Thursday, May 05, 2016

Two MASH stories I hadn't heard

I had lunch recently with two MASH producers – Gene Reynolds (still rockin’ at 93) and Burt Metcalfe. It was the Mount Rushmore of lunches. Naturally we got around to trading MASH stories. They told me a couple I had never heard.

We were talking about censors, and they said there was an early episode called “Tuttle” where Radar reveals he had an imaginary friend. And she was a girl. Trapper asks him to describe her and Radar says, “Like me, only with tiny little breasts.” CBS had no problem with this in the script or dailies, but once the show was finished and turned in they freaked out. When the episode aired they actually bleeped “breasts.”

Compare that to today when every CBS comedy must have the words vagina, penis, and jugs in the teaser.

The other story they told was even more incredible. When MASH aired the famous episode where Henry Blake died there was a huge uproar. To their credit, Gene and Larry Gelbart responded personally to every letter of protest they received. (No, that’s not the incredible part… although it was pretty incredible.)

When it came time to rerun that episode, CBS said “We got a lot of complaints the first time so we think we’re going to cut that scene.” Needless to say Gene and Larry had a fit and CBS aired the episode in its entirety. Can you believe that?

I’m still laughing. That’s a suggestion worthy of Colonel Flagg.


Anonymous said...

And that's when CBS was good. Left to their own accord, the networks would be, well, what they are today. A Good Humor truck only serving vanilla.

johnachziger said...

After the final episode with Henry aired, a week or three later Maclean appeared on some variety sketch show in a brief scene where he was dressed as Henry and was in a rowboat and said something like, "I'm still alive." Does anyone else remember that?

Unknown said...

I was binge watching MASH on Netflix recently. In the episode where Hawkeye and Trapper are trying to get an incubator for the 4077th, they tell Henry they plan to go to regimental headquarters to plead their case. Henry warns them not to go down there "looking like a couple of freelance abortionists." I would imagine this was a difficult line to get past the censors in the early 70s as well. Have you heard any stories regarding this episode?

Anonymous said...

I swear. Network tv must be run by the same yahoos that are running the political parties.

Pam, St. Louis.

cd1515 said...

I liked how McLean Stevenson admitted it was a mistake to leave the show, with the great quote "I thought they loved McLean Stevenson... turns out they loved Henry Blake."

also, now watching old Carson shows on Antenna TV, I'm surprised how often Stevenson was on then.
was he that big a star in those days?

Michael said...

When the Smothers Brothers were in their fight against CBS, they did a skit--censored, of course--about censors. In it, Tommy and Elaine May changed a line about a heart beating in someone's breast to a pulse beating wildly in the person's wrist. That's about where CBS was.

There's an episode in which Hawkeye is ranting in the OR and says, "What would Hippocrates say? What would Socrates say? And what would you (eyeing the nurse) say to going to the supply room for 10 minutes of heavy breathing?" Frank says, "Are you going to knock it off?" Hawkeye replies, "That's what I'm trying to find out." I still can't believe that one got by.

The other from the 1970s was when Lou, Murray, and Ted drank with Mary's boyfriend Joe, and Ted wound up passed out across Lou's lap. When Ted said it was the first time he was drunk, Lou said, "In drinker's terms, tonight Ted lost his olive." The audience went crazy, the rest of the cast looked like they wouldn't survive the scene, and Ed Asner, of course, looked perfectly normal.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on this clip last night, I think it's appropriate based on your post today. I had heard about it for years but hadn't seen it until now:

McLean Stevenson after Abyssinia, Henry aired

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I read somewhere, maybe it was THE COMPLETE BOOK OF M*A*S*H I'd have to check again, that yeah, there was an issue with saying the word "breasts" on the show (and they were also apparently didn't want the word "virgin" uttered either).

There was also a mini documentary series called THE TRUTH BEHIND THE SITCOM SCANDALS that had an episode about M*A*S*H, and I remember Larry Linville talking about the pow-wow Gelbart had during the pilot because he knew the network would have issues with a breast joke, and that supposedly, Gelbart suggested to them a joke that he didn't so that way they'd go with the one he actually wanted without realizing it, hence the line, "If you don't move, I'm gonna have to cut around your B-cups," because he was able to successfully slip in both a breast joke and quantity joke in at the same time.

Speaking of which, not a Friday question, but have you ever seen or heard any of these TRUTH BEHIND THE SITCOM SCANDALS stories, Ken? Some of these anecdotes I've never heard outside of the program, such as the lawsuit Larry and Gene slapped Wayne with regarding his departure, and his counter-lawsuit over him not even signing his contract because of the moral clause.

Aside from all this, I'm pleasantly amazed that both Gene and Burt are still alive and well!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Michael What about this gem from "Tuttle," that I'm surprised got past the censors in 1972: "Oh, Margaret. You're my snug harbor, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you to sail into." WOW. Were the censors asleep that day or what?

opimus said...

Why was the character Col.Flagg cut from the show?

Mike Schryver said...

johnachziger - I think the show MacLean Stevenson appeared on as Henry was THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.

cd1515 - Stevenson signed a big contract with NBC after laving MASH, and I imagine that was one reason for his frequent appearances on Carson (and guest hosting.)

benson said...

