One of the most popular television shows of all time, Mash, was also progressive for its time, tackling themes other shows wouldn’t dare even tip-toe around. The beloved CBS series based on real-life events during the Korean War ran for a legendary 11 seasons, winning multiple awards and catapulting the careers of stars like Alan Alda. The show developed a cult-like following over time—fans simply couldn’t get enough of characters like Corporal Maxwell Klinger and Captain Hawkeye Pierce. But that doesn’t mean the show was without its own dramas and quirks—especially behind the scenes. Read on to learn about the secrets behind the filming of Mash.
1. What Was Up With The Laugh Track?
Remember that really awkward laugh track you’d hear throughout an episode? CBS actually required the producers to include it despite their objections because all comedy shows back then did. Even the actors disliked it because it was rather annoying and, considering M*A*S*H is a war show, it was sometimes inappropriate.
The only scenes that were allowed to be off limits for the laugh track were the ones in the operating room, for obvious reasons. Eventually, it was phased out because the show was funny enough without it! Now, on the DVD episodes, you can choose to not include the laugh track.
2. An Imaginary Character
In one episode, Captain Tuttle is displayed in the credits as having played himself. That’s a curious fact, considering the captain was just a figment of Hawkeye’s imagination and didn’t actually appear in the episode. Only a true legend could take credit for playing a role without even existing in the first place!
The question remains, though, why the show added Tuttle to the credits. It’s not as though other people other cast members imagined got any credit for their work. Perhaps it was just the show’s creators being funny again, and playing a prank to see if fans would notice.
3. Wayne Rogers Never Signed A Contract
Apparently, there was some creative disagreement going on around the set. Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre, felt that the show focused too much on Alan Alda’s character, Hawkeye Pierce, and that his wasn’t explored enough. Rogers left the set after three seasons. It was because of this that McIntryre was never given a proper sendoff on M*A*S*H.
Technically, Rogers’ departure was totally legitimate and legal. And that was because the actor never had a contract to begin with–when he first joined the show, Rogers didn’t think it would last 11 seasons. Technically, he was able to leave whenever he pleased.
4. Everything Had To Be Patriotic
Considering M*A*S*H was a show about Americans serving their country during the Korean War, CBS wanted to make sure nothing about the show was unpatriotic. In other words, all the soldiers on-screen had to be O.K. with the network’s decision to leave certain themes out of the show. The Vietnam War was also raging at the time, so war in general was a sensitive topic.
Some historical facts were left out because of that fact. For example, some soldiers who actually fought in the Korean War were in the habit of purposely get themselves sick by standing outside in the cold for long periods so they could be sent home. CBS wouldn’t let producers show those aspects of the war.
5. Radar’s Teddy Bear Was MIA For A While
Everyone remembers the iconic scene in which Hawkeye Pierce says, “Let[the bear] symbolize all the boys who came over here that left as men,” before putting Corporal Radar’s teddy bear in a time capsule. That bear ended up staying on the show for all of its seasons as Radar’s fluffy companion, and although it was never named on M*A*S*H, Gary Burghoff, who played Radar, secretly named it Tiger.
No one knows what happened to Radar’s teddy bear when the series ended. Oddly enough, 22 years later, the bear was found at an auction and sold for $11,500 to a medical student. The student didn’t want to keep the prop for himself, though. He ended up selling it back to its original owner, Gary Burghoff. One has to wonder whether Charlie Brown’s blanket sold for the same amount!
6. It Only Took 2 Days To Write The Pilot
Ever wonder how M*A*S*H was written and directed so well that it was made as accurate as possible (while remaining as patriotic as possible)? Well, the screenwriter, Larry Gelbart was actually a veteran. He was drafted during War War II and worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service.
It only took Gelbart two days to finish writing the pilot episode of the show. For that one script, he was paid a whopping $25,000. He based it off of Richard Hooker’s book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors (1968) and the 1970 Robert Altman film adaptation of the book. Hooker and Altman actually stated that they didn’t like the TV show because it “softened the anti-war and anti-authoritarian spirit of the movie.”
7. Some Actors Were Actually Vets
It just seems fitting that a war show would include actors that have actually experienced war. The show’s star, Alan Alda, actually fought in Korea in the 1950’s as a junior officer and was in the Army Reserve for six months. It could be part of the reason he was able to play Hawkeye Pierce so well.
Jamie Farr, who played Maxwell Klinger, was also stationed in Korea after he joined the army. On the show, the dog tags his character wears are his own. Wayne Rogers was a Naval Reserve officer and Mike Farrell actually served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
8. The Famous Wedding Dress
M*A*S*H was, in many ways, ahead of its time in some of the themes it tackled. Jamie Farr’s character, Maxwell Klinger, was known for cross-dressing throughout the series, and one of his dresses was apparently quite popular among the cast.
