“M*A*S*H” lasted for 11 years and 251 episodes, but only two stars appeared in every episode of the show.
They were Hawkeye actor Alan Alda and Major Houlihan actress Loretta Swit, per IMDb. The two actors were with the show from the beginning and saw it through until the end.
In The Hollywood Reporter’s oral history of “M*A*S*H,” both Alda and Swit said they knew from the get-go that “M*A*S*H” was something special. The TV series, which drew its inspiration from Robert Altman’s R-rated feature film, was originally conceived as a family-friendly comedy about war. But network executives soon got more than they bargained for.
‘M*A*S*H’ Was Seriocomic, Antiwar
The TV series, which was set during the Korean War, aired during the Vietnam War. And from the outset, its efforts to grapple with the tragedy and inhumanity of war had a strong antiwar undercurrent, at a time when the Vietnam War was slowly losing popularity in the U.S.
“We wanted to reflect the lives of those people who lived through an experience that would rattle anybody,” Alda told THR. “There never was a situation like that on television before.”
“We weren’t a commercial for the [Vietnam War],” Swit stressed. “We were dealing with serious issues with people working in insane situations.”
Actors Remember the Show’s Collegial Atmosphere
The two actors agreed that “M*A*S*H” was a pivotal moment in their lives. Alda said “M*A*S*H” had the best script he’d read thus far, but at first, he never expected the show to last as long as it did.
As for Swit, she can still remember her first day on set. There was a creative unity of purpose to “M*A*S*H,” she said, and she savored every moment of it.
“The first day we met, I can still visualize the room,” Swit said. “I see where everyone was sitting. It was an important moment in my life. Everyone’s attitude was so fresh, positive and energetic about the project. We were all on the same page about what we were going to say.”
Alda said that atmosphere endured over the years that followed. And that collegial atmosphere provided the supportive environment necessary for them to take risks on the show.
“Most of the time actors disperse and go to their dressing rooms between shots,” Alda explained. “We sat around in a circle of chairs making fun of one another, having fun. Laughing. I’ve taken that with me whenever I do a play. For me, it’s the best preparation for performing on stage because you’re already relating to each other, listening and responding.”
“M*A*S*H” may have been a long strange trip for Alda and Swit, but it’s clear they enjoyed every minute of the ride.