Introduction to M*A*S*H


The origins of MASH

Mash (stylized as M*A*S*H on posters and media) is undoubtedly one of the classic American television series, and it has owed its success and popularity to the 1970 movie.

The MASH movie was based on the novel by Richard Hooker, MASH: Novel About Three Army Doctors. In the film, it unfolds a story of a team of medical practitioners who’s assigned to Mobile Army Surgical Hospital – hence MASH – during the height of the Korean War. Donald Sutherland was the one who played Hawkeye Pierce in the movie, the similar role that Alan Alda portrayed on the TV series. Directed by Robert Altman, MASH was a hit at the box office, and received five Academy Awards nominations (winning one for the screenplay, which was written by Ring Lardner, Jr.).

About the hit TV series…

M*A*S*H*, the TV series, was of course based on the hit film. Just like the movie, its plot was based on a medical team with the setting of the Korean War. Even though the show was set in the Korean War it was a strong allegory to the controversial Vietnam War that was being fought during the initial seasons. It provided a venue for discussion and commentary on the war.

The show didn’t do well in its first season episodes. In fact, the ratings of this television show in its first year were very low. The producers and networks were unsure if the show would succeed and even considered cancellation but the ratings took off in season two and continued to remain strong with the final episode being one of the most watched shows in television history.

M*A*S*H’s “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” final episode

On M*A*S*H‘s 256th and final episode on its eleventh season, on February 28, 1983. The last episode was titled, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” and recounted the waning days of the Korean War. The 4077 M*A*S*H unit find themselves facing irreversible changes in their own lives. Hawkeye Pierece is having a mental breakdown and brought to the mental hospital, where he is treated by Dr. Sidney Freedman. Hawkeye’s breakdown was triggered by several repressed memories, including the one that involves hiding in the bus including all the other refugees because an enemy was nearby. So they turned out all the lights, shut off the bus’ engine and everyone on board kept themselves quiet. Except one Korean woman at the back of the bus who had a chicken that won’t stop chuckling. When it was revealed what was the cause of his breakdown, Hawkeye believes he could now go home but Sidney orders him to go back to the 4077, promising Hawkeye that he will check on him. A freak accident by a mortar explosion causes Father Mulcahy to lose his hearing; Margaret Houlihan is still worrying about her plans after the war; and Klinger decides to stay in Korea to marry Soon-Lee, a prisoner of war.

M*A*S*H’s “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was concluded with tear-filled farewells as the 4077th staff holds a party before taking the camp down, just after the ceasefire has been declared. After that, the main characters go to their own separate lives.

M*A*S*H‘s “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” pulled 121.6 million viewers on the date of its original and final broadcast, making it the most-watched finale episode in American television history. This record still stands up to the present.

M*A*S*H main characters

1. Hawkeye Pierce

Portrayed by Alan Alda, Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce. The “Hawkeye” nickname was given to him by his father, who read The Last of the Mohicans book from which the name was derived. He was born and raised in Crabapple Cove, Maine, and did a medical residency in Boston, where he first met Trapper John. Hawkeye shows little tolerance for military red tape and customs (such as wearing an insignia and, on rare occasions, a Class A uniform) and does not like to carry firearms. Although some people see of him as liberal, Alda thinks otherwise that Hawkeye is “traditional conservative.”

2. Trapper John

Capt. “Trapper” John Francis Xavier McIntyre was portrayed by Wayne Rogers. He got his name by “trapping” (or raping) a beauty queen on the Boston Maine Express toilet, but the truth is that she was actually willing and only made the accusation to avoid shame. The Boston native is a surgeon on the 4077th, and in this TV series at least he comes off as a class clown.

3. B. J. Hunnicutt

Captain B.J. Hunicutt was played by actor Mike Farrell, Dr. Hunnicut is a Stanford Medical School graduate and took his residency in Sausalito, California. He was also drafted as an army surgeon during the Korean War. He is mild-mannered person in contrast to his friend Hawkeye’s aggressive behavior. Hunnicut also stands as Hawkeye’s voice of reason as well. If you are interested to learn more about Mike Farrell, you may also read our post, Did Shelley Fabares and Mike Farrell Define True Love in Hollywood?

