Fans have rewatched, read about and dissected MASH for decades. The Korean War dramedy remains one of the most beloved and watched television series in history. So you would think that everything that can be said about MASH has been said.
Not so. Put the cast together and stories spill. Earlier this month, Loretta Swit, Gary Burghoff, Mike Farrell and Jamie Farr — in other words, the surviving principal cast members of MAS*H — joined Alan Alda on his podcast, Clear+Vivid. The resulting conversation is a sheer delight and must-listen for anyone with a lick of interest in the show.
The chemistry between the old colleagues and friends is immediately audible. You can practically hear this smiles beaming through the microphones as the actors, spread out across the country, join in via video chat, telephone and whatnot. “As soon as we heard one another’s voices, the kidding and the laughing began,” Alda explains in his introduction.
Laughter abounds, and so do the anecdotes. We were reminded of some favorite behind-the-scenes yarns — and learned some fascinating new details about MAS*H.
The five recall the rather stark filming conditions on the Fox studio lot and on location in the mountains. Ventilation was poor in the Potter office set, to the point that Burghoff grew drowsy from the lack of oxygen. There was no access to telephones in the field, which led Alda to performing a bizarre line from a script with a typo. Six years passed before a bathroom was available on the stage. “McLean [Stevenson] had so many ants in his dressing room, one of his boots was moving,” Swit recalls with a chuckle.
And then there was the peanut butter. The cast paid for its own coffee and peanut butter early on. Farr tells the tale of how the actors went to Sy Salkowitz, the onetime president of 20th Century Fox Television, and each slapped a $100 bill on his desk demanding more peanut butter. “Whatya want, smoothy, crunchy?” Salkowitz asked. The next day, a pallet of peanut butter showed up reaching from “the floor to the ceiling,” according to Farr.
Speaking of Farr, he explains the origins of several of his memorable dresses, including a gold lame number once worn by Ginger Rogers. “That dress looked a hell of a lot better on you than it did on me,” she told him in the commissary.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of the commissary, David Odgen Stiers once pulled a delightful prank on his coworkers involving frozen yogurt and Sir Richard Attenborough.
Burghoff explains the genesis of his character’s name, Walter, which he came up with in tribute to a childhood friend. The real Walter is no longer with us, but Burghoff still emails his brother.
All in all, as we said, the conversation is heart-warming and revelatory. It’s even fascinating to hear the performers detail the differences between working on modern shows versus the methods of classic television.
Listen to the full 68-minute episode, “The Actors from MASH — On How MASH Changed Our Lives,” now via Stitcher.