Monday, February 26, 2018

The new MASH article

The Hollywood Reporter recently ran a long article -- an oral history of MASH by Marc Freeman.  I was quoted a couple of times.   You can read the article here.   But then come back.

Anyway, reader Bruce asked a Friday Question that is more timely this Monday. 

What were your thoughts on the Hollywood Reporter oral history of MASH that came out on Thursday?

I thought Marc did an excellent job.  The big challenge he faced was condensing all of the interviews into one coherent article that fit within the parameters of the space allotted.   It's the same issue we TV writers always face.  We only have so much time to tell our stories and that time is not negotiable.  Same with a word count. 

Marc interviewed me for about an hour.  Assuming he did that with everybody I imagine he has enough material for three books. 

I was impressed that he was able to track down so many people.  Especially happy that he interviewed Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalfe.  Gene, God bless him, is well into his 90's and still sharp as a tack.  And Burt Metcalfe was there from the first day to the last and guided the series for over half of its storied run. 

My big regret is that Larry Gelbart is no longer with us.  Along with Gene Reynolds, Larry was the creative voice of MASH.  He was also a great interview. 

What comes through in the article is the affection everyone truly felt for one another.  Actors, writers, crew -- we all took enormous pride in the show and recognized at the time that we were all a part of something special.  And the article accurately portrayed Alan Alda as the positive force that we all fed off of.   Alan's too modest to admit that but it's true, and that was expressed time and again from person after person. 

So I was very pleased with the article.  

Oh, and one final note --  I'm glad I made the cut. 


Jeannie said...

Recently re-watching "Boys Town" on TCM and noted that Gene Reynolds from MASH was in the cast. Handsome fella, nice performance! Acting's loss was writing's gain. (Can you ask him what it was like to work opposite Spencer Tracy & Mickey Rooney? Would love to hear the stories!)

Dustin said...

Friday Question:

Good morning, Ken. I'm watching Frazier and saw that in season 8 they turned Jane Leeves's pregnancy into a story arc about her gaining weight. In other shows, the actress will be written out of the show for awhile (New Girl had Zooey Deschanel in sequestered jury duty). Other shows just try to hide the character's belly (like Shelley Long wearing aprons on Cheers).

From a writer/showrunner's standpoint, how do you manage what you want to do for a storyline? Who makes the decision if the actress will appear pregnant on screen (because that would mean their character is too)? Do the writers have to come up with scenes where the actress is holding something to cover their baby bump?

Mr. Hollywood said...

Exceptionally good article Ken on one of the great TV series in the history of the medium! How lucky you were to be part of that show. I was on the set at Fox a number of times doing interviews with cast members and my feeling was that it was one happy, talented group of people working together to turn out an excellent product. I remember once talking to Art Carney about The Honeymooners and asking him if the show could be done today. And he wistfully told me "You can't go back." I never forgot how he said it. So, my question for you: could you do MASH today in today's political climate?? In today's "TV climate"?

Andrew said...

That's a great article.

The most moving quote for me was this, from Gary Burghoff, about the episode where Henry Blake dies:

"I was devastated by the cruel "finality" of it. I took Mac aside and said, "If you don't want me to do this scene, I won't." I was hoping the shock of it would get him to change his mind. "No, you have to do it!" he said. "Don't you remember the promise we all made to each other?" He was referring to always showing the reality of war whenever possible."

Dr Loser said...

I do like the idea that that was "the most expensive kiss in TV history."

And worth every penny to me, as a viewer.

Breadbaker said...

If you haven't answered this before, this could be a Friday question:

One topic that didn't make it in the article was "After M*A*S*H." As someone who worked on both, were there things done with "Frasier" specifically because "After M*A*S*H" didn't take off?

Roseann said...

In the years after M*A*S*H was off the air I had the opportunity to work with both Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers. I could hardly speak.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Amen. I was fortunate to have been interviewed by a terrific, caring reporter. However, he answers to an editor who must make adjustments. Just part of life. But here is something I contributed that is on the cutting room floor:

Maxwell: If you’re lucky, and the fates allow, there’s a time in your life that burns hot and bright. There’s excitement, joy, celebration, personal growth, passion, satisfaction, love, a little wisdom and maybe a few bucks. Thank you for that M*A*S*H.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

TV audiences have such affection for their TV shows that they want the TV actors to be "best friends" with the other TV actors.
Obviously, that's not always the case. But it does seem that the Cast and Crew of M*A*S*H were very fond of and respectful of each other.

John Hammes said...


You - and all available - deservedly made the cut.

And, to all involved, who gave us this remarkable television experience, thank you.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I think every one would love to be part of something as special as M*A*S*H either as an actor, writer, grip or even an extra. I know that was a fantasy of mine when I first got into show business. That's not to say that some of today' sitcoms don't have good chemistry. Yet on other shows the actors seem to be just going through the motions. Ken, this makes me wonder if you ever had that "How can I ever top this?!" feeling effect your later work. Congrats to all. Sorry to say, but as long as there is war people will be watching M*A*S*H.