A wedding dress Farr wore was spotted on three different occasions by three different characters: Klinger wore the dress when he married Laverne Esposito, Margret Houlihan wore it when she married Lt. Col. Donald Penobscott, and Soon Lee sported it when she married Klinger. It’s unclear whether producers recycled the dress to save cash or they just thought it would be funny.
9. M*A*S*H Was A Show Rich With Guest Stars
Like any hit show worth watching, a lot of famous actors and actresses made guest appearances on M*A*S*H. Some of them weren’t even famous yet when they appeared on the show, so it can be funny to look back at their beginning roles. M*A*S*H had a lot of famous guest stars, such as the one below.
Patrick Swayze appeared in the episode called “Blood Brothers,” in which the actor played an injured soldier with Leukemia. Marine Private Walter Peterson, the underage soldier who illegally enlists, was Ron Howard’s character. The list goes on, including John Ritter, Laurence Fishburne, Pat Morita, Rita Wilson and many others.
10. Jamie Farr’s Character Was Supposed To Be Totally Different
The directors weren’t initially planning on making Jamie Farr’s character, Maxwell Klinger, a series regular and only wrote him in for one episode. Part of the original plan was also for Klinger to be the token “effeminate gay” character. Obviously, that idea was scratched.
Instead, Maxwell Klinger became a cross-dressing heterosexual man who attempted to get himself booted out of the army. The audience loved this character so much that producers decided to keep him around, but Klinger stopped cross-dressing after that episode. So the guy who was only supposed to be in one episode ended up acting in 215!
11. Alan Alda Wrote Some Episodes
Alan Alda is best known for starring in the M*A*S*H as playing the chief surgeon, Hawkeye Pierce. It turns out he did a lot more than just act in the series. Alda actually wrote 13 episodes of the show and directed 31.
To add to his extraordinary list of accomplishments, Alda became the first person ever to win an Emmy Award in all three categories (acting, directing, and writing) for the same TV show. Harry Morgan, Mike Farrell, David Ogden Stiers, McLean Stevenson and Jamie Farr directed and wrote some episodes as well, but not as often as Alda did.
12. Tough Conditions
When M*A*S*H‘s actors started complaining about their lines and making demands (yes, that happened), the show’s writers decided to teach them a lesson. They created “winter” episodes to troll the actors and make conditions deliberately tougher. Such trolling probably wouldn’t be quite as acceptable today.
One such episode was set during a freezing night in Korea and the characters had to huddle around a fire barrel to keep warm. Not only that, but everyone had matching parkas on. We’ll remind you that the series was filmed on a Malibu ranch in California, and the episode was filmed on a summer day.
13. Only One Korean
Considering M*A*S*H was a show set in Korea about the Korean War, producers needed many people to play, well, Koreans. The problem was that when the series was filmed in the ’70s, there weren’t a whole lot of Korean actors in Hollywood to fill those roles. So the producers cast people of various other Asian backgrounds instead.
There was actually only one character on the show that had a Korean background, Soon-Tek Oh, and he played various North and South Korean characters. The actress who played Corporal Maxwell Klinger’s girlfriend/wife, Rosalind Chao, was a second-generation Chinese-American. Pat Morita from Happy Days played the South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak, but he was actually Japanese-American!
14. The Series Finale Is The Show’s Most Watched Episode
On February 28, 1983, the final episode of M*A*S*H aired: “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” Seventy-seven percent of Americans with televisions that night had their eyes glued to the screen for all 2.5 hours. The US army in Korea, at that time, was able to watch it on special TV’s placed in their in PX parking lots, auditoriums, and dayrooms.
A whopping 125 million viewers tuned in to watch the M*A*S*H series finale, making it the most watch episode in TV history. What is amazing is that 33 years later and no other episode of any show has broken that record.
15. The Urban Legend
Whether the story is true or not, it is a popular one people like to tell about the “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” episode. It was two-and-a-half hours long but no one dared to get up to go to the bathroom because, you know, FOMO.
Rumor has it that in the densely populated city of New York, so many people were watching the episode that night and holding their bladders that when the episode ended, everyone went to the bathroom at the same time. This caused a lot of toilets to be flushed at the same time, actually causing some of the city’s plumbing systems to break down!
16. Advertising Slots For The Final Episode Were Pricey
You know how Super Bowl commercial slots are insanely expensive to air because so many people will be tuning in to watch the game? Well, CBS was expecting a whole lot of people to watch M*A*S*H‘s finale (although they likely weren’t expecting 125 million).
Because of this, they increased the prices for advertising slots. Prices for advertising slots had risen over the course of the show as it became more popular as it was, starting at $30,000 for 30 seconds. The finale, though, really broke records. A company that wanted to air its commercial that night had to fork up a staggering $450,000.
17. The Time Capsule Was Found After 2 Months
Remember that episode titled “As Time Goes By,” in which Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan suggests the group bury a capsule? Well, that was something the actors actually did on the Malibu ranch in real life, and they intended to leave it there until someone discovered the capsule.
