Sunday, October 29, 2006

Goodbye Radar

A reader asked me about the “Goodbye Radar” episodes of MASH. They were the last MASH scripts my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. We wanted to title the show “Goodbye Levine & Isaacs” but CBS nixed it.

The episode was originally scheduled to wrap up season seven but the network worked out a deal with Burghoff to come back season eight for six shows and do the finale as a two-parter during November sweeps. We left the series after season seven as well but agreed to return to write the two-parter.

The first problem was that this decision to push back the finale was made at the last second so we had to scramble for that final episode of season seven. David and I wrote “Night at Rosie’s” over a weekend and it began filming the next day.

When it finally came time to film “Goodbye Radar” Gary decided he didn’t want to wear his hat. This became a big issue and remains a sore spot with me to this day. Our contention was that without the hat he no longer looked like a kid, he looked like a balding man rocketing into middle age. Also, for reasons I still can’t fathom, he chose to play the character somewhat angry throughout.

Trivia note: in the show he hooks up with a future girlfriend. We named her Patty Haven, one of my former girlfriends.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the final result. Charles Dubin’s direction really elevated it.

The one thing David and I wanted to avoid was a lot of schmaltz. We did not want long gooey farewell speeches with a lot of crying and hugging. So we devised a story where choppers arrived with injured patients just as Radar had to leave. Farewells were delivered on the run. And this is how we ended the show:



Tired and sullen, Potter, Hawkeye, and B.J. (still in bloody surgical garb) EXIT. O.R. and head towards “The Swamp”.

Pierce, you were a good boy in there. You only threw one instrument, and two tantrums.

Well, the finger’s improved. It’s up to excruciating.

(looking up) Warm night. Maybe I’ll take a walk and unwind.

Sounds relaxing. I’ll get a couple of flashlights. You can look for minefields, I’ll check for snipers. (beat) Where do you think he is now?

Doesn’t matter. He’s away from here.

I really miss the kid, you know?


I’m going to name my first wife after him.

They reach “The Swamp”.

Well, I’ve walked enough.

Me too. Let’s see if the bar is open in this place.



Potter, Hawkeye, and B.J. ENTER.

He’s probably halfway to Hawaii by now.

B.J. flops on his cot. Hawkeye is at the still, fixing three drinks.

(yawning) I don’t want to think about it anymore.

Potter stops, looking down at Hawkeye’s bunk.

Hey, boys…

Yeah? What?


Lying on his pillow is Radar’s teddy bear.


Touched, Potter picks up the teddy bear, hands it to Hawkeye.

(to teddy bear) Good-bye, Radar.




Anonymous said...

Don't know if you timed your blog post intentionally Ken...these episodes are playing tomorrow (Mon 10/30) on the Hallmark channel.

Richard Cooper said...

Okay, I'm an Iowa boy and I'm tearing up just now thinking about that Teddy Bear in the Swamp (and now at the Smithsonian) and good old Radar back on the farm with his new girlfriend, Patty…

M*A*S*H was the show that filled the TV viewing room in my dorm every time it was on. I think it's strangely touching that Gary Burghoff wouldn't wear his hat--he was totally into graduating from the series, just as Radar retired from the war. Such a beloved character, who cares if he's bald? War is hell, and will age a person.

One question I have is: Why was Hot Lips' name changed from O'Houlihan (in the movie) to Houlihan for the series?

Anonymous said...

What exactly was Gary Burghoff's problem?

Beth Ciotta said...

*clearing the lump from my throat* I remember that episode well. Conveying sadness without schmaltz. You guys are the kings.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

Your writing on Mash sure taught me a lot about handling sentimental scenes on a sitcom. In fact, Mash taught me much about writing funny. About how much invention one can take in the construction and placement of words in a sentence. About the exhiliariting lunacy and sometimes insight which can arise from an unexpected collision of two hiterto plain thoughts. I remember a line of hawkeye - comedy is anger delivered sideways.

I always remembered that. did i get that right? It says a lot. And in a fresh way.

i would like to know when alan alda started writing stories for mash, did he break the stories with you guys?

what was it like when alan alda wrote and directed Mash episodes?


p.s - ken, did you ever wanted to direct any episode of mash?

there was one writer, glenn carron? the guy who eventually created moonlighting..i think he wrote for mash too..he was very good too.

Miles said...

A great episode. Thanks for the memory. I understand Gary was a pill.

franny said...

Sorry Ken, I think you're funny but I'd rather talk politics than rehash M*A*S*H.

Anonymous said...

Great post, and another great peek behind the curtain. I had heard that Gary Burghoff was unliked on the set. If that were true it was great acting and writing that hid that.

Who was more unliked on their respective sets: Gary B or Shelley L.? (Note how I've not used their last names so that you have some deniability). I'll understand completely if you don't weigh in on that one.

Cap'n Bob said...

I worked with a guy who said his family knew Gary Burghoff/Radar, and that he had a slightly deformed left hand. He hid it from the cameras by some contrivance--clipboard, bugle, animal, etc. Any truth to this?
He's now a highly regarded wildlife artist, BTW.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I liked the 'losing' the hat bit.
Radar had grown up. So the fact that he was bald, didn't kill the illusion.
We all know that Gary had been playing a teenage boy for a decade.

Certainly, compared to the Cheers episode that talks about Sam's baldness was possibly the worst moment ever in the show. That's just showing the man behind the Wizard of Oz.

Anonymous said...

It always pains me to hear that Shelley Long was difficult, because she was so damned good as Diane, and the show was never the same after she left. I'd put her performance up there with Jean Stapleton's as one of the best female comedy leads ever.

By Ken Levine said...

The problem with Radar "growing up" is that we have the built in conceit that they were only there at the 4077th for one year. Radar aged ten. I know it's a ridiculous conceit but when you have an eleven year run and the war lasted just a couple you have to take a little "artistic license".

Tim Dunleavy said...

Well, considering how much gray Alan got in his hair over the course of the run, a little hair loss from Gary doesn't bother me much. ;-)

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...


I agree with the conceit that the show took place in a short time period.
But as you wrote so eloquently in Radar's speech to Hawkeye (which I watched last night), is that Radar grew up and was not a kid anymore.

In television and in the movies we have to spend our disbelief.
We have to believe that war ages a man.
We have to believe that all the episodes of Potter and Trapper took place in less than a real year.

ON the other hand, most Americans know little about the Korean war. If you told them that it did last 11 years, they'd believe it.

I remember a quote by one of the girls on the TV show, "One day at a time" that went something like this: "My history books are old and dated. If it weren't for MASH, I wouldn't even know there was a war in Korea."

The idea is that we get the feeling that Radar aged and is now a man and the man of his family, and is able to take care of himself without his father figures Henry, Potter and Hawkeye.

BTW, I understand why Gary played it angry. He probably was.
Whenever I have left a job, i was always angry to leave. NOt because I wasn't happy going somewhere else, but I was angry that I couldn't take the people and my coworkers with me. ANd it was scary to move on...

Mustang Bobby said...

Thanks for the insight, Ken. That (those) episodes are some of my favorites in the series. I think you handled the end beautifully, but the scene that always tears me up is Radar saying the hurried good-byes as the team is doing triage and Col. Potter says "Not exactly the way I wanted to say good-bye, son," and his voice catches. It still gets to me.

[Pause while Mustang Bobby gets tissue.]

Anyway, thanks.

Mike Barer said...

I'll never forget McLean Stevenson's last episode. That really went where no TV show went before.

Anonymous said...

I just watched the Goodbye Radar episode on the Hallmark channel and by accident, stumbled upon your site. I was looking for how to use voice over in my screenplay. I agree with you about the hat. I kept thinking the same thing last night as I watched. I love M*A*S*H.

Dwacon said...

I was amazed at how they hid Gary's crippled hand for all those years... the one-handed bugle playing was incredulous.

Miles said...

I agree with the commenter on McLean's goodbye episode. It really was spectacularly brazen to kill him off and handled so well.

Wasn't MASH also the first show in which a character -- BJ -- called somebody a "son of a bitch"?

Don't recall hearing a peep from the FCC then...

Kieron Dwyer said...

Stumbled onto this site and found this post. My dad was in the last Radar episode, playing the acid-tongued guy at the airport who bumps Radar from his original flight, allowing him time to meet the girl, then getting him on the early flight after all. I have seen that episode countless times now, thanks to Tivo. Met Gary some years later at a comic book convention. He was nice enough, but I found it odd how large his signature was on his wildlife paitings, and he'd actually signed many of them TWICE. ?

I have apparently enjoyed much of your work over the years Mr. Levine. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

And while you're here, great job on those last few issues of The Thing, Mr. Dwyer.

Anonymous said...

In my estimation there was no more poignant scene in the "Goodbye Radar" episode than when Hawkeye saluted Radar through the operating room door. Get choked up just thinking about it now. Thanks for the memory, Ken.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I didn't know you had a blog, and I didn't know that I could get to tell you in person how much I love the M*A*S*H episodes you and David wrote together.

Thank you for all the pleasure you've given me.

CalebS said...

I really love the M*A*S*H shows as I am sure you can tell by my nickname. I tivo everyone and watch it I have probably seen Each episode 5 times now. This was one of the most touching scenes in the show other than the one when they report that Col. Blake Dies. Thanks for all of the shows that you have written I enjoyed every one.

wayne Hosh said...

What?? They were only supposed to have been there a year?? I realize that the timeline and plausibility of the show may demand it, but that conceit weakens the show considerably in every way I think. Although it may seem ridiculous, I think the viewers get the impression they have been there a very long time....that the characters coming and going weren't just fly-by-night relationships.... some of the other posters, I thought if excellent that Radar didn't wear the hat - along with that, he seemed to use a deeper, more weary did look like Radar was suddenly 10 years older, and that just made it all the more appropriate, and poignant. Like waking up and realizing just how much time has passed.(I agree, he did seem a bit too angry, but that too served to distinguish this radar from the other episodes)

Unknown said...

Her real married name is holihan.

Unknown said...

Dear Ken,

I'm a recent M*A*S*H convert and I just saw Goodbye Radar for the first time this evening. My one question is about Hawkeye's finger. Usually in a M*A*S*H episode, there is plot A and plot B and they are both concluded at the end of the episode. I feel like the subplot with Pierce's finger wasn't wrapped up, though. Was there a reason for this? A scene from the original script was cut maybe? Thank you.