McAlvie said...

Thanks, Ken. I enjoyed that very much. Interesting comparison to I Love Lucy, and I agree. All these years later, the show still holds up.

Jeff Maxwell - Igor has always been a favorite character. His interactions with the other characters in the mess tent were priceless. I always wonder if Father Mulcahy has forgiven the creamed corn?

Charles Cavender said...

Thank YOU, Igor. Hold the liver and fish, please.

Allan V said...

Absolutely tremendous --- I enjoyed reading it as much as that Cheers piece that GQ put together several years ago.

One question, though: Why were there no interview excerpts from David Ogden Stiers?

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Barney Miller, WKRP, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, ER, Scrubs,and Grey's Anatomy all owe something to MASH.

ScarletNumber said...

I had no idea that the Jeff Maxwell who posts here was the actual Jeff Maxwell.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Jeff Maxwell I, like a lot of other people, really appreciate how you often take the time to share your memories from M*A*S*H with us, and how you're always so gracious about your time on the show - even if Igor wasn't a major character (and often had to put up with a lot of whining), you really brought something to the show with your performance in that role. One of my personal favorite Igor moments is not in the Mess Tent, but rather, out in the Compound, standing guard while a long line forms to take a dip in a bath tub on a hot summer day, "Everybody's got ten minutes. If someone goes eleven, I've got orders to shoot." And even when Margaret insists it's been ten minutes? "Not according to Mickey."

@ Allan V Supposedly, David Ogden Stiers still refuses to have anything to do with M*A*S*H after all these years, because he doesn't want it to be the only thing that defines his career.

Jeff Maxwell said...

McAlvie - Thank you for the very kind words. It was really really fun.

And I like creamed corn. And liver and fish.

Graham Powell said...

It was a really great article. Everyone had kind words for Larry Linville, although he never really made an impact outside this show. I wouldn't be surprised if he were typecast.

Dr. Sidney Flagg said...

In the article, Alan Alda supposedly said "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" is his favorite episode, but in an interview, he wants viewers to know he HATES his performance during the key scene (crying) with Col. Blake.

Here is the link (It's just one minute):

Joe said...

Great article, but I have one question, Ken. They said Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart both left after season 4, but Gene stayed another year, right?

Also, he was listed as a creative consultant for the rest of the show. How much was he involved when you and David were running the writers room?

Allan V said...

@ Joseph Scarbrough --- Thank you, I did not know that. Becoming part of a huge hit can certainly have an effect on one's life and career for years to come. While a bit surprised, he knows his business better than I, and I respect his right to handle it as he wishes.

@ Jeff Maxwell --- I've never particularly cared for creamed corn, but you & your friends were always very welcome in our dining room as we watched each week. Thanks again!!!

Eric J said...

Not one of the still photos in the article showed Gary Burghoff. For that matter, not one of the still photos in the article showed Ken Levine. Coincidence?

Jeff Maxwell said...

Joseph Scarbrough said...@Jeff Maxwell I, like a lot of other people, really appreciate how you often take the time to share your memories from M*A*S*H with us, and how you're always so gracious about your time on the show - even if Igor wasn't a major character.

Thank you, Joseph, and everyone, very much. What do you mean Igor wasn’t a major character? The show was about a food-server/cook, right?

And thank you, Ken Levine, for providing such a wonderful blog for us all to hang out in.

Cedric Hohnstadt said...

A MASH Friday Question:

You've written before that flaws are what make characters interesting and entertaining. During a recent bout of insomnia I was lying in bed trying to think through the flaws of various MASH characters. I got stuck when I came to BJ. Hawkeye could be idealistic, impulsive, mischievous, womanizing, and a bit self-righteous. BJ, on the other hand, was mostly just a warm, friendly family man - intelligent and funny but (aside from an occasional mischievous streak) he was overall a very balanced and grounded guy. I'm sure that made him a good compliment to Hawkeye but I would think there was also a real danger of him becoming a "vanilla" character. How did you get around that problem?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Jeff Maxwell I believe it was Bill Christopher who said the show was about a priest in Korea. ;)

Neal Grinnell said...

You really asked Prince Charles about advice for someone wanting to get into his line of work?
What a great question!!!!!

Jahn Ghalt said...

(Marc Freeman condensed) all of the interviews into one coherent article that fit within the parameters of the space allotted. It's the same issue we TV writers always face. We only have so much time to tell our stories and that time is not negotiable. Same with a word count.

Marc interviewed me for about an hour. Assuming he did that with everybody I imagine he has enough material for three books.

You talked for an hour, yet got only three answers in the article.

Let's hope he publishes a REAL oral history of MASH. 7500-words is nice, but is essentially a tease.

I'm going to guess that Freeman will make us pay for the twelve-course meal - and so he should.

Let us know when THAT comes out, Ken.