4. Henry Blake

Lt. Henry Blaymore Blake hails from Bloomington, Illinois, and attended the University of Illinois. He is an Army physician, and also an easygoing and happy-go-lucky guy. His behavior is approved by some but is frowned down by those who prefer a more strict discipline in the military. Despite this behavior, Blake has a surprising ability to keep his colleagues to remain unperturbed and on their feet when the situations arise. He was portrayed by Roger Bowen.


5. Sherman T. Potter

This Hannibal, Missouri native left home when he was only 15 years old, to join the horse cavalry. He also served in the First World War, and after that took up medicine when he was inspired by his veterinary uncle. Potter first served as an Army doctor in 1932, and he also served during the World War II. His extensive experiences in military medicine has made him more adept in making command decisions than the others. He was portrayed by Harry Morgan.

6. Frank Burns

Major (later Lt. Col.) Frank Burns was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a well-off doctor, but isn’t really that serious in his medical career. He masks his incompetence off with his feeling of superiority and arrogance. He is callous, and tends to blame others for his mistakes. For him, appearance counts more than performance. In the TV version, he was portrayed by Larry Linville.

7. Margaret Houlihan

Nicknamed as “Hotlips”, surgical nurse Houlihan was born at an army hospital, leading her to be called an “army brat.” She comes from a family of Army nurses, and is described as a strict and “by the book” head nurse. Despite this, this attractive blonde also uses her romantic wiles towards Colonels or Generals to get her way, and she also follows the regulations for her personal advantage. She was portrayed in the TV series by Loretta Swit.

8. Charles Winchester

Major Charles Winchester hails from Boston, and is a top graduate at the Harvard Medical School. He is an expert on thoracic surgery as well as pediatrics. Like Burns, Winchester is proud and arrogant. But unlike him, Winchester is an expert surgeon through and through who knows about the intricacies of his profession; he also often shows his human side. He also loves music, but while he considers music as his solace and refuge, he otherwise says he would never enjoy listening to it again as a result of his experiences in the camp. He is played by David Ogden Stiers.

9. Radar O’Reilly

Corporal O’Reilly is portrayed in the TV series by Gary Burghoff, who also played the same character in the M*A*S*H’s film version. O’Reilly was born in Ottumwa, Iowa, and has long dreamed of joining the military. He is nicknamed “Radar” because of his uncanny ability to perceive things even before they actually occur. O’Reilly has somewhat had a shady, sneaky behavior, who regularly makes of any potential scam that might arise.

10. Father Mulcahy

1st Lt. Francis John Patrick Mulcahy is a priest at MASH. He hails from Philadelphia and has a sister, who is a nun. As expected, he is astonished by the often immoral behavior and pranks of his colleagues. Mulcahy shows his other side as the series progresses – that he loves boxing and in fact has been a very good boxer himself; another, he always wins on betting pools, according to the series’ running joke. As the chaplain and religious leader, he often wonders if he has the ability to save lives compared to his doctor colleagues, but it turns out that he also has it, through his many heroic acts. Actor William Christopher played this role in the TV series.

11. Maxwell Klinger

Klinger’s hometown is Toledo, Ohio. Despite the Jewish-German sounding name, Klinger actually is of Lebanese descent. Just like the actor who plays Klinger, Jamie Farr who, in real life, has Lebanese blood too and is also from Toledo. Klinger is MASH’s orderly and corpsman (and later clerk). He is rather a weird guy who does any crazy stunts (such as wearing women’s clothing) just to get him discharged from the military.

M*A*S*H’s impact on American television

In addition to that, M*A*S*H won six People’s Choice Awards during its successful run. Such awards served as proof of how successful the series had become in capturing millions of viewers across the country. The show also won fourteen Emmy Awards and eight Golden Globe trophies. Mash is one of the most watched series in the history of American television. From its inception in 1972, the series went on for eleven successful years until it signed off on February 28, 1983.


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