Facts About M*A*S*H You Never Knew

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The Show Is Based On A Book

One thing you should know is that the show is based on the book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, written by Richard Hooker. The book was based off of Hooker’s time in the Korean War.

Facts About M*A*S*H You Never Knew

The Cast Switched Parts

Not all of the actors on the show kept the same roles over the course of M*A*S*H. In fact, McLean Stevenson was offered the role of Lt. Colonel Henry Blake originally. He had some success on M*A*S*H, even earning an Emmy nomination for “The Army-Navy Game,” an episode that he wrote. However, Stevenson wasn’t happy with his role on M*A*S*H during the third season and left the show in 1975. He originally wanted the part of Hawkeye, but didn’t get it.

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There Were Real Soldiers On Set

If there was a hint of realism on M*A*S*H, it’s definitely because of the presence of real veterans on the set. In fact, both Alan Alda and Jamie Farr were actual veterans. Farr went to Japan during his time in the military after having been drafted. In fact, he first found out that he was going to tour with Red Skelton when he was in Japan. Alda was a gunner in the Army Reserve in Korea for six months before he was on the show.

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One Comedian Turned Down A Role

Some people weren’t as excited about the idea of M*A*S*H as others were. For instance, comedian Robert Klein turned down the role of Trapper John, saying that he wanted to focus on stand-up comedy instead. Klein would still go on to have a successful career, with many people remembering his routines about Watergate during the 1970s. In addition, he was the first-ever star of an HBO comedy special in 1975. That’s quite a historic thing to be a part of for any comedian.

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Wayne Rogers Never Signed

Wayne Rogers decided to play Trapper John when the show started. However, he wouldn’t finish out the show. Just as with McLean Stevenson, Rogers became annoyed that he wasn’t getting as many comedic parts as he’d like. He thought Alan Alda was getting all of the funny lines, which he bristled at even though he was friends with Alda off-set. Rogers never even signed a contract to star in the show and left midway through. He went on to star in Top of the Hill, a 1980 miniseries in which he played Morris Dees.

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Klinger Wasn’t Supposed To Be A Regular

Jamie Farr’s role unexpectedly changed during the show’s tenure, but it wasn’t in a negative way. Instead, he had his role expanded after the producers and fans alike took to the character of Klinger. On the show, Klinger’s comedic attempts to get discharged from the military due to mental instability made him a fan favorite. Farr would stay on through the entirety of the show, with his character eventually being promoted to sergeant instead of getting the discharge that he originally wanted.

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The Laughter Grew Quieter

One of the earliest arguments about M*A*S*H had nothing to do with acting or scripts, but instead was centered around the use of a laugh track. Series developer Larry Gelbart and executive producer Gene Reynolds didn’t want a laugh track at all, but network execs at CBS believed otherwise. However, Gelbart and Reynolds were very sneaky and over the years, turned down the laugh track more and more and made it more infrequent, as well. Looks like they won that war!

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The Pilot Was Written Quickly

A show as well-received as M*A*S*H must have been the result of months of hard work and script revisions, right? Well, not so much. In fact, Larry Gelbart wrote the first episode in just three days. He got paid $25,000 for his work, which still translates to quite a per-hour rate these days! Throughout the tenure of the show, characters such as Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlinhan and Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce were featured in every episode, but it all started with the pilot!

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The Show Had Secrets

It was very important to the show’s producers and writers to keep each season’s twists and turns as secret as possible. For that reason, they were very secretive about what each script would include. Yes, they were vigilant about spoilers even though the internet wouldn’t become commonplace for two more decades! For instance, Alan Alda didn’t even know that his character would be killed off until it came time to shoot that particular episode. Talk about a surprise right there!

