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Historical
See other Historical Articles

Title: M*A*S*H Goes to the Junkyard
Source: Reason
URL Source: https://reason.com/blog/2018/10/12/mash-goes-to-the-junkyard
Published: Oct 12, 2018
Author: Jesse Walker
Post Date: 2018-10-12 18:35:36 by Deckard
Keywords: None
Views: 280
Comments: 9

Fifty years ago this month, William Morrow & Co. published MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. Attributed to "Richard Hooker," the book was actually composed by Richard Hornberger, a doctor who had served in Korea, and W.C. Heinz, a sportswriter who spruced up the doctor's prose. A couple years later, Robert Altman adapted the novel into a movie, and a couple years after that, the movie's success spawned a long-running TV show.

If you're an American born between the beginning of the Cold War and the end of disco, you probably have an opinion or three about the M*A*S*H franchise. In my case, I think the book is fun but unexceptional, the movie is great, and the TV show ranges from very good to terrible, with most of the good episodes concentrated in the period before B.J. grew a mustache. (Credit where it's due: I stole the mustache thesis from Bill Geerhart.) Whether or not you agree about any of that, it's undeniable that Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre, Radar O'Reilly, and the rest of the M*A*S*H crew were a cultural juggernaut.

But you're reading the Friday A/V Club, where we take pleasure in slipping past the juggernauts to peer at the junk left in our cultural attic. If you want a detailed take on the main stream of M*A*S*H history, Howard Fishman wrote a pretty good article about it for The New Yorker this past July. (I especially liked his observation that the M*A*S*H doctors come across as frat boys in the book and as hipsters in the movie; on TV, he could have added, their mixture of progressive politics and serial sexual harassment resembles a certain sort of college professor.) Fishman can handle the M*A*S*H that mattered. We'll look at the detritus—at the sequels to the novel and the spinoffs from the TV show.

First the novels. Two of these, M*A*S*H Goes to Maine and M*A*S*H Mania, were written by Hornberger; they feature the M*A*S*H doctors working at a hospital in Maine in the 1970s. These books may shock people raised on the TV series, since Hawkeye here is a rock-ribbed Republican who throws around racial slurs and at one point declares that you "oughta kick the bejesus out of a liberal now and then just to stay in shape." The Maine books aren't great literature, but they have a sort of lived-in authenticity to them; they're stories about small-town doctors from Maine that were written by a small-town doctor from Maine, and they can't help picking up some texture along the way. If nothing else, I can recommend "Dragons," a chapter of M*A*S*H Mania where Hawkeye, having been dragged before a judge who's in on the joke, spins a tall tale in which the atom bomb wasn't invented until 1950 and it was a dragon named Sid who actually destroyed Hiroshima.

Pocket Books

But then there are the other books. William Butterworth wrote these, and he churned out around a dozen of them. M*A*S*H Goes to New Orleans. M*A*S*H Goes to Las Vegas. M*A*S*H Goes to Vienna. M*A*S*H Goes to Morocco. In these the swamp doctors still work at that hospital in Maine, but now they're constantly getting drawn into allegedly high-comic adventures around the world, with a recurring cast of guest stars with names like Boris Korsky-Rimsakov, Horsey de la Chevaux, and Wrong-Way Napolitano. Sometimes the book characters' backstories are adjusted to fit the TV series; other times the books go out of their way to contradict the TV series. (Col. Henry Blake, famously killed off on the show, periodically pops in to say hello.) I cannot in good conscience recommend reading two or more of these, but every student of '70s kitsch should try to make it through one.

And the TV spinoffs? There were three of those. Trapper John, M.D. was a standard medical drama set in what was then the present day, with the title character now employed at a hospital in San Francisco. (It must have been a tough commute to work both there and in Maine.) AfterMASH was set in Missouri in the 1950s, with three characters from the old show adjusting to civilian life at yet another hospital.