The whole point of a time capsule is for it to be found way into the future and reveal to whoever finds it what life was like when the capsule was buried. The M*A*S*H time capsule, though, was found only 2 months after the land was sold. Alan Alda told the construction worker who dug it up to keep it, but apparently he “didn’t seem very impressed.”
18. They Had Fun With Naming Patients
The way the M*A*S*H creators saw it, why come up with original names for the patients on the show when they could be funny instead? Many fans probably noticed that some of the names of the patients sounded, well, a little too familiar. The show’s writers decided to name them after real people.
In one episode of the sixth season, four patients were named after players on the 1977 California Angels and in another episode, they chose names from the 1978 LA Dodgers roster. One of the writers even named all of Radar’s love interests on the show after their ex-girlfriends. It’s unclear how they felt about it.
19. Only 3 Characters Lasted From The Pilot To The Finale
Now, notice we’re referring to actual characters, not actors. It’s a slightly unusual detail considering shows often follow the same gang throughout all of their seasons. In M*A*S*H, though, only Hawkeye, Margaret Houlihan, and Father Mulcahy appear throughout the entire series.
Alan Alda and Loretta Swit played their characters Hawkeye and Margaret Houlihan throughout all 11 seasons. Father Mulcahy, on the other hand, was played by two actors. George Morgan only played the chaplain for the pilot episode before being replaced by William Christopher for the other of the show’s 217 episodes. The casting directors had a creative approach to the show, and it worked.
20. Mike Farrell Asked To Change His Character’s Daughter’s Name
It might seem like an odd request, but in context it’s actually a sweet story. After Wayne Rogers (Trapper John McIntyre) quit, Mike Farrell was cast as his replacement, playing captain B.J. Hunnicutt. In the show, Hunnicutt has a daughter and Farrell asked producers if they could name his onscreen daughter Erin, after his real daughter.
The character was originally going to be named Melissa, but producers took up the actor’s request. Another fun fact? In the scene where Hunnicutt talks on the phone with his wife, Judy, he was in reality talking to his daughter. It’s always nice when producers take actors’ requests into consideration, and no doubt Farrell’s daughter appreciated the gesture.
21. They Rarely Wore Army Boots
Ever notice how in M*A*S*H, you didn’t see anyone’s shoes? Well, there was actually a very good reason for that. Although it is standard for military personnel to wear army boots (obviously), producers actively avoided using them on set, much to the actors’ relief.
This was because they made too much noise on the soundstage and the actors found them too uncomfortable to wear. Most of the time, they were actually wearing sneakers, which is why they were shot from the waist up. Army boots were only worn in scenes in which revealing the actors’ lower bodies was absolutely necessary.
22. The Brits Weren’t Huge Fans
While America generally dominates the rest of the world when it comes to the world of film and television, some shows are simply too big a dose of Uncle Sam for other countries to take—namely, the British. M*A*S*H wasn’t as big of a hit in the U.K. as it was in the U.S.
The one aspect of the show that bothered the British most was the laugh track, which has become a staple of sitcom life in the United States. As with many things that Americans do, the Brits generally found the laugh track quite annoying. And who can blame them? At times it can seem strange when the track plays in the wrong moment.
23. Fans Were Furious When Henry Blake Was Killed Off
Actor McLean Stevenson must not have known how much fans loved his character, Henry Blake, before he decided to leave M*A*S*H. Blake was the focus of the show’s 72nd episode, in which he was to be honorably discharged and spent the episode parting from his fellow soldiers.
Stevenson was leaving the show, and this was his sendoff. The issue was, though, the writers had a heart wrenching plot twist in store. During one of his last scenes, Blake departs the base, and then it is announced that his transport plane had been shot down and he didn’t survive. CBS got over 1,000 complaint letters and the future of the show appeared to be in trouble.
24. Some Democracy On The Set
No matter how long a show is stretched, it has to come to an end at some point. The usual reason for ending such a massively successful show is simply that its ratings are down and the gig is up. M*A*S*H, though, did things a little differently.
Movie sets back when the series was filmed weren’t known for being particularly democratic, but the decision to end the show was decided by a vote held by the cast. Some cast members actually voted in favor of keeping the cameras rolling, and they are the ones who appeared in AfterMASH in 1983.
25. There Were 3 M*A*S*H Spinoff Shows
It seems like every time a hit TV show ends, someone tries to create a spinoff of it, hoping to ride the success of the original. Unfortunately, these spinoffs are usually not as successful as the original, and that’s exactly what happened with the M*A*S*H spinoffs, Trapper John M.D. (1979-1986), AfterMASH (1983–85) and W*A*L*T*E*R (1984).
The first one was more successful than the others and was about Trapper John McIntyre’s life as a surgeon in San Francisco after the war. AfterMash picked up where M*A*S*H ended, as some of the gang begins working at a veterans’ hospital in Missouri, but only lasted two seasons. The last never made it past the pilot episode.
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