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There Was Serious Star Power

A show as big as M*A*S*H is bound to create a few megastars, such as Alan Alda himself. However, there were also plenty of established stars from other shows that jumped at the chance to play guest roles as the seasons went on. Some of them included Ron Howard’s role as a young Marine, Leslie Nielsen’s appearance as a colonel, and Patrick Swayze’s role as a leukemia-stricken soldier. John Ritter, Laurence Fishburne, Rita Wilson, Shelley Long, and Andrew Dice Clay also appeared on the show.

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The Show Was Long

The Korean War, which was the conflict that the book the show came from was based off of, only lasted three years. It’s therefore quite interesting that a show based off of a three-year war lasted for eleven years! The 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital was already well into their civilian years by the time M*A*S*H would reach its epic finale. The show reached eleven seasons because of the characters’ wise-cracking attitudes, which soldiers displayed throughout the book the show was based on.

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Alda Did It All

The vast majority of M*A*S*H fans know Alan Alda as the star of the show, but many do not know that he played a much larger role than just as an actor throughout the show’s tenure. In fact, he directed many episodes – 31 in all! In addition, Alda co-wrote many episodes with others, 13 of them to be exact! That kind of multitasking is seriously impressive. It’s no wonder that Alda’s name has become synonymous with M*A*S*H and so much of its success is attributed to him.

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Radar’s Bear Was Sold

Many M*A*S*H viewers had their favorite characters, one of which was Radar himself. Well, Radar was known for carrying an old, beat-up teddy bar wherever he went. Wondering what happened to Radar’s bear? Well, so was Gary Burghoff for many years. He played Radar on the show, but he said that after the show’s end, the bear was nowhere to be found. It eventually turned up at an auction in 2005, and the winning bidder was kind enough to return it to Burghoff.

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The Time Capsule Was Found

While TV shows such as M*A*S*H include a lot of creative license and often don’t depict realistic events, some of the things that happened on the show were more true to life than you might expect. For instance, when the characters placed a time capsule during the last season of the show, the actual time capsule stayed underground for some time afterwards. It eventually was found by a construction worker, who supposedly put new items in it and buried it elsewhere.

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W*A*L*T*E*R

M*A*S*H continued the tradition of shows such as Bewitched and The Andy Griffith Show by having a spinoff that continued once the main show had concluded. The show W*A*L*T*E*R featured Radar, whose real name was Walter O’Reilly, after he returned home from the Korean War and became a police officer. Unfortunately for those involved, the show never got close to reaching the success of M*A*S*H. But hey, it’s not like many shows have even gotten close to that level at all!

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Alda’s Accomplishments

It’s no secret that M*A*S*H accumulated a number of awards during its legendary 11-year run on television. However, the accomplishment that really stands out is the one that Alan Alda accomplished himself. Namely, he was the first person to not only win an Emmy for his acting, but also for directing and writing…and all on the same show! It was a feat that had never before been accomplished and surely stood as a testament to Alda’s skills and the wide appeal of the show.

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The Names Are Significant

Sometimes, it seems as if names from famous TV shows are just picked out of a hat. Other times, the names of characters have a secret meaning behind them. However, producers and others who work behind the scenes will sometimes let fans in on the significance of certain names. For instance, on M*A*S*H, a number of the writers decided it’d be funny to name characters after players from the 1977 California Angels of Major League Baseball, of all things.

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Case Of The Ex

Of course, the writers of M*A*S*H didn’t base the names of all of their characters off of baseball players from the 1970s. That’d be crazy. Instead, they got names from a variety of places, including their real lives. One writer revealed that his ex-girlfriend became the namesake of a character on the show. However, he wouldn’t reveal who the character was, perhaps because it was someone who the ex would have been insulted to be the inspiration for? Who knows?

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Diversity On Set

The armed forces have generally been very diverse, and the show itself reflected that, particularly because it was based on the Korean War. Therefore, many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean actors filled various roles, including those of soldiers, love interests, family members, and more. One particular actress that comes to mind was Rosalind Chao, who played Klinger’s girlfriend and eventual wife on the show. Most people loved the show’s diversity, correctly believing that it added to the show’s realism and appeal.

