Sesame Street Paid Tribute
Sesame Street paid tribute to actor Gary Burghoff, who played Radar on M*A*S*H. They had the stuffed teddy bear on the show, and it was named after Big Bird's performer Caroll Spinney.
They also paid tribute in other episodes, such as when Big Bird mentions having a cousin named Hawkeye who was in the service and by having Loretta Swit as a guest star on the popular children's show.
The Show Broke Boundaries With On-Air Cursing
Today, it is not uncommon at all for swearing to take place on television. However, at the time when M*A*S*H was filmed, it was rare, and several phrases just simply weren't allowed by networks. M*A*S*H was the first show to use the term "son of a b**ch," which made waves with its choice of language.
Former President Gerald Ford visited the set once, and the set was very quiet. Bailey stated, "It was like a funeral. No one spoke. We rehearsed and shot our scenes. Finally, the president leaves, and Harry says in as loud a booming voice as he has, 'How come nobody's yelled f**k in the last two hours?'"
You Can Visit The Original Set Location
Most sitcoms before M*A*S*H were filmed on stage sets in front of a live audience. However, to enhance the wartime realism of the series' units, exterior and tent scenes were shot on location in the mountains near Malibu, California.
Sadly, as the series was wrapping up production, a brush fire destroyed most of the outdoor sets. Today, the site is known as Malibu Creek State Park, and a few of the original set locations are still intact and open to visitors.
The Cast Voted To End The Series
The actors all worked closely together and truly got along. Most of them became friends off-set and remained friends throughout their lives. Alan Alda stated, "Most of the time, actors disperse and go to their dressing rooms between shots. We sat around in a circle of chairs, making fun of one another, having fun."
The cast was so close that they even voted as a team that it was time to end the series. They believed that they had exhausted all the stories for their characters.
The Show Lasted Longer Than The Actual Korean War
The very first season of M*A*S*H aired up against ABC's Wonderful World of Disney, and it didn't do well. In fact, the series was almost canceled. In the second season, the show was moved to the powerhouse CBS Saturday lineup, right after All in the Family.
It was followed by shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnet Show. M*A*S*H became one of the top ten programs of the year, and the series continued for eleven seasons. In fact, the show outlasted the Korean War, which lasted just over three years.
Inaccuracy Of The Purple Heart
The Purple Heart Medal is a special medal that is awarded to soldiers who are injured in action or killed during their service in action against the enemy.
It is also a significant award because it is awarded in the name of the President. However, on the show M*A*S*H, they weren't accurate when it came down to who received the award. They gave the Purple Heart to people that didn't qualify.
Not Exactly Historically Accurate
M*A*S*H was based on real events during the Korean War, and they tried to make it look as authentic as possible. However, there were many times that they failed at this.
For instance, there are a few episodes where you can see the actors wearing sneakers. In addition, around the set, there were aluminum cans, a pinball machine, and lots of other items that weren't actually available during that time.
The Real-Life Hawkeye Hated The Show
Hawkeye's character was loosely based on Richard Hornberger, a surgeon in the Korean War at the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit. He was known for his work as a surgeon and for his razor-sharp sense of humor.
When he came back from the war, he began writing his book. He stated that he hated the show because of Alda's portrayal of Hawkeye's anti-war sentiments. He also stated that the show "trampled on his memories."
Robert Klein Was Originally Offered One of The Main Roles
Wayne Rogers wasn't actually the first choice for the role of Trapper John. Producers first offered the role to comedian Robert Klein because they thought it would help the show by having a popular comedian as one of the leads.
However, Klein turned down the role and has always maintained that the role wasn't right for him. Instead, the role went to Wayne Rogers.
'Hot Lips' Is In Nearly Every Episode
Loretta Swit is one of the few characters that lasted the entire length of the show. She played the character Margaret Hoolihan, also called 'Hot Lips.'
Hoolihan earned her nickname because of her passionate affair with married Army doctor Major Frank Burns. Swit appears on camera for all of the episodes except for eleven. After the show ended, she had small roles in various television shows and TV movies.
The Cast Reprised Their Roles In A Series Of IBM Commercials
There was a series of 1980s commercials that had the actors reprising their roles. Instead of saving lives in the middle of a warzone, they were rushing to meetings and watering office plants.
Everyone worked in accounting or sales instead of as military doctors. It is a very unlikely setting, but each cast member seems to have the same personality and similar roles to their positions on the show.
The Story Behind The Theme Song
M*A*S*H's theme song was actually borrowed from the 1970 film, with a couple of changes. There were some lyrics that were removed, and director Robert Altman enlisted the help of his fourteen-year-old son Michael to write the lyrics to the song.
He wanted the lyrics to be childish and silly, and Mike ended up earning more than a million dollars in royalties after a version of the song topped the UK charts.
Only One Actor Appeared In Both The Movie And The Show
There was only one actor that ended up starring in both the television series and the movie. Gary Burghoff, who played Radar, was the only character to appear in both.
He didn't appear in every single episode of the series, but he is one of the best-loved characters from M*A*S*H. The show most definitely wouldn't be the same without Burghoff portraying him.