M*A*S*H (1972) – Pilot, To Market, to Market, and Requiem for a Lightweight

On 17 April, 1972, the television landscape changed with the premiere of a show that would run for eleven seasons, and ably walk the line between comedy and drama as it explored life on a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.

Developed for television by Larry Gelbart from the Academy Award winning film by Robert Altman, which in turn was based on a novel by Robert Hooker, the series, which debuted eleven months after my birth, would become a huge part of my life – it was one of the shows (once it hit syndication) that my family would gather around and watch every evening, right up until it’s conclusion.

I idolised Alan Alda’s portrayal of Hawkeye (and still do) as he and his friend, Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) chased nurses and worked to save lives, all while swilling a well made martini.

The pilot episode was written by Gelbart and introduces us to the cast of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit, Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), his aide, Radar (Gary Burghoff – the sole actor to be in both the film and the series), the company chaplain, Mulcahy (George Morgan who was replaced by William Christopher after the pilot), Hawkeye’s nemesis, and superior officer, Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville), and Head Nurse, Major Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan (Loretta Swit).

In the series opener, Hawkeye decides to throw a party and raffle off a nurse (the delectable Lt. Dish (Karen Philipp)) and a weekend pass to Tokyo in order to raise money to send Ho-Jon (Patrick Adiarte), their tent (known as The Swamp, which Hawkeye shares with Trapper, Burns, and the completely racist named Spearchucker (Timothy Bown)) boy, to Hawkeye’s alma mater to study medicine.

The colonel goes away for the weekend, and Hawkeye and the rest keep Frank out of the way, but the truth gets out… but their skills in the operating room may keep Trapper and Hawkeye out of the brig, but in the war…

Filled with drinking, carousing, gags, one-liners, and heart, this series had me from the moment I was introduced to it…

To Market, To Market was written by Burt Styler, and first aired on 25 September, 1972.

Black marketeers are ripping off supplies all over Korea, and the 4077th has been hit – much needed medical supplies have been stolen and are being resold at outrageous prices.

Hawkeye and Trapper are determined to get their supplies back and attempt to make a deal with the local connection, Charlie Lee (Jack Soo). Lee is willing to sell them the supplies back for $10,000, but Hawkeye proposes a trade… Colonel Blake’s newly arrived antique oak desk.

Now they just have to find a way to get it out of the office.

It’s a funny episode, and the chemistry between Alda and Rogers is fantastic, it’s just a delight to see them riff with one another. There are great moments, like when Blake clues in to the fact that his desk is gone (or as they watch the helicopter fly away), while Frank keeps staring at a missing wall…

And speaking of Frank, his relationship with Margaret continues, and like Alda and Rogers, there’s great chemistry there.

Unfortunately, there’s also a touch of racism at work as well, as Spearchucker is mentioned by not seen, and Soo has to deliver the terrible line of how ‘we all look alike.’ Ugh.

Requiem for a Lightweight sees the introduction of William Christopher as Mulcahy as Trapper is entered into an inter-camp boxing match. Written by Robert Klane, this story first debuted on 1 October, 1972.

There’s a new nurse, Cutler (Marcia Strassman) in the camp, and both Trapper and Hawkeye are intent on winning her over. But Houlihan seeing their intentions works to transfer her out, and the two doctors work together to find a way to keep her.

As the fight looms, as does Trapper’s opponent in the ring, the duo come up with a plan to win… douse Trapper’s gloves in ether to put his opponent out. Unfortunately, Frank and Margaret swap out the ether. Can Hawkeye save the day before Trapper is pounded into the dirt?

In the balance is Cutler’s transfer. If Trapper wins, Blake will cancel the transfer order. If he loses…

This one is just goofy fun.

More laughs and meatball surgery next week, as I continue my service at the 4077th.

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