CLOSE
YouTube
YouTube

10 Fascinating Facts About Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H

YouTube
YouTube

Nearly 50 years ago, a film came along that changed the course of cinema. It made its director, Robert Altman, a legend. It made its stars—Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Sally Kellerman (among others)—into icons. And, above all else, it set a new standard for what a studio film could be. Today, M*A*S*H is most often remembered as a TV series. But before that, it was a rebellious landmark in the history of filmmaking. So, to celebrate this astonishing cinematic achievement, here are 10 facts about M*A*S*H.

1. ROBERT ALTMAN GOT THE JOB AFTER MORE THAN A DOZEN OTHER DIRECTORS TURNED IT DOWN.

Robert Altman, who at the time had little feature film experience, was very interested in directing M*A*S*H, and made that clear to his agent, George Litto. Litto lobbied for Altman, but producers weren’t convinced. Then, after everyone from Sidney Lumet to Stanley Kubrick turned the movie down, Altman eventually got the job.

2. ELLIOTT GOULD GOT HIS PART ON REQUEST.

Elliott Gould was initially asked to play “Duke” Forrest, the Southern soldier who was eventually played by Tom Skerritt. Though he was interested in the film, Gould was worried that he would spend too much time focusing on his accent, and asked for a different role.

“I said ‘I’ve never questioned an offer, and I’m really delighted and flattered that you would ask me to work for you. But I’ll drive myself crazy validating me being an American Southerner,” Gould recalled. “I’m sure I can do it, but I mean I’m going to be so intense as far as how it’s going to sound.”

Gould ultimately expressed interest in the Trapper John role, and Altman gave it to him.

3. WE ALMOST HAD A DIFFERENT FATHER MULCAHY.

Altman fought for, and won, a number of things while making M*A*S*H, but apparently the casting of Father Mulcahy wasn’t one of them. According to actor and writer Malachy McCourt (the younger brother of Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt), he was the original choice for the part, because Altman wanted a “real Irish priest.” Producer Ingo Preminger didn’t agree, so the part ultimately went to Rene Auberjonois.

4. TWO OF THE FILM’S STARS TRIED TO GET ALTMAN FIRED.

Altman spent a lot of time during the making of M*A*S*H cultivating his ensemble, directing background extras and bit players to create a kind of mural effect. It worked in the end, but it also annoyed stars Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, who felt they weren’t being given enough attention by their director. Eventually, they approached producers in an attempt to get Altman fired from the film.

“Both Elliot and Donald went to the producers of the film and tried to have me fired,” Altman said. “They said ‘This guy is ruining our careers,’ and they said that ‘He’s spending all of his time talking with all of these extras and these bit players, and he’s not playing a lot of attention to us.’ It was kept from me. Had I known that, no question, I would have quit the picture. I couldn’t have gone on knowing that there were two actors that I was dealing with that felt that way.”

Gould eventually apologized to Altman, and they went on to make four more films together, including The Long Goodbye. According to Altman, he and Sutherland never spoke about the dispute.

5. ALTMAN’S SON MADE MORE MONEY FROM THE MOVIE THAN HE DID.

For the scene in which Walter “Painless Pole” Waldowski intends to commit suicide, Altman decided that a song called “Suicide Is Painless” was needed, and ultimately asked his son, Michael—who was an aspiring poet at the time—to compose the lyrics. After writing “like a hundred and twelve verses” that he felt were unusable, Michael Altman ultimately wrote the lyrics “in about 10 minutes.” Michael ended up with a 50 percent stake in the song (along with composer Johnny Mandel), while his father was only paid $75,000 to direct the film (with no share of the eventual profits). Michael estimates that he earned “close to $2 million,” thanks to the song’s continued use in the M*A*S*H television series.

6. THE INFAMOUS SHOWER SCENE NEEDED A FEW DISTRACTIONS.

For the scene in which the officers ambush “Hot Lips” (played by Sally Kellerman) so they can see her naked in the shower, Altman had to deploy a few distractions. Kellerman had never appeared nude onscreen before, and in early takes of the scene she was dropping to the ground before the point of the moment was even made clear. So Altman had to think of distractions to get her to pause before falling to the ground.

“When I looked up, there was Gary Burghoff stark naked standing in front of me,” Kellerman said. “The next take, [Altman] had Tamara Horrocks, she was the more amply endowed nurse, without her shirt on ... So I attribute my Academy Award nomination to the people who made my mouth hang open when I hit the deck.”

