The military acronym for M.A.S.H. technically means “mobile army surgical hospital.” However, in the entertainment world, M*A*S*H refers to one of TV’s most enduring and long-living comedy shows about the Korean War and the frustrations of life while all hell is breaking loose around a person. The general storyline of MASH was created based off of fictional work by Richard Hooker serialized into a cinema movie by the same name and then a TV show by 20th Century Fox.
As those who grew up watching the show remember, MASH represented the stories and comedic experiences of a group of doctors, nurses and support staff at a fictional 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital behind the lines in the Korean War. The characters included everyone from cynical doctors savings lives and taking breaks with homemade martinis to nurses holding people together and trying keep morale alive as well to support staff getting critical supplies through every means possible, even if it meant the local black market. The show also took on the concept of living through war and the frustrations of the bureaucracy in the military while chaos is blowing up all around. Every episode was a twist of historical military reference, black comedy, and snippets of news that occurred at the time.
The main actors included Alan Alda as Dr. Pierce (Hawkeye), and Wayne Rogers as John McIntyre (Trapper) and eventually Mike Farrell as B.J. Hunnicutt. Memorable characters also included Harry Morgan as Col. Sherman Potter, McLean Stevenson who played Col. Henry Blake and whose fictional death being shot down on his travel home from tour of duty was one of the saddest episodes of the show, hands down, Gary Burghoff as “Radar” O’Reilly, Loretta Swit as nurse Margaret “Hot Lips” Hoolihand, and the memorable and loony Corporal Klinger played by Jamie Farr. The show became so popular, numerous actors did their rotation as guest parts, bit parts, and recurring roles on M*A*S*H as well.
The name and logo of M*A*S*H became so ubiquitous with the show, the public started mixing up their idea of military hospitals with what they learned from TV fiction. With a multi-season lifespan that ran from 1972 through 1983, M*A*S*H outlasted and outran most other TV shows airing in the same decade period. The TV show also tried to take on a lot of the social issues of the 1970s but in the context of how they would have been handled during the Korean War. Topics included racism, hate for the enemy versus humanity, psychology and work stress, gender differences in the work place, and class differences working side by side regardless of background.
When M*A*S*H finally went off the air in 1983, it represented the most watched TV episode in entertainment history, which still hasn’t been broken today. M*A*S*H was a catharsis for America; it gave people an avenue to channel their frustrations, experiences, laughs and sorrows of military service from Vietnam into comedy as they watched the episodes and then the syndication runs for years afterwards. It also allowed family discussions about civil issues changing America as it matured. But most of all, M*A*S*H was a core part of growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s for a generation, and we won’t forget the show because of it.