In his 11 years on the classic TV series MAS*H, Alan Alda portrayed the fan-favorite character, Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce. Like so many characters who capture the hearts of viewers, Hawkeye was a little rough around the edges, but at the end of the day, he was a good person with good intentions.
The series had many legendary actors and characters to its name. However, Alan Alda’s Hawkeye was the keystone character through its entire 11-season run. And to this day, Hawkeye remains a larger-than-life piece of TV history, cemented as one of the greatest characters ever created.
When a character reaches the incredible heights that Hawkeye achieved, it can be hard to believe that they’re based on a real person. But Hawkeye is, in fact, based on a real-life surgeon who worked in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean war.
That surgeon’s name is H. Richard Hornberger, better known as Richard Hooker, the author of the book on which MAS*H is based. According to Melvin Horwitz, a MASH doctor who spent time with Hooker in Korea, the novel, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, was an avenue for Hooker to “dissect his own personality.”
In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Horwitz explained that the author based the now-iconic Hawkeye character on himself. He also described Hooker as “a very good surgeon with a tremendous sense of humor.”
How ‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Injected Real-Life Experience Into Hawkeye
Part of what made MASH great was the actors’ dedication to the series. Alan Alda, for example, refused to play Hawkeye unless the producers agreed that, while comedic, MASH would also be a respectful depiction of war. Though he’s now known as an actor, Alan Alda began his adult life as a soldier.
Alda is a Korean War veteran, honorably discharged after his time as a gunnery officer in Korea. As such, he was staunchly against shows like McHale’s Navy, which he felt took the comedy too far. And in doing so, disrespected the millions of soldiers who faced horrors in battle.
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“When you’re in a war, it’s real,” Alda said in an interview with NPR. “People are going to die or lose their arms and legs. And when we did MAS*H, I wanted to make sure that at least that understanding that I had came out. That what we dealt with. And that we didn’t gloss over that and make the show about how funny things were in the mess tent.”
“Before I agreed to do the show,” Alda continued. “I had a midnight meeting with [producers] Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds. We all agreed that we wanted to do a show in which the war was seen for what it is. As a, you know, a place where people are badly hurt. And the humor came out of the reaction to that. The humor came out of the crazy pressure everybody was put under.”