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(Column) Rice: Just Another Gal from Casper – Watching ‘MASH’

Kate Rice


Happy 50th, MASH!

I didn’t watch the television show MASH when I was a kid. I thought it was dumb — I mean, grown-ups arguing about whether someone touched their nose or not? What they were eating for dinner? Not to mention some cross-dressing dude making up silly stories just to try to get out of the Army. 

By the time I hit high school I had a much different view. Turns out that grown-ups aren’t immune to childish behavior. And MASH offered a more realistic depiction of humanity than my little kid self ever imagined. 

For those too young (or like my younger self, disinterested) to have caught it in its heyday, MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. The groundbreaking television show was based on the 1970 movie, which sprang from the 1968 book by Richard Hooker. It takes place during the Korean War (spanning 1950–1953; the show itself ran much longer, from 1972–1983.) 

In the TV show’s earlier years, the scripts leaned more toward comedy, with occasional drama thrown in for good measure. Its anti-war message (directed more toward the ongoing Vietnam War) was delivered through the antics of the doctors, nurses, medics and military personnel. They showed the world that sometimes coping with humor is the only way to keep from losing your bloody mind. Here’s one of my favorite early years moments from the 4077th…

and one of my favorite quotes, from a Season 2 episode entitled “The Sniper”…

Maj. Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan: Colonel, if we are overrun, may I remind you of your responsibility for the women of this command? What guarantee do we have concerning the violations of our bodies, the possibly numerous, multiple violations of our bodies by the enemy? 

Hawkeye (totally deadpan): What kind of guarantee do you want? 

It’s also worth noting that the MASH that existed in the earlier years wouldn’t be created now. The earlier scripts were often problematic by today’s standards: sexist with a few other “ist”s and “ism”s thrown in. After a time, though, they became more complex, many times focusing on (rather than falling victim to) the social issues under the spotlight during the late 70s and 80s. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. MASH was still witty and clever, but delivered a lot more depth. 

I loved every character — from Alan Alda’s charming and uber-dedicated head surgeon Hawkeye… 

to Jamie Farr’s cross-dressing Klinger, and my favorite character, David Ogden Stier’s pompous, yet multi-faceted Charles Emerson Winchester III.

I’ve watched MASH so often that I can quote along with most episodes or listen as I’m falling asleep and visualize the action in my head. And you know what? As an adult, I’ve found myself arguing over some pretty ridiculous things, or using humor to cushion serious moments — though thankfully never in a life-threatening situation like war. 

Celebrating 50 years of anything is a pretty impressive benchmark, wouldn’t you say? Visit the 4077th MASH weekday evenings at 6 p.m. on cable/over the air channel ME TV, or anytime on a variety of streaming services.