In publication since 1991, Wrangler News is distributed free every other Saturday to more than 18,000 homes in the Kyrene Corridor area of South Tempe and West Chandler, and is supported by local and regional advertisers.

  Search past and present issues of the Wrangler
    Site search Web search                       
   powered by
Classifieds Contact Us Links Media Kit Make a Payment Previous Issues

Back Home Forward
M*A*S*H Season 9 DVD illustrates series' changes
By M.V. Moorhead

December 3, 2005

It often has been observed that the miracle classic, perennially rerun TV series M*A*S*H carried on from 1972 to 1983, about eight years longer than did the actual Korean Conflict (1950-1953) in which it was set.

As for how many of those years it remained a good show, opinions vary, but I am in the camp that holds that the chronicle of a mobile Army hospital was terrific for about the same length of time as the war lasted--that it went swiftly downhill after the departures, three seasons in, of Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson, and that what little it had kept of its original nutty flavor
vanished after the departure of Larry Linville a few seasons later. 
By Season Nine, out on DVD Dec. 6, M*A*S*H had long since "Jumped the Shark." The show, now peopled largely with replacement characters--even Radar had gone home to Iowa by this time--had changed from a subversive military satire into an earnest, sentimental service comedy. Many of us have found these later seasons, with their brow-knitting pieties about the horror of it all, to be far less effective than the tacit, underlying anger at the folly of war which informs the Marx-Brothers-style fast patter of the early years.
It's worth remembering that M*A*S*H owes its existence, and especially its early insouciance, not just to Robert Altman's 1970 feature film, but also to the 1968 novel on which that film was based. M*A*S*H, subtitled A Novel About Three Army Doctors, was the work of a doctor and Korean War vet named E. Richard Hornberger, writing under the pseudonym "Richard Hooker."

If you grew up in the early ‘70s, you may well be able to picture the mass-market paperback edition, with its peace-sign/shapely-legs composite photo on the cover, into which so many preadolescent boys delved in search of something risqué.
There's a quote from Ring Lardner Jr,, who turned the novel into a screenplay for Altman's film, on the back cover of the current paperback edition from Harper Perennial:

"Not since Catch 22 has the struggle to maintain sanity in the rampant insanity of war been told in such outrageously funny terms."

On a literary level, the comparison doesn't really hold up. Hooker is no Joseph Heller, and he isn't trying to be. His prose, though generally polished, lapses into surprising amateurishness in passages, and his dialogue hits a note of clunky collegiate jocularity here and there.
But M*A*S*H the book remains entertaining in itself, and for latter-day readers it gains extra interest as the acorn from which grew a pop-culture oak.

Here are the original, and quite different, conceptions of "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Trapper" John McIntyre, of Radar and Henry Blake, of  "Hot Lips" Houlihan and of Frank Burns, a minor character whose role is confined to a single chapter.

Here also are characters that made it into the movie but not into the TV show, like dentist Walter "The Painless Pole" Waldowski or neurosurgeon and football ringer Oliver Wendell "Spearchucker" Jones, or, most significantly, surgeon Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest, a Georgia
gentleman every bit as important to the novel as Hawkeye and Trapper.
Unlike the show at its most self-consciously "humane," M*A*S*H the novel carries not even a whiff of didacticism--you couldn't even really say, from reading it, whether Hooker was personally opposed to the Korean War.

What's most refreshing today about the book is rooted in the author's medical background--a bracing and largely apolitical matter-of-factness about war's one inevitable daily by-product: ruined human bodies.

Over the last few bloody years, we haven't been encouraged reflect on this enough.































web site hit counter

Calendar | Classifieds | Contact Us Home | Make a Payment | Media Kit | Online Advertising | Online Pages | Previous Issues | Submit Your Ad

Copyright © 2005 Wrangler News




Hurricane Relief Fund

Donate now to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund.