IT was 50 years ago today that a cultural phenomenon was launched when the film MASH had its premiere in New York.

A black comedy, it would go on to be a box office hit around the world and spawn a long-running television series of the same name plus other series that kept the MASH name on telly for 15 years.

The series is still a regular on satellite and cable channels to this day.

Based on MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by surgeon Richard Hooker (real name Hornberger), the film was directed by Roger Altman from a screenplay by Ring Lardner Junior, a previously blacklisted “Hollywood Ten” screenwriter who won the Oscar for the best adapted screenplay for MASH.

The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and earned five Oscar nominations in all, and having been produced for $3 million, it generated more than $80m at the box office. It is regularly voted among the best comedy films of all time.


GIVEN the strong anti-war views of Altman and Lardner Jnr, those who say the film is as much about the Vietnam War as Korea have a strong point.

It portrayed life in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as chaotic and occasionally demented but with humour that ranged from very dark to outright farcical.

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The film created all the major characters that continued into the television series, with surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John arriving at the 4077th and bringing their own anarchic sense of humour along with their brilliant surgery.


BY 1970 standards it wasn’t, but the treatment of head nurse Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan was nothing short of misogynist, her lovemaking being broadcast on the camp radio and her body exposed by a collapsing shower wall. Such scenes would probably not be made in a mainstream film today.


AFTER the film was such a huge box-office success, and with the mood in the USA firmly turning against the Vietnam War, producer Larry Gelbart bought the rights and the series began to air in 1972. It ran until 1983 when its last episode attracted a record audience of 125m. There were spins-offs but neither Trapper John MD or AfterMash did good business while W*A*L*T*E*R* never made it past the pilot episode.


DONALD Sutherland in the movie was probably the best known of the lead actors having starred in The Dirty Dozen.

Also in 1970 he played Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes and the following year starred opposite Jane Fonda in Klute, starting a wonderful career which continues into his eighties.

Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman and the great Robert Duvall all went on to success, but only one of the leads in the movie carried on as a regular into the television series – Gary Burghoff, who played Radar O’Reilly for seven seasons and won an Emmy for his acting.

On the small screen, MASH famously ran for 10 more years than the Korean War itself. The series made stars of Alan Alda (Hawkeye), Wayne Rogers (Trapper), Loretta Swit (Houlihan), McLean Stevenson (Blake), Larry Linville (Burns), Mike Farrell (Hunnicutt), Jamie Farr (Klinger), William Christopher (Mulcahy) and David Ogden Stiers (Winchester).


THE film had an uncredited extra in the role of a soldier – Sylvester Stallone. The words to the theme song Suicide Is Painless were written by Altman’s son Michael. Neither the film nor the television series were filmed in Korea. Klinger was only scripted for one episode.