7. THE FILM SET A PRECEDENT FOR PROFANITY.

According to Altman, M*A*S*H was the first R-rated film to ever use the word “f*ck,” but apparently it wasn’t his idea. During second-unit shooting for the football game that comes near the end of the film, actor John Schuck was told to say something “really nasty” to his opponent. Schuck came up with “All right, bub, your f*cking head is coming right off,” and it made it into the film’s final cut.

8. THE FILM’S ONLY OSCAR WAS FOR A SCRIPT THAT BARELY APPEARS ONSCREEN.

The film’s script, by Ring Lardner, Jr., took plenty of liberties with the original Richard Hooker novel, but by the time Altman and the cast got their hands on it, things were even more warped. “If something occurred to us that seemed to work, we would do it,” Altman said.

As a result, the final film features very little of Lardner’s dialogue, to the point that Lardner apparently told Elliott Gould, “There’s not a word that I wrote on screen.”

Nevertheless, Lardner was given M*A*S*H’s only Oscar, for Best Adapted Screenplay.

9. A TEST SCREENING SAVED THE MOVIE.

According to George Litto, when studio executives first saw the film, they handed Altman “10 pages of notes for cuts and changes they wanted made,” then producer Ingo Preminger arranged a test screening in San Francisco. By the time Hawkeye was stealing the Jeep, the audience was openly applauding the film, and executive Richard Zanuck apparently said, “Tell Bob to forget about my notes.”

10. ROBERT ALTMAN HATED THE TV SHOW.

M*A*S*H was a huge success for Fox—so much so that it spawned a TV series based on the film, which ran for more than a decade. Despite the success of the franchise he helped create, Altman was never a fan of the series.

“I wouldn’t even mess around with that television series,” Altman said. “I mean, I’ve never seen one of those episodes all the way through—never seen one. I don’t like it, and I don’t like any of those people.”

Additional Sources:
Robert Altman: The Oral Biography, by Mitchell Zuckoff
Altman

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Smart Shopping
16 Geeky Coasters to Keep Your Coffee Table Safe
iStock
iStock

Avoid unsightly ring stains on your coffee table with this delightful selection of coasters:

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. FLOPPY DISKS; $22.79

Floppy disks are not obsolete—at least in your living room area.

Buy on Amazon.

2. MARIO; $20

Mario Question Mark Block Coaster Set
Etsy

Unfortunately, no coins will be coming out of these coasters, but they will keep your table dry.

Buy on Etsy.

3. GAME OF THRONES; $12.99

Game of Thrones coasters
HBO Shop

Avoid a royal mess with house sigils of houses Targaryen, Stark, Baratheon, and Lannister.

Buy at the HBO Shop.

4. PACMAN; $20.95

Use these on a black table to recreate the retro video game.

Buy on Epic Giftables.

5. AGATE; $35

Rock on: These fancy agate coasters will look solid resting under your glass.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ELEMENTS; $56.99

These glowing coasters are perfect for chemists, Breaking Bad fans, and anyone who forgot to pay their electric bill.

Buy on Amazon.

7. BUILDING BLOCKS; $19.99

Build your own coaster with this LEGO-esque design.

Buy on Amazon.

8. STAR TREK; $16.63

Star Trek ship coasters
Amazon

This ceramic set celebrates all the best ships from Star Trek.

Buy on Amazon.

9. DR. WHO; $22.99

Just make sure you don’t accidentally send your glass into a different time period when you set it down.

Buy on Amazon.

10. RILAKKUMA; $1.95

Rilakkuma coaster
Bonanza

Cover your counter space with the cute face of Rilakkuma.

Buy on Bonanza.

11. HARRY POTTER; $50

Set of wood burned coasters featuring the crest of each Harry Potter house
Etsy

All the houses are present in this set of wood coasters.

Buy on Etsy.

12. FALLOUT; $25

fallout coasters
Etsy

Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean all manners go out the door: Never forget to use a coaster!

Buy on Etsy.

13. BRAIN; $19.99

This set comes with 10 coasters, each with a slice of brain specimen. When you’re not using them, you can stack them together to create a full brain.

Buy on Amazon.

14. THE LAST AIRBENDER; FROM $13

Aang and his entourage face off on these wooden coasters.

Buy on Etsy.

15. BUFFY AND CO; $20

Getting totally wigged by the idea of a stained table? All your favorite characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer can give you an assist.

Buy on Etsy.

16. STUDIO GHIBLI; $25

Studio Ghibli Stone Tile Coasters
Etsy

These coasters feature scenes from the classics My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

Buy on Etsy.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
DreamWorks
arrow
entertainment
15 Educational Facts About Old School
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios