Attention, all personnel: It’s a milestone day for the beloved TV show M*A*S*H.
Unfortunately, if you’re feeling old, this column is only going to add insult to injury.
After 11 seasons, the season finale of the comedy-drama aired on CBS on Monday, Feb. 28, 1983.
M*A*S*H, short for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, made its TV premiere on Monday, Sept. 18, 1972. That’s almost 51 years ago ― sorry to add more insult to your injury.
Based on the book and the hit movie of the same name, the program was set during the Korean War, with the action taking place at the 4077th M*A*S*H.
By the time of the finale, M*A*S*H had earned 99 Emmy nominations, 14 Emmy awards and the first Peabody Award given to a comedy.
There was no shortage of memorable characters, such as the martini-swilling Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, played by Alan Alda, and Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, portrayed by Loretta Swit.
Cast comings and goings
While Alda and Swit would remain for the series’ entirety, there was somewhat of a revolving door with the rest of the cast.
The dress-wearing Corp. Max Klinger (Jamie Farr), trying to get out of the Army on a Section 8, would make his first appearance in the show’s fourth episode. William Christopher would take over the role of Father John Patrick Francis Mulcahy after George Morgan played it in the pilot
McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers, who played Col. Henry Blake and “Trapper” John McIntyre, respectively, would leave the show after the third season.
That’s when Harry Morgan and Mike Farrell would join the cast to fill Stevenson’s and Rogers’s combat boots.
Col. Sherman T. Potter, played by Morgan, would take the place of Col. Blake in overseeing the 4077th. Farrell would portray B.J. Hunnicutt, becoming Hawkeye’s new tent-mate in “The Swamp,” as well as his partner in comedic banter and antics.
Larry Linville, who played Maj. Frank Burns, the love interest of “Hot Lips,” also bunked with Hawkeye in The Swamp. Linville would leave after the fifth season. Taking his place in the sixth season would be David Ogden Stiers, in the role of Boston-bred Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III.
And let’s not forget the company clerk, Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly, from Ottumwa, Iowa, played by Gary Burghoff. The character, who memorably slept with a teddy bear, would leave camp after the eighth season.
I was a sophomore in high school when the finale aired for the first time. Since it’s been 40 years (I’m trying to ignore that fact) since I think I’ve seen the finale, I’m rewatching it on YouTube as I write this.
The Korean War was over, the tents came down and all the characters headed off back to the United States, after saying their goodbyes to each other. Except, ironically enough, for Klinger, who had fallen in love and decided to stay in Korea.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lump in my throat as I watched the final scene of Hawkeye being lifted out of the 4077th camp in a chopper and looking at the word “GOODBYE” B.J. Hunnicutt had spelled out as a farewell not only to his friend, Hawkeye, but to the entire viewing community as a whole.
Closer to home
But, the setting for the action that night wasn’t just Korea.
At the Somerset Marriott in Franklin, where the largest party in the area took place, approximately 700 people gathered to say goodbye to the series.
The idea for the M*A*S*H bash originated two months prior with Ron Callari, who was the Somerset Marriott director of marketing.
Marriott corporate headquarters liked the idea, which was duplicated at 40 other Marriott hotels nationwide, including Philadelphia and Stamford, Connecticut, Callari said.
Although Marriott officials had expected several hundred people to attend the event, the crowd quickly overflowed from the grand ballroom, spilling into the hallways and the adjacent cocktail lounge.
One dollar of each $5 admission charge went to the Red Cross. Callari said 100 people were turned away.
And for those who made it into the venue?
There was a simulated mess tent for dinner and M*A*S*H fans had their picture taken sitting in a wheelchair next to the famous M*A*S*H signpost that pointed to all the places in the world the characters longed for, and has, at last, set off for at the end of the finale.
“Hot Lips” lookalike Evelyn Layton of Metuchen said she liked the way the show “brought out the war, gave us the realness of war.”
Alice Doslik of the Somerset section of Franklin said of the show, “It was done with a lot of compassion.”
The venue held a Radar look-alike contest. Winning was Jeff Tarentino, then 29, of New Brunswick, who took the contest far exceeding the celebration’s other contenders.
Hundreds of people, Tarentino said, had told him he looked like Radar. “Everybody likes Radar,” Tarentino said, describing him as “innocent” and someone who “wouldn’t hurt a fly and loves all living things.”
“I’d like to be as much like him as I can. I admire him,” Tarentino said.
Until Tarentino’s arrival, Oliver Kenen, then 35, of Edison, who was a physics teacher at J.P. Stevens High School, seemed to be in the running. However, his substantial height counted against him.
Kenen, a collector of World War II equipment and member of the Military Vehicle Collectors Club, arrived at the event in his 1944 Dodge ambulance, the same model that drove across the screen at the beginning of each of the show’s episodes, Kenen said.
At the end of an oral trivia quiz, Radar look-alike contestant Mark Kronmaier, of the Finderne section of Bridgewater, won a round trip to anywhere that Piedmont Airlines flew.
As the helicopter flew away from the M*A*S*H camp for the last time, the attendees had a champagne toast.
But, that wasn’t the only party in the area.
In Bound Brook, Roosevelt Cafe patrons won official “M*A*S*H” intravenous feeding bottles filled with vodka.
The Sheraton Inn in Piscataway brought in large-screen color TVs and held an event for their patrons.
Mary and Tom Hicks of Hillsborough hung an enormous red cross in the window of their apartment, put up an olive drab lean-to labeled “The Swamp” and, along with their friends, dressed up as the show’s main characters.
After the final seconds of the episode, Nancy Schwarz of Rahway, dabbed a teary eye. “It’s hard sometimes to say goodbye to friends.”
A spin-off, “AfterMASH,” starring Morgan, Christopher and Farr aired from September 1983 to May 1985.