“M*A*S*H” is an American war comedy-drama television series that aired on CBS from September 17, 1972, to February 28, 1983. The show was based on Richard Hooker’s novel “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors” and the 1970 film adaptation directed by Robert Altman. Created by Larry Gelbart and developed by Gene Reynolds, the series followed the lives of the staff at the fictional 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War.
The show combined humor, drama, and social commentary, providing a unique and often poignant perspective on the horrors of war and the challenges faced by military personnel.
Despite its comedic elements, “M*A*S*H” did not shy away from portraying the harsh realities of war, offering viewers a nuanced and thought-provoking portrayal of the human condition in a war-torn environment.
MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, a new kind of field hospital conceived after World War II that the U.S. Army started using when the Korean War began in 1950.
The plot of “MASH” revolves around the lives of the staff at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War. The show is a blend of comedy, drama, and social commentary, focusing on the challenges and experiences faced by military personnel in a war zone. The central characters are the doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to save lives and treat wounded soldiers. The main protagonists are Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre, two skilled surgeons known for their wit, humor, and irreverence towards authority. They often engage in antics to keep their spirits up in the face of the horrors of war.
- Hawkeye Pierce (played by Alan Alda) – Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce is a witty, talented, and compassionate head surgeon who serves in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. Known for his sharp sense of humor and anti-authoritarian attitude, Hawkeye often uses sarcasm and wit as coping mechanisms to deal with the horrors of war. Despite his irreverent demeanor, Hawkeye is a highly skilled and dedicated surgeon who deeply cares for the wounded soldiers under his care. Beyond “MASH,” Alda had an illustrious career with notable roles in film and television. He starred in movies such as “The Four Seasons,” “Same Time, Next Year,” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Additionally, Alda appeared in popular TV shows like “The West Wing,” for which he earned an Emmy Award nomination, and “30 Rock,” where he received another Emmy nomination.
- Trapper John McIntyre (played by Wayne Rogers) – Trapper John was a talented and humorous surgeon who, alongside Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda), formed a dynamic duo of mischief and compassion. His character was known for his charm, laid-back attitude, and camaraderie with the other members of the 4077th MASH unit. Wayne Rogers had a diverse career in television and film. He appeared in various TV shows and movies, including “House Calls” and “The Killing Time.”
- B.J. Hunnicutt (played by Mike Farrell) – B.J. is a compassionate and talented surgeon who becomes best friend and operating room partner to Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda), following the departure of Trapper John McIntyre. B.J. is known for his warm-hearted nature, humor, and loyalty to his friends and patients. Mike Farrell continued his successful acting career with roles in various TV shows and movies, including “Providence” and “Patch Adams.”
- Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (played by Loretta Swit) – Major Houlihan is the head nurse at the 4077th MASH unit during the Korean War. Initially depicted as a strict and by-the-book officer, her character evolves throughout the series, showing vulnerability and compassion as she faces the challenges of wartime nursing. Hot Lips forms a romantic relationship with Frank Burns (Larry Linville) in the early seasons, but it eventually ends. She was in Hawaii Five-O (her first TV credit), Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Bonanza, The Love Boat, Win, Lose or Draw, Password, Gunsmoke, Match Game, Pyramid, The Muppet Show, and Hollywood Squares.
- Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (played by Gary Burghoff): Radar is the company clerk at the 4077th MAS*H. He is known for his exceptional organizational skills, photographic memory, and ability to anticipate the needs of the unit even before they are expressed. As the company clerk, he is responsible for managing paperwork, supply requisitions, and other administrative tasks. Despite his young age and innocent demeanor, Radar proves to be an indispensable asset to the medical staff. After “M*A*S*H,” Burghoff reprised the role in the spin-off series “AfterMASH” and continued his acting career with roles in various TV shows and stage productions. Another significant role of Burghoff’s was playing the lead in the original off-Broadway production of the musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
- Major Frank Burns (played by Larry Linville): Major Frank Burns is a surgeon who serves as one of the main antagonists in the early seasons of the show. He is depicted as a socially awkward, uptight, and insecure individual with an inflated sense of self-importance. Burns often seeks approval from his superiors and tries to impress them by following army regulations to the letter. He harbors a not-so-secret crush on Major Houlihan, with whom he is romantically involved in the early seasons. After leaving “MAS*H,” Linville continued his acting career with roles in various TV shows, films, and stage productions.
- Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (played by David Ogden Stiers) – Major Winchester is a skilled and sophisticated surgeon, replacing Major Frank Burns in the show. He comes from a wealthy and aristocratic background, which often sets him apart from the more laid-back and irreverent staff at the 4077th MASH unit. Despite initial clashes with Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicutt, Winchester proves himself as an exceptional surgeon and earns the respect of his colleagues. Beyond “MAS*H,” Stiers had a successful acting career, with roles in various TV shows, movies, and voice acting, including Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” as the voice of Cogsworth.
- Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (played by McLean Stevenson) – Colonel Blake is known for his laid-back and easygoing leadership style, providing a stark contrast to the seriousness of the Korean War setting. He is beloved by his staff for his warmth and humor, and he develops a fatherly bond with the personnel under his command. He then starred in a series of sitcoms: The McLean Stevenson Show (1976–77), In the Beginning (1978), Hello, Larry (1979–80) and Condo (1983). Stevenson guest-starred as Stan Zbornak’s brother Ted in the hit sitcom The Golden Girls in 1987, in addition to guest-starring in shows such as Square One TV, The Love Boat, Diff’rent Strokes (as part of a cross-over with his series Hello, Larry), and Hollywood Squares. He filled in for Johnny Carson as guest host of The Tonight Show 58 times.
- Colonel Sherman T. Potter (played by Harry Morgan) – Colonel Potter is a seasoned and experienced leader who replaces Colonel Henry Blake after his tragic departure. He brings a no-nonsense and fatherly presence to the unit, balancing discipline with understanding and compassion. Unlike his predecessor, Colonel Potter is a career soldier with a distinguished military background, having served in both World War I and World War II. He quickly earns the respect and affection of the medical staff, and his steady leadership becomes an anchor during the challenging times of war. Morgan’s major roles included Pete Porter in both December Bride (1954–1959) and Pete and Gladys (1960–1962); Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet (1967–1970); Amos Coogan on Hec Ramsey (1972–1974).
- Father Francis Mulcahy (played by William Christopher) – Father Mulcahy is known for his strong faith and kind-hearted nature, providing spiritual support and guidance to the soldiers and medical staff during the Korean War. He often serves as a moral compass and offers comfort to those struggling with the harsh realities of war. Despite his relatively small physical stature, Father Mulcahy’s character is portrayed as a pillar of strength and resilience. He is best known for playing Private Lester Hummel on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. from 1965 to 1968 besides his role here.
- Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger (played by Jamie Farr) – Klinger is known for his comedic antics and persistent attempts to get discharged from the army by dressing in women’s clothing and feigning various illnesses. He starts as the company clerk’s orderly, assisting Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff), before eventually becoming the company clerk after Radar’s departure. Throughout the series, Klinger’s character undergoes significant development, showing growth and maturity as he becomes more dedicated to his duties and responsibilities. He was in No Time for Sergeants, which also brought the young TV comic Don Knotts to motion pictures. Farr appeared as Thaddaeus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, along with minor roles in Who’s Minding the Mint? and With Six You Get Eggroll.
Series creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds wanted M*A*S*H broadcast without a laugh track. Though CBS initially rejected the idea, a compromise was reached that allowed for omitting the laughter during operating room scenes if desired. “We told the network that under no circumstances would we ever can laughter during an OR scene when the doctors were working,” said Gelbart in 1998.
“It’s hard to imagine that 300 people were in there laughing at somebody’s guts being sewn up.” Larry Gelbart was an American television writer, playwright, and screenwriter, best known for co-creating the television series “MASH” and his contributions to the comedy genre. Born on February 25, 1928, Gelbart had a prolific career in entertainment, penning scripts for various shows, including “Caesar’s Hour,” “The Phil Silvers Show,” and “Tootsie,” among others.