Thanks, Anonymous for the clip find.

I wonder if the person who posted that clip to youtube knows the Cher is not Carol Burnett?

VincentS said...

It's called integrity.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Opimus Because the show was shifting tones and becoming more dramatic and less comedic, making the broad and silly Flagg an ill fit for the show's tone by then.

@Benson It's mentioned in the description; my guess is that whoever uploaded it probably assumed because everybody assumed it was Carol Burnett for so long that they wouldn't think to look for the clip by search McLean Stevenson on Cher instead.

Mike Doran said...

Here's a way-belated pitch for a MASH episode:

One day, an officer about Hawkeye's age arrives at the 4077th, apparently just in passing.
He chats up Hawkeye and BJ, casual and friendly.
Not long afterward, Col. Flagg arrives, and it soon becomes clear that his intention is to kill Hawkeye; all the past humiliations have finally caught up with him, and he wants to destroy his enemy, once and for all.
Flagg has his confrontation with Hawkeye, which Hawk tries to joke his way out of, but Flagg isn't having any.
And now we learn that the officer who came at the start is Flagg's superior at Intelligence; he's there to stop Flagg - even if it means killing him.
Eventually, it does.
And Hawkeye's self-righteousness comes back once again to bite him in the ass.
The Boss Officer is surprised, to say the least, at Hawkeye's taking offense at killing Flagg, even when his own life is at stake.
And that's when the BO hits Hawk with the knowledge that the surgeon had performed at least two unnecessary surgeries in the past, to stop dangerous officers from going back on line; how is eliminating Flagg any different?
BJ, for his part, is just a little taken aback when he finds out about the earlier appendectomy; this is something even combat medicine hadn't prepared him for.
It all ends in mid-air: the BO has to dispose of the late Flagg on the down-low (Potter's role in this would have to be determined during rewrites), and the strain between Hawkeye and BJ - well, there's your fade-out ...

Call this a Friday Question.
Think this idea might have gone over?

Mike Barer said...

I remember watching that episode, such a monumental moment in the history of network TV. It was like having a cold bucket of water splashed in your face. No one saw it coming.
CBS was really changing the course of television comedy at that time with All In The Family, MASH and Mary Tyler Moore.

Brian said...

Nice - two new Mash stories. Also, the name Tuttle was used again when Hawkeye (and Trapper I believe) made up an imaginary officer to requisition supplies. Things got out of control so hey had to kill him off.

Loved the Colonel Flagg character.

James Van Hise said...

Although the 1970s was years before the information highway, that Henry Blake was going to die was no secret as I'd read about it in my local newspaper, which is why I was surprised by the uproar over his death, which I'd known about long before.

Audiences were also upset when Edith Bunker was killed off as Archie was shown crying over her death in the same episode, because sitcoms were supposed to be funny, not sad.

Pat Reeder said...

To CD1515: McLean Stevenson wasn't the biggest star in the world, but he was great on unscripted talk and game shows. Unlike many actors, he was a quick-witted ad-libber and clever conversationalist. He was not only a sought-after guest but he sat in for Johnny Carson as host of the "Tonight Show" 58 times. I think he was actually on the short list to take over "Tonight" if Carson decided to leave. It's too bad that after "MASH," he was never able to find a sitcom that was as funny as he was off-the-cuff.

Mike Barer said...

Loved Flagg and Sydney,the shrink Although I'm sure Sydney was not as popular as the Flagg character.

Andy Rose said...

Mark Evanier wrote a very interesting blog post about McLean Stevenson's decision to leave M*A*S*H. One of McLean's considerations was that he had been doing well as a guest host on The Tonight Show. This was at a time when Carson was making periodic public negotiations where he would pretend that he was ready to hang it up. So there was concern at NBC that Johnny might leave, and then who would replace him? This was before Letterman got a show, so he wasn't really in the running, and Leno was totally out of the picture. So being a regular and successful guest host at least gave you a leg up in the potential Replace Johnny sweepstakes. McLean wasn't too happy working on M*A*S*H, so it's easy to see how taking a development deal with NBC could seem like a good career move. At worst, you end up as the star of a sitcom that has at least a decent chance of success. At best, you could end up with The Tonight Show. Unfortunately for McLean, he ended up with neither.

Mike Barer said...

Sadly, McLean did not live much longer than his character as I remember.

Breadbaker said...

It's funny that today I was thinking of my dad (Mother's Day makes one remember those who are no longer physically present). Dad was an ad man and and in about 1970, he did a print ad for a bed store with the tag line, "Good night, sweet prince. You too, princess." The Daily Tribune of Royal Oak, Michigan rejected it. This was well before Charles and Diana so possibly they didn't realize the wife of a prince is a princess. Hard to imagine anyone having a second thought about it, today (and dad was trying to be clever, not suggestive).

David G. said...

Correction to the comment that's two above this one: The Henry Blake death episode aired in 1975. McLean Stevenson lived almost another 21 years after that. (And, it seems, had a new TV series debut during just about every one of those years....)