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The Cast Complained A Lot

Even on a dream job such as acting on a show like M*A*S*H, there’s bound to be complaining. That’s because if there’s one thing workers love to do no matter what their job is, it’s to complain. However, at one point the show’s writers grew tired of the actors’ whining. Well, that was put to a quick stop when the writers began having special “winter” episodes where actors were forced to wear coats in 90-degree temperatures. The actors got the message.

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Klinger Got Lucky

As with anything, television shows can be very unpredictable. There are a lot of moving parts and you never know how things will go, after all. However, some surprises work out well in the end, such as Klinger, who was just supposed to be a guest character but ended up being a fan favorite. This is something that has happened on other shows, too, including with Steve Urkel on Family Matters, or more recently, Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation.

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Erin

Writers aren’t always the only ones responsible for characters’ names on a hit show. For instance, actor Mike Farrell, who played Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on the show, had a strong preference for the name of his daughter on the show. While the writers were going to go with Melissa, he asked that they name the character after his real life daughter, Erin. Hopefully, Erin Farrell appreciates the fact that a character on one of the most legendary shows ever was named after her!

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Potter’s Real Wife’s Photo

Just like the characters are based off real-life people on many TV shows, many of the props come from the real lives of those involved, too. Here’s a good example: the photograph that was seen on Col. Sherman T. Potter’s desk on the show was actually of actor Harry Morgan’s wife, Eileen Detchon. The two were married for 45 years, from 1940 until 1985, when Harry sadly passed away. That’s quite a marriage, especially by Hollywood standards.

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The Hat

Another prop that was used in M*A*S*H didn’t come from the homes of any of the actors, but instead from the set of a different movie. There was a 1970 movie starring Donald Sutherland that was based on the book that M*A*S*H was also based off of. During that movie, Sutherland wore a camouflage hat that Alan Alda would end up wearing during the opening credits of the TV show. However, he never actually wore the hat during any episodes.

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Laughter Off Please

Earlier, we discussed how the inclusion of a laugh track actually led to a rivalry of sorts between the producers of M*A*S*H and the executives at CBS. Well, there was also an incident in England based on that same topic. The show aired in the UK and was a hit, but there was a big difference there – in the UK, the show aired without a laugh track. During one episode, the BBC accidentally forgot to take out the laugh track and was inundated with complaints from annoyed viewers.

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Klinger’s Wedding Dress

Okay, let’s talk about props again for a bit. There was another prop that was even more well-traveled than Donald Sutherland’s hat from the M*A*S*H movie. The prop was actually a costume, more specifically the wedding dress that was worn twice by Klinger on the show. The show was also worn three times by women, including Laverne Esposito, Soon Lee, and Margaret Houlinhan. That’s a pretty legendary wedding dress, to say the least. It’s amazing that it fit so many different people!

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All Those Opposed

While many shows end up being canceled by their networks due to lack of interest or stars deciding to leave the show, this was not the case with M*A*S*H. In fact, in this show’s case, it was a vote by the cast that ultimately ended the show. This was most certainly a much better outcome than having the show end due to poor ratings or new shows that were favored to take on its attractive time slot.

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The Last Episode

The finale of M*A*S*H is definitely a huge part of television history that is often talked about to this day. However, while it was the last episode to ever air of the legendary show, it was not the last one to be filmed. That honor actually goes to “As Time Goes By,” which was the second to last episode of the show to be aired for viewers. The finale is also known for being the only episode to add an episode title into the show itself, with this one coming in distinctive yellow letters.

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Captain Tuttle

If you were a big fan of M*A*S*H, you definitely remember the episode that featured Captain Tuttle and really showed off the imagination that Hawkeye had. That’s because in this particular episode, it was revealed that Captain Tuttle was not real at all. He was invented by Hawkeye the whole time. In a rather funny twist, though, Captain Tuttle still appeared in the show’s credits. In a funny bit of humor, he was cheekily listed as having been played by “Himself.”

