“M*A*S*H” was a hit show in the 1970s, and at the time, celebrities of all types wanted to get in on the action. In October of 1977, during the course of a two-week visit to the U.S., England’s Prince Charles even dropped by the set of the show.
Prince Charles flirted with the show’s nurses over lunch at the commissary, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He got to meet the “MAS*H” cast at lunch at the 20th Century Fox studio in Hollywood, California, per Inside Edition. And he got to watch the cast and crew filming an episode of the series.
The prince reportedly had expressed an interest in seeing the production process of both “M*A*S*H” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Also present at the lunch were Cary Grant, Charlton Heston and Lauren Bacall.
‘M*A*S*H’ Creators Didn’t Want Show to be a Commercial for the Vietnam War
“M*A*S*H” drew its inspiration from the R-rated Robert Altman movie of the same title. But CBS wanted its TV adaptation to offer a more family-friendly take on the horrors of war. Facing a difficult task, series creators Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart had a delicate balance to strike.
“You’re lucky to fall into a subject like M*A*S*H and the complications of war,” Reynolds told The Hollywood Reporter. “The danger I saw was suggesting war is all fun and games. We wanted to be sensitive to the horrors of combat and the valor of the doctors, nurses and servicemen.”
The show launched in 1972, three years before the end of the Vietnam War. So its creators, cast and crew didn’t want to fall into the role that Hollywood had played in the past, serving as the propaganda arm of the Pentagon.
“We weren’t a commercial for the [Vietnam War],” Margaret Houlihan actress Loretta Swit added. “We were dealing with serious issues with people working in insane situations.”
Series Creators Fought the Network to Realize Their Vision
It wasn’t easy for Reynolds and Gelbart to make “M*A*S*H” with CBS executives breathing down their necks. They fought the network on multiple creative disputes. For example, Reynolds told The Hollywood Reporter that someone told them they couldn’t include scenes in the operating room.
“Before we ever shot anything, someone told me, ‘You can’t go into the operating room. When I saw the movie, four women in front of me walked out,’” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Yes, but millions of them stayed.’”
Gelbart said the two of them were always packing their bags, ready to quit over artistic freedom from the network. But they never actually had to walk out.
Hawkeye actor Alan Alda’s favorite episode, “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet,” features a scene in which a young war correspondent dies on his operating table. He wasn’t the only “M*A*S*H” veteran who named that as his favorite episode, either. But one CBS executive hated it.
Executive producer, director and writer Burt Metcalfe told The Hollywood Reporter that the executive chewed them out over the episode.
“At the end of that [first] season, this jerky CBS executive comes into our offices and says, ‘Let me tell you guys how you ruined M*A*S*H,’ and cites that episode,” he said. “It’s just so far from the truth.”
Fortunately for audiences, the series creators, directors and writers won most of those creative battles. By the series finale, a record-breaking number of people were watching the show, a testament to its dramatic achievements and staying power over the years.