His work on “MASH” played a pivotal role in its success, as the show blended humor and drama to provide a unique perspective on war. Larry Gelbart’s wit, creativity, and storytelling prowess left an indelible mark on television and comedy, earning him numerous accolades and admirers in the industry. He passed away on September 11, 2009, leaving behind a lasting legacy of laughter and poignant storytelling.
Gene Reynolds was an American actor, television writer, director, and producer, best known for his role as one of the creators and executive producers of the acclaimed television series “MASH.” Born on April 4, 1923, Reynolds had a multifaceted career in the entertainment industry.
Besides his work on “MASH,” he was involved in other successful TV shows, such as “Room 222” and “Lou Grant.” Reynolds was highly regarded for his talent in creating and producing compelling and socially relevant content.
Throughout his career, he received multiple Emmy Awards for his work in television. He also served as the President of the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Gene Reynolds passed away on February 3, 2020, leaving behind a remarkable legacy in the world of television.
- Captain “Spearchucker” Jones (played by Timothy Brown) – Captain Jones is a skilled surgeon and one of the early characters in the series. He was written out of the show after the third season.
- Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscott (played by Beeson Carroll) – Colonel Penobscott is another of the early commanding officers at the 4077th MAS*H unit before Colonel Potter’s arrival.
- Major Sidney Freedman (played by Allan Arbus) – Major Freedman is a psychiatrist who occasionally visits the unit to provide support and counsel to the staff, especially dealing with the psychological impact of war.
- Corporal Danny “Dago Red” Rizzo (played by G.W. Bailey) – Corporal Rizzo is a recurring character known for his gruff and tough exterior. He is a member of the motor pool and works as a mechanic. Despite his rough demeanor, Rizzo often shows loyalty to his fellow soldiers and has a friendship with some of the medical staff.
- Staff Sergeant Igor Stravinsky (played by Jeff Maxwell) – Sergeant Igor is a cook in the mess tent at the 4077th. He is known for his sometimes unappetizing culinary creations and his often humorous interactions with the rest of the characters.
- Nurse Margie Cutler (played by Marcia Strassman) – Nurse Cutler is one of the nurses at the 4077th, and she has a brief romantic relationship with Hawkeye.
- Nurse Lieutenant Leslie Scorch (played by Linda Meiklejohn) – Nurse Scorch is another of the nurses at the unit and has a fling with Trapper John.
- Nurse Lieutenant Baker (played by Lynnette Mettey) – Nurse Baker is a recurring character, and she has a brief romantic involvement with Father Mulcahy.
- Sergeant Zelmo Zale (played by Johnny Haymer) – Sergeant Zale is the head cook in the mess tent, known for his gruff personality and culinary skills.
- Nurse Kellye Yamato (played by Kellye Nakahara) – Nurse Kellye is a compassionate and dedicated nurse who becomes a recurring character in the later seasons of the show.
- Nurse Lieutenant Dish (played by Karen Philipp) – Nurse Dish is one of the nurses at the 4077th, and she is involved in a love triangle with Hawkeye and Trapper John.
- Nurse Lieutenant Maria “Duke” Faulkner (played by Judy Farrell) – Nurse Duke is another of the nurses at the unit, known for her close friendship with Hawkeye.
- Nurse Lieutenant Nancy Griffin (played by Corinne Camacho) – Nurse Griffin is a recurring character, working alongside the medical staff at the MAS*H unit.
- Nurse Lieutenant Suzanne Marquette (played by Jennifer Davis) – Nurse Marquette is another nurse at the 4077th, who is involved in a brief romance with Hawkeye.
- Nurse Lieutenant Sheila Anderson (played by Odessa Cleveland) – Nurse Anderson is a recurring character in the unit.
- Captain “Ugly John” Black (played by John Orchard) – Captain Black is another of the surgeons at the unit during the early seasons.
- Colonel Sam Flagg (played by Edward Winter) – Colonel Flagg is an eccentric intelligence officer who often makes visits to the 4077th, investigating various matters and creating humorous chaos.
The series spent 11 years telling the story of Army doctors and nurses dealing with a three-year, one-month, and two-day war. The TV series “M*A*S*H” almost didn’t survive infancy as poor ratings in its first season – it finished No. 46 overall – had the show on life support.