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Oops!

Avid fans of a show not only remember all of the best parts of it, but are likely to notice a few errors and mistakes, as well. This is definitely the case with M*A*S*H, which had its share of bloopers and mistakes. For instance, exterior shots of the show often featured visible power lines that producers said they didn’t have the time to hide. These little mistakes just provided fun Easter eggs for fans of the show, however, they certainly didn’t hurt the show in any way.

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Purple Hearts

There were times when the writers and producers of M*A*S*H were not so worried about being authentic to actual military protocol. This was certainly true of the way that they portrayed the Purple Heart Award, which is very prestigious but is never awarded more than once to any particular soldier. On M*A*S*H, however, a few characters actually received the honor multiple times. They had to have known this was an error, so the mistake was certainly made by choice, not on accident.

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Time Difference

On other occasions, however, it does seem as if doing research for the show’s claims and facts wasn’t a very high priority. For instance, Radar often talked about the time difference between the United States and Korea, often citing an 18-hour time difference. However, many people know that the time difference between the two nations is actually 14 hours, not 18! This certainly didn’t ruin the show for anyone, but you would think that show runners would have done a simple fact check beforehand.

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Who’s The Real Baker?

A show like M*A*S*H is bound to have a lot of running gags, especially since it was a comedy. One rather silly, but amusing, gag was that various nurses throughout the show’s history were referred to as “Baker.” This “Baker” rarely spoke and was played over the years by women that were white, black, Asian, and looked completely different from one another. In addition, Baker was sometimes married and sometimes single. In one episode, Baker’s husband hooked up with Hotlips!

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The Real Korean

While the show was based on the Korean War, many of the actors and actresses that were meant to be Korean were actually Japanese or Chinese. This wasn’t a case of racism on behalf of the producers, but instead had to do with a lack of available Korean actors during the time. One Korean actor who was featured was Soon Tek Oh. He would actually go on to be a successful voice actor in films such as Disney’s Mulan!

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The Dedicated Actors

It’s hard not to get tired of a job after 11 years, even if it’s an amazing opportunity. So after that many seasons, a lot of the actors and actresses were tired of portraying the same characters over the years. Still, some characters were willing to continue their roles in the show After MASH. Willing participants included Harry Morgan as Col. Potter, William Christopher as Father Mulcahy, and Rosalind Chao as Soon-Lee Klinger. Of course, Jamie Farr was also along for the ride as Klinger himself!

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The Third Spin-Off

While W*A*L*T*E*R was not the hit that network executives had hoped for, there was another spinoff besides it and After MASH. The third spinoff show was titled Trapper John, M.D. Obviously, it revolved around Trapper John McIntyre, who was portrayed as a successful surgeon in San Francisco after the conclusion of the Korean War. While the shows had varying levels of success and none of them reached the success of the original show by any stretch of the imagination, W*A*L*T*E*R was definitely the runt of that particular litter.

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Rosie’s Bar

Not only were character names and props often inspired or taken from real life events, but real locations were inspiration for the show as well. For instance, Rosie’s Bar was inspired by an actual bar (which was actually named Rose’s Bar). The actual bar was found in Camp Mosier, and could be found in Seoul, South Korea. Of course, just as in the show, the bar was a very popular spot for American soldiers during the actual Korean War.

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The Reappearance

Big time fans of M*A*S*H love their trivia. Here’s a good one that any huge fan of the show can probably answer: who were the three characters that appeared in not only the pilot, but also the finale 11 seasons afterward? If you guessed Hawkeye, Hotlips, and the priest himself, you’re right! However, of those three, only Father Mulcahy was also represented in the spinoff show, After M*A*S*H. You have to wonder if actor William Christopher used that fact for bragging rights during reunions.