Finally, there's W*A*L*T*E*R, in which Gary Burghoff reprises his role as Radar O'Reilly and a very young Victoria Jackson plays the ditzy drugstore clerk who befriends him. There was only one episode. It aired in only half the country. It is the most godawful piece of crap ever excreted by the M*A*S*H multiverse—and yes, I've seen the episode of the original show where they spend the whole story organizing a surprise party for Col. Potter. That one is Citizen Kane compared to W*A*L*T*E*R. If the novel published in October 1968 is the place where this franchise was born, then this half-hour of television that aired in July 1984 is where it went to die. (*) Enjoy!

(* I mean "went to die" figuratively, of course. W*A*L*T*E*R was followed by one more season of AfterMASH and two more seasons of Trapper John, M.D. America still has troops in Korea, too. Apparently it's really hard to wind these things down.) (1 image)

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#1. To: Deckard (#0)

As a U. S. Army veteran I never watched an episode of Smashed.

Liberals are like Slinkys. They're good for nothing, but somehow they bring a smile to your face as you shove them down the stairs.

IbJensen  posted on  2018-10-13   7:10:28 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#2. To: IbJensen (#1)

I only watch it cuz it's on the idiot box after happy hour when I get home.

Fred Mertz  posted on  2018-10-13   7:28:19 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#3. To: IbJensen (#1)

As a U. S. Army veteran I never watched an episode of Smashed.

I am also a US Army veteran,and I used to watch it pretty much every week.

Mostly because tv really sucked back then,and there was nothing better to watch in that time slot. Yeah,there were a few gems like the Carol Burnette Show,The Alfred Hitchcock Show,The Twilight Zone,Kraft Mystery Theater,Playhouse 90,and a few others,but damn few others.

Don't believe me? Start tuning in to the old tv shows on your HD broadcast tv,and see for yourself. Most people liked most prime-time shows back in the 50's and 60's because they had nothing to compare them to.

In the entire history of the world,the only nations that had to build walls to keep their own citizens from leaving were those with leftist governments.

sneakypete  posted on  2018-10-13   9:51:07 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#4. To: sneakypete (#3)

Start tuning in to the old tv shows on your HD broadcast tv,and see for yourself.

I enjoy the mostly B&W shows with predominantly white actors.

I don't even waste my time checking out modern TV shows any more. Too much female domination and gay stuff.

Fred Mertz  posted on  2018-10-13   9:56:21 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#5. To: Fred Mertz (#2)

Fred: Get a Roku and dutch cable.

Liberals are like Slinkys. They're good for nothing, but somehow they bring a smile to your face as you shove them down the stairs.

IbJensen  posted on  2018-10-13   10:16:56 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#6. To: IbJensen (#5)

Thanks for reminding me I have a Roku. My only complaint is that you have 400,000 choices, so I use it when I know what I want.

Fred Mertz  posted on  2018-10-13   10:22:04 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#7. To: Deckard (#0)

PreTTy much

Avoided all shows

WiTh canned laughTer

Love
boris

If you ... don't use exclamation points --- you should't be typeing ! Commas - semicolons - question marks are for girlie boys !

BorisY  posted on  2018-10-13   16:53:37 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#8. To: Fred Mertz (#6) (Edited)

hanks for reminding me I have a Roku. My only complaint is that you have 400,000 choices, so I use it when I know what I want.

Fred,you do know your ROKU has a search function,right?

Just type in the name of the show or series you want to watch,and it will tell you where and when it is airing.

I get most of the shows you would like on my 43 dollar RCA=Made in America HD antenna,though. Shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents,come on every day. So does the old Carol Burnett Show,Start Trek,The Twilight Zone,Gunsmoke,Maverick, and others.

Not to mention all the Masterpiece Theater historical dramas on various PBS stations.

And they are all free.

In the entire history of the world,the only nations that had to build walls to keep their own citizens from leaving were those with leftist governments.

sneakypete  posted on  2018-10-13   16:57:14 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#9. To: sneakypete (#8)

Yes, petey, I mostly watch or turn on free TV and watch the oldies but goodies.

There's a western on in the other room.

Fred Mertz  posted on  2018-10-13   19:52:31 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


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