M*A*S*H was a cultural touchstone that impacted the lives of so many people during it’s 11 year run. It’s finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” still holds the title of most-watched episode of any scripted series—even 40 years later.
Thanks to the show being re-run throughout much of the 90’s and 2000’s, younger generations were exposed to the show’s unique combination of relatable humor and a stark depiction of life in a field hospital during the Korean War.
The show is known both for it’s ability to find humor in a hellish situation, as well as it’s amazingly well-developed characters.
Loretta Swit played an especially standout member of the cast of memorable characters, Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan.
While the nickname may make it seem like Houlihan was meant to be just a pretty face included in the show to add some contrast to the male doctors, she was an intelligent and capable head nurse who truly came into her own as the series progressed.
And Swit was definitely not a fan of the objectifying nickname.
“She was so much more than a piece of anatomy.”
She wasn’t going to let it go, either.
“I kept telling the writers, ‘She’s more than this’.”
The monicker originated with the Richard Hooker book the series is based on and was tied to Houlihan’s relationship with Major Frank Burns, the bumbling foil to the brilliant Hawkeye’s talent.
The use of the nickname continued until season 5, but ended when Houlihan’s relationship with Burns did.
Swit was a key part of ending that fictional relationship, telling show-writers the character as they were writing wouldn’t have stayed in a relationship with someone like Burns.
“I would tell the writers that we could not continue the relationship I had with Frank.”
“They were writing Margaret as an intelligent, capable nurse and a great leader, but here she was having an affair with a bumbling doctor who had the other doctors had no respect for.”
“It was difficult to keep justifying that relationship.”
Writers were reluctant to end the characters’ relationship and lose such an easy source of comedy, but Swit insisted.
“You don’t want to let go of a joke, but I said, ‘You’re just gonna have to’.”
She was the one who pitched the idea of how Houlihan should actually end things with Burns, too.
“I told them: ‘Can you imagine what fun you’re going to have with Larry when I come back to town and I tell him I’m engaged? He’ll rip the doors off of the mess tent!'”
“And that’s exactly what they had him do. So we were all of the same mind.”
Swit wasn’t the only cast member reliving the good ol’ days as the 40th anniversary of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” arrived.
Alan Alda, who played series protagonist Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, tweeted on the anniversary:
Fans were reminiscing in the comments too.
While the series may have ended 40 years ago, the stories and struggles depicted in M*A*S*H remain relevant—even today.
The series continues to be popular around the world through syndication and streaming services.