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Gary Burghoff’s Hand

There are things that most fans of the show noticed over the years, and then there are certain things that even some of the biggest fans never would have noticed. One of those things is that actor Gary Burghoff rarely ever had his left hand included in a shot during the show’s eleven seasons. Why? Because it is slightly deformed. For that reason, he would often hold something to block his hand from view or simply put it in his pocket whenever possible.

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High Maintenance

While the show M*A*S*H strived for authenticity whenever possible, sometimes exceptions were made for the comfort of the actors or simply out of necessity. One change that was made that didn’t reflect reality was that the actors often didn’t wear Army boots during their scenes. This was true whenever a shot didn’t show the actors’ full bodies. If their feet weren’t in the shot, the actors wore comfortable shoes instead, such as regular old tennis shoes instead of military grade boots.

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Harry Morgan’s Dream

Even though most actors are just happy to be cast on a hit show, some are clearly more excited than others when it comes to their given roles. For instance, Gary Burghoff was notable for being the first person cast for a role on M*A*S*H and was quite pleased with his role. However, no one was happier with their role on the show than Harry Morgan, who always said he was thrilled to portray Colonel Potter. He was even one of the few to continue his role afterwards on After M*A*S*H!

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Inspiration

While M*A*S*H did feature its fair share of factual errors regarding the Korean War or military protocol, but most of these errors occurred in the beginning seasons of the show, when producers weren’t sure whether they’d have a hit on their hands. As time went on and the show’s budget increased, more efforts were made to make sure the show was at least somewhat authentic. Real-life veterans of the Korean War were interviewed and many of their anecdotes led directly to situations shown on the show.

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Ferret Face

Larry Linville was known for playing Major Frank Burns on M*A*S*H from 1972 to 1978, appearing in 121 episodes over that time frame. On the show, many affectionately referred to Linville as Ferret Face. It wasn’t anything new, though. Just as with many other elements of the show, it was a real life nickname that his brother gave to him when they were kids. Obviously, the nickname stuck like glue, as any fan of the legendary show will tell you.

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Act Your Age

Some aspects of the show certainly weren’t anchored in reality at all. Here’s a good example: though David Ogden Stiers played Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H and his character was older than those of Alan Alda and Mike Farrell, in real life Stiers was younger than both men by several years. Still, anyone who watches TV or movies at all knows that Hollywood plays pretty loosely when it comes to character ages. That’s why most high schoolers are played by actors in their mid-20s!

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Hidden Meanings

Most fans of the show are likely to know what M*A*S*H stands for, but some may not know. The show’s title is an acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. That’s why the show featured the daily lives of soldiers, doctors, and nurses during the Korean War. Over the years before the Internet was commonplace, many fans of the show had a number of wild guesses as to what the title stood for or whether it was an acronym at all.

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Last Minute Man

Alan Alda wasn’t the only person who was being considered for the role of Hawkeye before M*A*S*H began filming. Two other actors were also considered for the iconic role. As a matter of fact, Alda didn’t officially sign his contract to play the role until six hours before the pilot began filming! Imagine how television history would have been changed if Alda hadn’t signed on the dotted line or one of the other actors had gotten the role instead!

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Secret Crush

Like many shows on TV, M*A*S*H is a work of fiction but is set in a world that mirrors our own. Therefore, sometimes the actors and actresses would make references to real-life people during the show. This was true in the case of Col. Potter, who would often mention that he had a crush on Doris Day. He said that he regularly watched all of her films, even noting that he watched them alone instead of with others.

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M*A*S*H Had To Be Patriotic

While M*A*S*H aired during a time when many Americans felt very conflicted about participation in wars overseas, the show chose to address this conflicted feeling in a very humorous way instead of with ham-fisted “serious” episodes. For instance, there were the ongoing antics of Klinger, who wanted to get out of the Army. However, there were other ideas that never saw air time, such as an episode featuring two soldiers who stood out in the cold in an attempt to get sick and go home.

