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17 Painless Facts About M*A*S*H

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In 1968, surgeon H. Richard Hornberger—using the nom de plume of Richard Hooker—collaborated with writer W.C. Heinz to create the book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, based on his experiences with the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. Two years later, Robert Altman used the book as the basis for a movie about the fictional 4077th unit (he cut the number 8055 in half.) Two years after that—on this day 45 years ago—M*A*S*H came to life again in the form of an 11-season television series that culminated in the most-watched series finale in television history. Here are some facts about the show that won't get you a Section 8.

1. ALAN ALDA AND JAMIE FARR SERVED IN THE U.S. ARMY.

Alda (Hawkeye Pierce) 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 McIntyre) joined the U.S. Navy for a time as a ship navigator. Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunnicut) served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

2. MCLEAN STEVENSON AUDITIONED FOR HAWKEYE, AND COMEDIAN ROBERT KLEIN TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF TRAPPER JOHN.

Stevenson was convinced to take the role of Lt. Colonel Henry Blake instead. As for Klein, he denied a claim that he lived to regret the decision.

3. LARRY GELBART WROTE THE PILOT IN TWO DAYS FOR $25,000.

The veteran screenwriter had been living in London after growing tired of Hollywood, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try to adapt Robert Altman’s movie for television audiences.

4. KLINGER WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE IN ONE EPISODE.

The cast of MASH
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

He was also supposed to be gay. Jamie Farr’s character was changed to a heterosexual who cross-dressed to try to get himself kicked out of Korea. Allegedly, the Klinger character was influenced by comedian Lenny Bruce’s claim that he got discharged from the Navy for claiming to have “homosexual tendencies.”

5. ONLY THE NETWORK WANTED THE LAUGH TRACK.

Gelbart and executive producer Gene Reynolds were against the canned laughter; unfortunately CBS knew of no other way to present a 30-minute “comedy.” Gelbart and Reynolds did manage to get the network to agree to take out the laughing during the scenes in the operating room, and as the seasons progressed, the track got quieter and quieter. In the U.K., the BBC omitted the laugh track entirely.

6. CBS DIDN’T WANT ONE "UNPATRIOTIC" EPISODE.

An episode where soldiers stand outside in the freezing cold so that they can make themselves sick enough to be sent home was rejected by CBS. That soldier tactic was apparently actually used during the Korean War.

7. THE WRITERS CAME UP WITH AN INGENIOUS WAY OF DEALING WITH SCRIPT COMPLAINTS.

After growing tired of having to listen to cast members’ notes about their scripts, M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine and his fellow scribes changed their script on two occasions so that the actors were forced to pretend it was parka weather on 90- to 100-degree days on their Malibu ranch set. They took the hint and the “ticky tack” notes stopped.

8. WAYNE ROGERS WAS ABLE TO LEAVE THE SHOW BECAUSE HE NEVER SIGNED A CONTRACT.

Rogers was threatened with a breach of contract lawsuit. The problem was that he had never signed a deal, objecting to the standard contract given to TV actors when he had started playing Trapper John, particularly the “morals clause,” which he considered antiquated. Rogers said that aside from missing the cast—and his friendship with Alda in particular—he had no regrets about leaving the show after season three.

9. ALDA WAS THE ONLY ACTOR WHO WAS AWARE OF HENRY BLAKE’S FATE UNTIL MOMENTS BEFORE SHOOTING THE FINAL SCENE IN “ABYSSINIA, HENRY.”

Alan Alda in MASH
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Gelbart and Reynolds used the opportunity for McLean Stevenson wanting to leave after the third season to “make a point” about the “wastefulness” of war, and decided to kill off Henry Blake. After distributing the script without the last page and shooting all of the scenes written therein, Gelbart asked the cast to wait a few minutes before the start of the end-of-season wrap party and gave them each one copy of the final page, where Radar enters the O.R. and announces that Henry didn’t make it.

Larry Linville (Frank Burns) immediately remarked that it was “f***ing brilliant.” Gary Burghoff (Radar) turned to Stevenson and called him a son of a bitch, because he was going to get an acting Emmy for the episode. (He didn’t.) They then shot the scene in two takes. Gelbart and Reynolds claimed they received over 1000 letters from people upset over the ending. Reynolds also claimed that CBS was so unhappy with the decision that in at least one repeat airing, they cut out the final scene.

10. THE WRITERS RAN OUT OF NAMES.

During season six, there's an episode that features four Marine patients named after the 1977 California Angels infield. Throughout season seven, the patients were named after the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers. Ken Levine didn’t just use baseball players' names though; in “Goodbye Radar,” Radar’s new girlfriend was named after one of Levine’s former lady friends, Patty Haven.