But CBS renewed it for a second season in 1973, placing it in the Saturday night lineup directly after the hit “All In The Family” and “M*A*S*H” took off. That Saturday night lineup is considered one of the best in TV history: “All In The Family” and “M*A*S*H,” then “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” and “The Carole Burnett Show.”
Radar slept with a teddy bear in the series. The bear sold in 2014 at auction for $14,307.
Alan Alda co-wrote 13 and directed 31 episodes of the series. That 31 count includes the series finale. Alda was the first person to ever win an Emmy for acting, directing, and writing on the same program.
Seventy-seven percent of the people watching television in the United States on the night of Monday, February 28, 1983, were watching the two-and-a-half-hour series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” That was 121.6 million people. A company only had to pay $30,000 to run a 30-second commercial when MAS*H got started in 1972. For the series finale, a 30-second spot cost $450,000. It surpassed the single-episode rating record that had been set by the “Dallas” episode in which viewers learned the answer to the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger.
A Few of the Actors Who Made an Appearance on the Show
- Susan Saint James (played O’Shea) – Episode War Co-Respondent (1980). Susan had a fun recurring role as a klutzy thief who complicates things for Robert Wagner’s suave cat burglar in It Takes a Thief (1968). She hit her TV peak, however, as Police Commissioner Rock Hudson’s plucky wife in McMillan & Wife (1971).
- Alex Karras (played Lance Cpl. Lyle Wesson) – Episode Springtime (1974). He was an actor and producer, known for Blazing Saddles (1974), Victor/Victoria (1982), and Porky’s (1981).
- Andrew Dice Clay (played Corp. Hrabosky) – Episode Trick or Treatment (1982). He is an actor and producer, known for The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), Blue Jasmine (2013), and A Star Is Born (2018).
- Laurence Fishburne (played Corp. Dorsey) – Episode The Tooth Shall Set You Free. He is known for playing Morpheus in The Matrix series (1999–2003), Jason “Furious” Styles in the John Singleton drama film Boyz n the Hood (1991), Tyrone “Mr. Clean” Miller in Francis Ford Coppola’s war film Apocalypse Now (1979), and “The Bowery King” in the John Wick film series (2017–present).
- Patrick Swayze (played Pvt. Gary Sturgis) Episode Blood Brothers (1981) – He gained international fame and acclaim for his leading role as Johnny Castle in the romantic drama “Dirty Dancing” (1987). Swayze’s versatility as an actor was further showcased in the action film “Road House” (1989) and the romantic fantasy “Ghost” (1990).
- John Ritter (played Pvt. Billy Tyler) – Episode “Deal Me Out.” John Ritter was a talented actor known for his comedic roles in TV shows like “Three’s Company” and “8 Simple Rules.” He was beloved for his humor and versatility.
- Ed Begley Jr. (played Pvt. Paul Conway) – Episode “Hawkeye.” Ed Begley Jr. is a versatile actor known for roles in “St. Elsewhere,” “Arrested Development,” and “Pineapple Express,” among others.
- Ron Howard (played Cpl. Wendell Peterson) – Episode “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet.” Ron Howard is a successful actor, filmmaker, and producer. He gained fame as a child actor in “The Andy Griffith Show” and later directed films like “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13.”
- George Wendt (played Private La Roche) – Episode “A Night at Rosie’s.” George Wendt is best known for his iconic role as Norm Peterson on the TV series “Cheers.”
- Rita Wilson (played Nurse Lacey) – Episode “Little Broadcast of ’53.” Rita Wilson is an actress and producer known for her roles in films like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Runaway Bride.”
- Shelley Long (played Nurse Carrie Donovan) – Episode “Hot Lips and Empty Arms.” Shelley Long gained fame for her role as Diane Chambers on the TV series “Cheers.”
- Pat Morita (played Captain Sam Pak) – Episode “Deal Me Out.” Pat Morita is best known for his iconic role as Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid” films.
- Teri Garr (played Lieutenant Suzanne Marquette) – Episode “The Sniper.” Teri Garr is a versatile actress known for her roles in “Young Frankenstein” and “Tootsie.”
- Ed Harris (played Pvt. Laurence) -Episode “The Life You Save.” Ed Harris is a versatile actor known for his roles in “Apollo 13” and “The Truman Show.”
