Fifty Years and TV’s ‘M*A*S*H’ Nonetheless Attracts Audiences | On the Smithsonian

The beloved sitcom “M*A*S*H,” set in an Military area hospital through the Korean Battle, hit airwaves in September of 1972, a bit of beneath three years earlier than america’ withdrawal from Vietnam, and resulted in February 1983, about eight months earlier than the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

Slyly reckoning with the truth that within the latter half of the twentieth century, warfare would turn out to be a more-or-less fixed of American life, the present developed over the course of its 11-season run, to turn out to be extra thematically daring and complicated. Set in a war-time MASH unit, or Cell Military Surgical Hospital, the present adopted the lives of the medical doctors and nurses, a few of whom had been drafted and a few of whom had volunteered, as they argued, clowned round, and—most of all—labored themselves previous the purpose of exhaustion making an attempt to save lots of and luxury the wounded and dying. Ryan Patrick, co-host of the podcast “M*A*S*H Issues,” described the present as “pro-humanity” slightly than strictly antiwar, however actually warfare’s tragedies and absurdities have been the topic of a lot of its comedy—and, more and more within the later seasons, of its drama.

Alan Alda, Larry Linville, Wayne Rogers

The present’s stars, Alan Alda (Capt. Hawkeye Pierce), Larry Linville (Maj. Frank Burns) and Wayne Rogers (Capt. Trapper John McIntyre), performed the irascible bunkmates, who shared shut quarters in a tent, dubbed “The Swamp.”

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The TV present, co-created by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, was loosely tailored from Robert Altman’s 1970 film of the identical identify, which had been loosely spun off from Richard Hooker’s eponymous 1968 novel. Altman’s movie had been successful, however Gelbart and Reynold’s “M*A*S*H” was a phenomenon. An estimated 106 million folks watched its two-and-a-half-hour last episode within the winter of 1983. It’s nonetheless the highest-rated episode of scripted tv in historical past.

It’s unusual for an modern and difficult specimen of tradition additionally to be massively standard. “M*A*S*H” was each. The present “modified the area that sitcoms operated in,” says Ryan Lintelman, leisure curator on the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Museum of American Historical past, evolving over the course of its run right into a tv sequence “that basically delved into psychology and captured the post-Vietnam antiwar second.”

The present’s cultural footprint was large enough to warrant a blockbuster exhibition on the museum that opened 5 months after the ultimate episode aired. That includes props, costumes, scripts, and two full units used within the manufacturing of the present—the working room and the shared quarters that bunkmates “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda), “Trapper” John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers), and Frank Burns (Larry Linville) christened “The Swamp”—”M*A*S*H: Binding Up the Wounds” was sufficient of a draw to require the implementation of a timed-entry system and two extensions. By the point the exhibition closed in February 1985, 1,073,849 guests had filed by means of.

Cast of

Forged members included, clockwise from prime proper: William Christopher, Harrie Morgan, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell, David Ogden Stiers, Alan Alda and Loretta Swift.

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The exhibition was distinctive in different methods, says Lintelman. When the present wrapped, twentieth Century Fox supplied to donate the artifacts, together with $60,000 to assist cowl exhibition prices, on an all-or-nothing foundation, that means the museum needed to settle for your complete assortment. That’s truly induced some issues, says Lintelman candidly. The gathering is simply too massive to point out in its entirety, and due to its dimension, troublesome to retailer. The sporadic availability of the objects has generally created the impression among the many latter-day “M*A*S*H” fandom that these treasures “are being stored from them,” Lintelman provides.

The excellent news is that some of the recognizable parts of the gathering—the signpost that adorned the present’s fictional 4077th, whimsically indicating course and distance to Seoul in addition to to Boston, Coney Island, Loss of life Valley and different far-flung locations stateside—can have outstanding placement within the sprawling 7,200-square-foot exhibition, “Leisure Nation,” opening December 9. This viewing marks the primary time the “M*A*S*H” prop has been on show since 2012.

Brochure, Binding Up the Wounds

The Smithsonian’s blockbuster exhibition acquired greater than one million guests.

NMAH, From the gathering of Eric White

The piece is each an artifact of the manufacturing and a metaphor for its sensibility. “It’s a visible illustration of the sense of the humor of the present,” Lintelman says, “and of the limbo its characters have been residing in.”

Whereas the signal is probably not fairly as well-known as a few of its neighboring artifacts happening show within the upcoming exhibition, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz or Jim Henson’s authentic Kermit the Frog puppet, the “M*A*S*H” prop stays an object of public fascination.

Three have been constructed through the manufacturing. One was misplaced in a fireplace that broken the outside units so badly through the last season that the blaze needed to be written into the present. The actual signal within the assortment was used on a soundstage, Lintelman says. “We have been fortunate to get one which hadn’t been standing out within the solar for years.”

Whereas “M*A*S*H” famously constructed its viewers slowly following a comparatively low-rated preliminary season, the huge cultural penetration the sequence finally had is the product of a vanished period. There are just too many choices now for any single TV present (or streaming or cable sequence) to dominate its period the way in which “M*A*S*H” did.

However what concerning the “M*A*S*H” followers who weren’t but born again then? As a result of make no mistake: The “M*A*S*H” millennials are on the market.

“The sequence has by no means actually dated,” says Patrick, whose podcast simply launched its ninetieth episode. “The themes of the present are common, and so they stand the check of time. The thought of discovering humor and discovering methods to manage within the midst of insanity. I believe that’s one motive that lots of people returned to “M*A*S*H” through the pandemic,” he says.

