Sunday, February 10, 2013
By popular demand, more MASH stuff. (I never get this kind of reaction to my pitches for my book) Here are some random questions and thoughts:
How did we get the medical jargon? We had a consultant on staff, Dr. Walter Dishell. When writing the script, David and I would just slug in medical nonsense.
HAWKEYE: I think his freebazzber is ruptured.
BJ: You might have to gumenford him and eeknonoogle his interior norgalflagle.
HAWKEYE: Nurse, zignuts. Stat!
Walt would send the script back replacing the zignuts. Eventually we became more proficient in operating procedures and by the end of our tenure we were taking a crack at the jargon ourselves, just calling him and running the scene by him. One of our proudest moments on the show was once writing an OR scene that required no changes. Of course the patient did die.
If you’re writing a spec script like a GREY'S ANATOMY that requires medical-speak, consult a doctor to get it right.
When breaking stories, we would often call Walt and say something like, “Here’s what we need -- a patient that comes in with a bad fever. He becomes delusional that night. The next day he’s better. But that night he dies.” An hour later Walt would call back with Hemorrhagic Fever or some other exotic disease.
At MASH we also had a nurse on stage who served as our technical adviser. That is why you never saw Hawkeye operate with a band saw.
A few people commented on the number of inconsistencies in the show. Yes, a show bible might have been nice. To me there were two GLARING inconsistencies: Harry Morgan initially appeared as an insane general (maybe the funniest MASH episode EVER – “The General Flipped at Dawn”) and then later as Colonel Potter. And the other – we’re supposed to believe that eleven years of stories, main characters coming and going, actors aging over a decade, etc. all took place in less than two years.
The theme song, taken from the movie, “Suicide is Painless” was never sung on the series.
The show was shot at Twentieth Century Fox on Stage 9, and on location in Malibu canyon. A later brush fire destroyed most of the exterior sets. The sets from the stage are in the Smithsonian in Washington. I didn’t steal any of the props. I’m an idiot.
It took four days to shoot an episode. One day to read and rehearse, and three to film. One of the three shooting days would be out on location. But only until the end of Daylight Savings Time. After that the days were too short. The final six or seven episodes were always filmed exclusively on the stage, even the exterior scenes.
For my money the best episodes were written by Larry Gelbart and the team of Everett Greenbaum & Jim Frizzell.
I was there for the creation of Charles Emerson Winchester. The idea was to replace Frank Burns with a character that was very much his opposite. We all wanted Charles to be smarter and more gifted as a surgeon than Hawkeye or B.J. and, as opposed to Frank, a worthy adversary.
There were no auditions for the part. Producer Burt Metcalfe had seen David Ogden Stiers guesting on an episode of the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and thought he’d be perfect. It was only after David was hired that we learned he could do that slight Boston accent.
MASH tribute sites have trivia contests. I often can’t answer questions from episodes I wrote.