- Tom Selleck (played Dr. Eliott Shepard) – Episode “Souvenirs.” Tom Selleck is a well-known actor with roles in “Magnum, P.I.” and “Blue Bloods.”
- Loudon Wainwright III (played Captain Calvin Spalding) – Episode “Rainbow Bridge.” Loudon Wainwright III has had a successful career in both music and acting, solidifying his place as a versatile and accomplished artist in the entertainment industry.
The show’s title sequence features an instrumental version of “Suicide Is Painless”, the original film’s theme song. It was written for the 1970 movie by Johnny Mandel and Michael Altman, the director’s 15-year-old son.
M*A*S*H was Nominated for Over 100 Emmy Awards Winning 14
- 1974 – Outstanding Comedy Series – MAS*H; Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds (Producers)
- 1974 – Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Alan Alda
- 1974 – Best Directing in Comedy – Jackie Cooper: “Carry On, Hawkeye”
- 1974 – Actor of the Year, Series – Alan Alda
- 1975 – Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Gene Reynolds: “O.R.”
- 1976 – Outstanding Film Editing for Entertainment Programming – Fred W. Berger and Stanford Tischler: “Welcome to Korea”
- 1976 – Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Gene Reynolds: “Welcome to Korea”
- 1977 – Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Alan Alda: “Dear Sigmund”
- 1977 – Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – Gary Burghoff
- 1979 – Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series – Alan Alda: “Inga”
- 1980 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series – Loretta Swit
- 1980 – Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series – Harry Morgan
- 1982 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Alan Alda
- 1982 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series – Loretta Swit
“M*A*S*H” was often praised for tackling serious topics in its TV format. In 1975, it won a Peabody Award “for the depth of its humor and the manner in which comedy is used to lift the spirit and, as well, to offer a profound statement on the nature of war.”
The show was primarily filmed on the 20th Century Fox Ranch, also known as the Century Ranch, located in Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas, California. The location served as the primary outdoor set for the fictional 4077th MASH unit during the show’s run. Alda (Hawkeye) was in the Army Reserve for six months in Korea. Farr enlisted and was stationed in Japan when Red Skelton requested his services on his USO Tour through Korea.
Wayne Rogers (Trapper John) joined the U.S. Navy for a time as a ship navigator. Mike Farrell (B.J.) served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
- A Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) is a deployable medical unit of the United States Army designed to provide advanced medical care close to the frontlines during times of war or military operations. MASH units are capable of providing emergency medical treatment, surgery, and critical care to wounded soldiers, aiming to stabilize patients quickly before they can be transported to more extensive medical facilities further away from the combat zone. These hospitals are equipped with highly skilled medical personnel, including surgeons, nurses, and support staff, as well as advanced medical equipment and supplies. MASH units have played a crucial role in military healthcare, saving countless lives and ensuring rapid medical attention to injured soldiers on the battlefield. [Back]
- “M*A*S*H (TV series)” (accessed August 8, 2023) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M*A*S*H_(TV_series)
- Larry Gelbart. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Gelbart
- Larry Gelbart, 81; writer helped create ‘MAS*H’. (2009, September 12). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-sep-12-me-larry-gelbart12-story.html
- Gene Reynolds. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Reynolds
- Fox, M. (2020, February 4). Gene Reynolds, co-creator of ‘MAS*H,’ dies at 96. Variety. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/gene-reynolds-dead-mash-co-creator-1203483013/
- “17 Things You Might Not Know About MAS*H” (Feb 28, 2018) https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/68457/17-painless-facts-about-mash
- “50 things about ‘MAS*H’ as the TV series celebrates its 50th anniversary” (Sept. 15, 1982) https://www.dailynews.com/2022/09/14/50-things-about-mash-as-the-tv-series-celebrates-its-50th-anniversary/
- United States Army Medical Department. (n.d.). Combat Support Hospitals and Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://armymedicine.health.mil/Combat-Support-Hospitals-and-Mobile-Army-Surgical-Hospitals
- U.S. Army Center of Military History. (n.d.). MASH Units. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://history.army.mil/html/reference/term/MASH.htm