11. THE SERIES LASTED MUCH LONGER THAN THE ACTUAL KOREAN WAR.

The series spent 11 years telling the story of Army doctors and nurses dealing with a three year, one month, and two day war.

12. 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.

13. A METRIC TON OF FUTURE STARS MADE GUEST APPEARANCES.

Ron Howard played an underage Marine. Leslie Nielsen played a Colonel. Patrick Swayze portrayed an injured soldier with leukemia. John Ritter, Laurence Fishburne, Pat Morita, Rita Wilson, George Wendt, Shelley Long, Ed Begley Jr., Blythe Danner, Teri Garr, and even Andrew Dice Clay also all visited the 4077th.

14. THE SERIES FINALE IS STILL THE MOST WATCHED EPISODE OF TELEVISION IN AMERICAN HISTORY.

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 M*A*S*H got started in 1972. For the series finale, a 30-second spot cost $450,000.

15. THERE WERE THREE SPINOFFS.

Trapper John, M.D., aired from 1979 to 1986 and was about Trapper John McIntyre’s present-day tenure as chief of surgery back in San Francisco (it didn’t star Wayne Rogers). AfterMASH featured Col. Potter (Harry Morgan), Father Mulcahy (William Christopher), and Klinger (Jamie Farr) working at a veterans' hospital in Missouri right after the events of M*A*S*H; it was cancelled in its second season as it was unable to compete with The A-Team. W*A*L*T*E*R followed the new adventures of Walter “Radar” O'Reilly (Burghoff again), who became a St. Louis cop after losing the family farm and his wife (not Patty Haven) and attempting suicide. The pilot wasn’t picked up, and only aired once, and only in the eastern and central time zones, on CBS on July 17, 1984.

16. RADAR’S TEDDY BEAR WAS SOLD AND RETURNED TO BURGHOFF.

Gary Burghoff as Radar in MASH
Fox Home Video

Burghoff said Radar’s teddy bear had been lost for 30 years until it suddenly turned up at an auction in 2005. A medical student bought it for $11,500, and promptly sold it back to Burghoff.

17. A CONSTRUCTION WORKER FOUND THE SHOW’S TIME CAPSULE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

In the series' penultimate episode, “As Time Goes By,” the characters bury a time capsule under the Fox Ranch. Two months later, the land was sold. Soon after, a construction worker found the capsule and got in contact with Alan Alda to ask what he should do with it. After he was told to keep it, Alda claimed the construction worker “didn’t seem very impressed.”

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter. She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: no team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which premiered on this day in 1975, won critical acclaim, box office success, and a shelf full of Oscars. But even if you love the complex exploration of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, there are a few things you may not know about its behind-the-scenes story. 

1. CUSTOMS NEARLY DOOMED THE PROJECT. 

Despite the middling success of the 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel starring Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend Douglas was dead set on adapting the story for the screen. Douglas contacted Czech director Miloš Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. 

Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czechoslovakian customs and never reached the director. Unaware of the parcel’s fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas’s broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Kirk’s son Michael Douglas took another crack at production and contacted Forman once more. 

2. ONE STUDIO WANTED TO CHANGE THE ENDING.

When producers were shopping the picture to studios, 20th Century Fox was interested, but with a catch. Fox would distribute the film, but only if the filmmakers would agree to rewrite the ending; the studio wanted McMurphy to live. Producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas wisely considered this a deal breaker, and United Artists eventually distributed the film.

3. JACK NICHOLSON AND LOUISE FLETCHER WERE NOT THE FIRST CHOICES FOR THEIR CHARACTERS. 


Warner Bros.

When Kirk Douglas spearheaded the first attempt to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to life on the big screen in the 1960s, he had intended to play the Randle Patrick McMurphy role himself, just as he had on stage. When production began in earnest 10 years later, Douglas was too old for the part, leaving director Forman to consider and contact the likes of Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and (his personal favorite) Burt Reynolds before finally settling on Jack Nicholson.

A number of different actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched, the film’s central antagonist, as well: Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury were all in the running, before Louise Fletcher ultimately got the part. 

4. LOUISE FLETCHER CHANGED FORMAN’S VIEW ON THE CHARACTER. 

Forman’s original view of Nurse Ratched was as “the personification of evil,” a characterization that made Louise Fletcher a bad fit for the part in the filmmaker’s mind. As Fletcher pressed for the role, Forman’s perspective of Ratched evolved: “I slowly started to realize that it would be much more powerful if it’s not this visible evil,” he said. “That she’s only an instrument of evil. She doesn’t know that she’s evil. She, as a matter of fact, believes that she’s helping people.” This new take on the character paved the way for the official casting of Fletcher. 