Patrick’s co-host is Jeff Maxwell, who performed mess corridor staffer Pvt. Igor Straminsky for greater than 80 episodes starting with the present’s second season. The pair met within the late 90s when Maxwell was selling his guide The Secrets and techniques of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Misplaced Recipes of Non-public Igor. The pair stored in contact, and when Patrick reached out to Maxwell to inquire about his curiosity in maybe being a recurring contributor to the M*A*S*H podcast he was considering, Maxwell did him one higher, saying he’d be open to co-hosting.

Ryan Patrick and Jeff Maxwell

“The sequence has by no means actually dated,” says the “M*A*S*H Issues” podcast co-host Ryan Patrick (above with Jeff Maxwell, who performed Igor Straminsky on “M*A*S*H”). “The themes of the present are common, and so they stand the check of time.”

Dan Harrison ©2022, used with permission

Together with sharing Maxwell’s recollections from the manufacturing, the 2 hosts ceaselessly learn emails on the present from millennials and even Gen Z listeners who’ve discovered “M*A*S*H” by means of its varied reruns and residential video and streaming releases.

A type of “M*A*S*H” millennials is Eric White, whose weblog The M*A*S*H Historian highlights his assortment of teleplays from the sequence together with different paperwork and ephemera from the manufacturing. “The primary time my dad and mom let me keep as much as watch the ball drop on New Yr’s Eve, we missed the ball as a result of “M*A*S*H” was airing on one other station,” he says.

White says he loved the reruns when he noticed them along with his dad and mom, when Fox started releasing full seasons of “M*A*S*H” on DVD in 2001, the chance to look at the episodes unedited and in sequence helped his informal fandom to bloom into one thing extra ardent—and finally, scholarly.

Loretta Swift

Loretta Swift starred as chief nurse Margaret “Sizzling Lips” Houlihan, a personality that originally endured many misogynist pranks, however who finally grew extra nuanced and impartial over the run of the sequence.

CBS Picture Archive, Getty Pictures

He wrote a paper about depictions of girls on tv like June Cleaver on “Depart It to Beaver” and Roseanne Barr’s fictionalized analogue on “Roseanne.” However he took a very eager within the character of Chief Nurse Margaret “Sizzling Lips” Houlihan, performed by Sally Kellerman within the movie and Loretta Swift within the TV sequence. Initially the goal of misogynistic pranks, notably in Altman’s film, the character grew extra nuanced and impartial over the run of the sequence.

White notes that whereas the TV present stopped having different characters check with Houlihan as “Sizzling Lips” pretty early, she was recognized that means within the scripts proper up till the finale. As he was incomes his grasp’s diploma in historical past, White grew to become extra within the strategies by which Gelbart and Reynolds, in addition to the writers and producers who took over the present in its later seasons, used interviews with veterans to generate storylines.

Script, Final Episode

Additionally within the museum’s collections is the script of the ultimate episode, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” directed by the present’s star Alan Alda.


White purchased his first “M*A*S*H” script in 2007, and created the positioning the place he writes weekly posts about his assortment final 12 months. He says he has about 90 left to accumulate (he retains a spreadsheet, like all severe collector) from the whole run of 251. (The precise variety of “M*A*S*H” episodes generally given displays the truth that a number of of the 251 scripts have been shot as longer episodes that have been later divided when proven in syndication, White notes.) Monitoring down these treasures has sometimes led to comfortable interactions with individuals who labored on the present. “I purchased a group of scripts that had belonged to the wardrobe director, Albert Frankel,” he says.

“Probably the most gratifying discover was an authentic script from the finale,” White continues.

“I regarded for the pilot as nicely; that’s a tougher one to search out. Within the early seasons it wasn’t as standard, so discovering scripts from Season One is fairly loopy. I’ve some authentic sure scripts that belonged to Jackie Cooper,” who directed 13 episodes of the present. “I purchased these from his son.”

M*A*S*H signpost with Mike Farrell

The “M*A*S*H” signpost, says the Smithsonian’s Ryan Lintelman, “is a visible illustration of the sense of the humor of the present, and of the limbo its characters have been residing in.” (Above: Mike Farrell as Capt. B.J. Hunnicut.)

CBS Picture Archive, Getty Pictures

White plans a visit to the Smithsonian to see the signpost as soon as “Leisure Nation” opens. Close to the tip of our Zoom interview, he holds up a miniature duplicate of it that he retains on his desk.

“M*A*S*H Issues” co-hosts Patrick and Maxwell are touring already. They spent September 17, 2022, the fiftieth anniversary of “M*A*S*H’s” debut at Malibu Creek State Park, the previous web site of the “Fox Ranch,” the place the present’s exterior scenes have been filmed.

(Along with standing in for Uijeongbu, South Korea, on “M*A*S*H,” Fox Ranch was additionally a key filming location for Altman’s characteristic movie model, together with dozens of different movie and TV productions.)

Reached by e mail, Maxwell shared his recollections of the well-known signpost: “The signpost was actually an correct illustration of these created throughout many wars,” Maxwell writes. “Within the face of a life and dying life, I’m positive they mirrored for his or her builders an expression of affection, remembrance, and a touchstone to house. The signpost was that very same touchstone for everybody inhabiting the 4077. Apparently, I believe it served that very same objective for the hundreds of thousands of viewers around the globe who acknowledged the ‘house’ they felt for “M*A*S*H.”

“Plus, it was a really handy place to hold your hat whereas ready to shoot a scene.”

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