Wednesday, June 28, 2006

M*A*S*H Misc.

By popular demand, more MASH stuff. (I never get this kind of reaction to my Palm Springs travelogues.) 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 HOUSE 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 advisor. 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 BIG 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 of 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.

I named several women characters after old girlfriends. They still hated me.

In the 7th season, for patient names we used the 1978 Los Angeles Dodger roster. In the 6th season there was an episode with four Marine patients. They were the California Angels infield.

MASH tribute sites have trivia contests. I often can’t answer questions from episodes I wrote.


Anonymous said...

One continuity glitch I just noticed was last night in a Roger-era episode where Hot Lips tells Frank Burns that her mother's an alcoholic and her father's dead. There's a Potter-era episode where her Army father visits and treats her badly.

doggans said...

//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.//

Hey, Father Mulcahy was played by a different actor in the pilot than in the rest of the series. Plus, almost all of the characters were played by different actors in the movie. So I guess Harry Morgan playing two roles never bothered me.

What bothered me was, who the hell was doing all the PA announcements?

By Ken Levine said...

His name is Sal Visculo.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Doggans...I don't see anything necessarily wrong with an actor making a guest appearance on a show, then joining the regular cast as a different character (although I do admit to being a little weirded out that Anita Gillette portrayed BOTH wives of Jack Klugman's Dr. Quincy, in that same scenario--and the TV person for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY feels the same way about Sherilynn Fenn doing that on GILMORE GIRLS).
And speaking of alternate between using and not using the astericks. I read that it's the film (and book) one refers to without them.

The story in TV GUIDE at the time of the finale said that someone had pilfered the sign from the on-set toilet--an anmenity long in arriving, despite the show's success. But apparently, Casa Levine is not graced with "The Official M*A*S*H Can"

Are you jealous that Walter Dishell got an article in PEOPLE for his role as medical advisor?

By Ken Levine said...

I have no problem with Harry Morgan having played two characters in MASH. Both characters are great. But it is a glaring inconsistency. And lots of series have them. How about BETWITCHED with two Darrens?

We used the *'s in all MASH scripts and on the opening titles. I omit them because it's a pain in the ass.

I'm happy that Walt Dishell got an article about himself in People. And I'm certainly not jealous. People magazine also did an article about me in '91, focused on my baseball announcing career.

Anonymous said...


Was it tough doing an hour long Mash? as opposed to half hours?

What about the last episode of mash, can you tell us a bit about the writing and story breaking of that classic episode?

alan alda wrote a couple of mash episodes. how did that come about? were there many changes in script?


i've been buying each dvd set of mash as it comes out, but now i learnt that they are going to relaease an entire box set with some extra features to boot...DAMN THEM!

Anonymous said...

Saw the clip on TV Land last night (but I'd seen you interviewed before)and hadn't realized that was the "Mary" series you refer to, not the one that Letterman and Keaton were involved with in the late 70's. That was a very good series. I still have most of the episodes on VHS. It's too bad that was a bad experience for you, because that was a very likeable show.

Barry Wallace said...

I remember when the final episode aired (and in subsequent viewings), thinking how nice it would have been to hear "Suicide is Painless" with the lyrics while Hawkeye was flying away from the camp in the helicopter. Was that ever considered?

It's interesting how resonant BJ and Hawkeye have been to me all my life. I tell my self I'm a BJ Honeycutt who wants to be a Hawkeye Pierce... I even have a daughter named Erin (just a coincidence)!

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for the insiders view into one of my favorite shows. It's funny how you mentioned the other talented writers because I was going to delurk to comment that I knew if it was written by Levine and Issacs it was going to be a good episode. I take note of opening and closing credits on TV shows, I'm a geek, I know. But it's the writers that put the words in the mouths of the actors. That's first and foremost.

The episodes that you have cited lately were my absolute favorite episodes.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

All right, you win!!! I'll share my one and only MASH memory! I was very young when the show ended - maybe 6 or 7 - and all I remember about the show's original airings was the series finale (I've obviously watched reruns since). I don't think I understood much of anything about the show at the time... but I cried myself to sleep that night picturing that chopper pulling away from camp. I don't know if I've ever seen that episode again, but that shot looking down at the camp still sticks with me.

Blondie said...

More MASH, More MASH!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

More Mash stories please.

Another classic I loved and left me with wet eyes was the 2 parter goodbye radar episodes.

Ken and Issac wrote them.

Can you tell us a bit about those two episodes? how did you come up with the story? why 2 parter? and was it emotional on set? when radar finally left?


Tom Dougherty said...

Continuity glitches occur in anything running longer than a few eps. I think that people pointing out the errors is a sign of success- they're watching hard and often. MASH errors are like the mistakes in Persian rugs- necessary and spiritual in their own way.

Blondie said...

Well Said Tom!!

Ann said...

MASH was just a Great Show. One of those life-changing events in the great TV era. A magnum opus, no matter who was doing the writing--and I don't mean that in a diminishing sense to the individual writers at all. It just seemed ya'll were of the same mind. What sort of magic united you?

Also, Colonel Flagg. Can't tell you how he has affected my life. LOL. I meet people like him every day. Not that it matters, but who thought him up?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how you guys filled in the medical terminology with gobbledy-gook. There was a show about "the medicine behind Grey's Anatomy" recently. It revealed that the writers on that show write the medical terminology like this:

Medical, medical, medical, medical. Boy, this guy's really medical!

Medical, medical, medical. We'd better medical his medical stat.

The terminology is filled in by an MD on the show's staff. Pretty similar setup, but I guess maybe they're too lazy to come up with the gobbledy-gook.

Anonymous said...

Didnt Jeffery Tambor (who had a guest appearance on MASH) have like 18 different temporary characters (not literally 18) that he played on Threes Company and then The Ropers spin-off?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone here remembers, but...on several instances Winchester threw a gratuitous insult at a parting Hawkeye or other cast member. I cannot remember the term, but seem to recall that it was a term for a high-level moron. New sensitivity in the field of mental retardation has resulted in erasing almost all references to the "old" terms. Does anyone remember? I have an ongoing bet with one of my children and a need to find the term he used...HELP.

Anonymous said...

there was and episode I dont remember which one Hawkeye makes reference to Dark Shadows and that show didnt come out until 1966 long after the korean war anybody remember that?