5. SEVERAL OF THE FILM’S STARS WERE NOT ACTORS. 

Following the production team’s decision to use Oregon State Hospital as its shooting location, the producers hit on the idea of casting facility superintendent Dr. Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey, the doctor charged with assessing R. P. McMurphy’s psychological health. Brooks agreed to play what turned out to be a sizable role, though it would be the only acting job he would ever take. He also helped secure employment for many of his hospital’s patients as extras and crew members during production. 

Mel Lambert, another non-actor, was wrangled to play the harbormaster who protested McMurphy’s ad hoc fishing trip. What’s more, Lambert—a respected area businessman who had a strong relationship with the local Native American community—introduced the production team to Will Sampson, the 6-foot-5-inch-tall Muscogee painter who would make his acting debut as the major character Chief Bromden. 

6. THE STARS LIVED ON THE WARD DURING PRODUCTION. 


Warner Bros.

All of the actors who played patients actually lived on the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus “get[ting] a sense of what it was to be hospitalized” (as actor Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients. 

7. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT WITHOUT THE ACTORS’ KNOWLEDGE. 

To complete this realistic immersion, Forman led his performers in unscripted group therapy sessions in which he directed the actors to develop their characters’ psychological maladies organically. He would often capture footage of the actors, both in and out of character, without explicitly mentioning that the cameras were rolling. The film’s final cut includes a shot of a visibly irritated Fletcher reacting to a piece of direction fed to her by Forman. 

8. FORMAN AND NICHOLSON HAD A TREMENDOUS SPAT OVER THE FILM’S PLOT. 

While the intensity of the turmoil varies from rumor to rumor, reports from the set were consistent on one fact: The star refused to speak with Forman for a large chunk of the production process. Nicholson took issue with Forman’s suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, the actor insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff’s authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines. 

Although the version of the story that we see in the film today is more closely associated with Nicholson’s alleged reading, suggesting that Forman ultimately took his advice, Nicholson refused to interact with his director from that point forward. When the star and Forman needed to communicate with one another, they used cinematographer Bill Butler as a middleman. 

9. DANNY DEVITO CREATED AN IMAGINARY FRIEND DURING PRODUCTION. 


Warner Bros.

Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him 3000 miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional. 

10. THE CREW WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE SANITY OF ONE CAST MEMBER.

While Dr. Brooks had no concerns about DeVito, he echoed the rest of the cast and crew’s apprehensions about the psychological state of Sydney Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick. Lassick exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between Nicholson and Sampson. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene that he had to be removed from set. 

11. FLETCHER TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES IN ORDER TO GET FRIENDLIER WITH HER CO-STARS.

Envious of the camaraderie her male costars had forged, and hoping to dispel any associations with her tyrannical character, Fletcher surprised the cast one evening by ripping off her dress on the crowded ward. Years later, the actress laughed about the display, saying, “‘I’ll show them I’m a real woman under here, you know.’ I think that must have been what I was thinking.” 

12. THE FISHING TRIP SCENE BARELY MADE IT INTO THE FILM. 

Initially, Forman was vocally opposed to including a scene that took place beyond the grounds of the hospital out of concerns that a temporary liberation would undercut the dramatic force of the film’s ending. In the end, Zaentz convinced Forman to shoot the fishing trip sequence. It was the final scene filmed and the only piece shot out of chronological order. 

One thing to look for in the fishing scene: A very subtle Anjelica Huston cameo. Huston, who was dating Nicholson during production, has a nonspeaking role as one of the spectators on the dock as McMurphy and his fellow patients steer the stolen boat back to shore. 


Warner Bros.

13. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST WAS THE FIRST FILM TO WIN ALL “BIG FIVE” ACADEMY AWARDS IN 41 YEARS.

Not since 1934's It Happened One Night swept the Oscars had a film walked away with awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took home the lot, with Nicholson and Fletcher winning the top acting awards. The feat would not be matched again for another 16 years, with Silence of the Lambs becoming the next (and last to date) movie to earn the distinction. 

14. THE FILM ENJOYED ONE OF THE LONGEST THEATRICAL RUNS IN MOVIE HISTORY. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was revered worldwide, but Swedish viewers developed an especially soft spot for the film. Cuckoo’s Nest remained a regular option for Swedish moviegoers through 1987—11 years after its initial release. 

15. KESEY REFUSED TO SEE THE FILM (BUT MAY HAVE BY ACCIDENT). 

The poster child for the “the book was better” movement, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kesey disapproved of a big screen adaptation of his novel as soon as he found out that the filmmakers had abandoned the use of Chief Bromden as the story’s narrator. Kesey never intended to see the movie, but one story says he inadvertently caught a few moments during a bout of channel surfing one evening. Once Kesey realized what he was watching, he promptly changed stations.

According to fellow novelist Chuck Palahniuk (who has famously praised director David Fincher’s adaptation of his novel Fight Club, plot changes and all), Kesey once stated privately that he did not care for the material.

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