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Go Illini

Earlier, we discussed a number of elements of the show that were actually based off of real life. One thing that was added to the show was a part of Col. Blake’s background. In one episode, Blake said that he attended the University of Illinois. In real life, the actor McLean Stevenson actually was from Illinois. The school was quite pleased with the free publicity and sent Stevenson a sweatshirt, which he went on to wear now and then during episodes of M*A*S*H.

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Mini Tribute

Alan Alda, who played the lead role of Hawkeye on the show, was one of the actors that voted to bring M*A*S*H to an end. Even though he had a successful acting career with appearances in movies as well as shows like West Wing, Alda will primarily be remembered for his role on M*A*S*H. He did get the chance to play another doctor years later on the smash hit show ER. During the show, he even mentioned that he used to be a military doctor.

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The Moral Of The Story

CBS and the show’s sponsors were quite concerned at times about M*A*S*H coming off as anti-military or unpatriotic. The show’s creators always worked hard to make it clear that the show wasn’t against the military, but liked to make fun of incompetency and bureaucracy. I think this message was quite clear to viewers, especially those who had actually served in the military. That’s likely one of the reasons why the show was so popular for such a long time!

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One Salute, Two Salute

You don’t have to look hard to see references to M*A*S*H in many places. In one case, a question about the hit show in the game Trivial Pursuit has become something of a trivia question in and of itself. That’s because the game’s card claims that Hawkeye only issues one salute during the entire 11-year run of the show. This was one of the few times where Trivial Pursuit got it wrong – Hawkeye saluted when he won a Purple Heart and again when he went home.

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Another Real Reference

Rosie’s Bar wasn’t the only fine establishment in M*A*S*H that was based off of a real-life business. Another good example was Tony Packo’s, a restaurant often referred to on the show. Klinger makes mention of Tony Packo’s on a number of occasions, but you may not know that there’s a real Tony Packo’s in Toledo, Ohio. The diner is actually still in business today! Who knows how many fans of M*A*S*H have stopped by for a meal over the years?

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Name Confusion

Not only does M*A*S*H have a well-earned reputation as one of the funniest shows in television history, but it also was quite clever. Here’s an example of how clever the show’s writers can get: Captain B.J. Hunnicutt had a name that most believed meant he was a “junior,” but actually the “B” in his name was from his mother, Bea, and the “J” from his father, Jay. Little details like that helped breathe life into the show’s characters over the years.

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Leave It In the Past

Believe it or not, one of the actors from the film version of M*A*S*H was offered a role in the television show. Tom Skerritt was the actor approached to be in the show, and he had the chance to reprise the role of Duke Forrest. Skerritt declined, however, as he wanted to move on to other things. While M*A*S*H the television show went on to achieve legendary status, Skerritt ended up having quite a successful career, himself. He likely doesn’t regret his choice.

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Background Story

The character of Colonel Potter was known to be quite rebellious. For one thing, Potter lied about his age so that he could be in the cavalry at the young age of just 15 years old! Potter, of course, grew up to be a very experienced veteran, as he mentions having served in both World Wars before fighting in the Korean War to top it all off. No doubt this designation made Potter a favorite character among actual veterans.

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Radar’s Style

Many of the styles seen in shows from the 1970s have long since gone out of style and been left behind for history to forget. However, Radar is an obvious exception as his huge, round glasses were never particularly stylish for any time period! Gary Burghoff chose many parts of his wardrobe personally and thought the glasses really added something to the character. However, when we look at them, we can’t help thinking of Harry Potter for some reason.

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The Series Finale Was Popular And Dangerous

If you look up the most watched television episodes of all time, the finale of M*A*S*H still ranks at the top, which is truly an unbelievable feat. At the time, 77% of all of the United States tuned in to watch the show! The episode, which was titled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” was filmed mostly in interior parts of the set. There was a good reason for this – much of the exterior of the set was burned in a fire that fortunately didn’t injure anyone.

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