Question: Where was the TV series M*A*S*H filmed? Whenever I see reruns, I think that they did a really good job of finding a place that looks like Korea. Kate, Wellington, New Zealand
Televisionary: During the hit show's 1972-83 run, most exteriors were shot in California, on a Malibu Canyon parcel of land that used to be known as the Fox Ranch but is now Malibu Creek State Park. (Fox gave the property to the state while M*A*S*H was still in production.) The interiors and certain outside scenes were shot on a Hollywood soundstage.
In 1982, a brush fire burned down most of the show's exterior set, which is why a similar blaze was written into the series' final episode. But up until then, those behind the show considered themselves lucky to have, as you say, found a place so similar in appearance to the area surrounding the real-life Korean M*A*S*H unit that inspired the book the movie and show were based on. How did they know? They went to Korea to see for themselves.
A couple years into the show's run, producers Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds paid a five-day visit to Korea's 43rd Surgical Army Hospital, formerly called the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M*A*S*H). "It was an eerie feeling when we landed in the helicopter," Gelbart told TV Guide in 1974. "The hills and terrain looked just like our set...."
In fact, it was that visit that prompted a few changes to the show. When Gelbart and Reynolds spotted such establishments as Rosie's Bar, Goldie's Place, G.I. Classy and Hollywood Tailors catering to the men and women on the base, they worked some similar settings into the series. They also were inspired to bring frigid winter weather to some stories as well. "It's cold there," Reynolds said. "The wind comes down from Siberia and sweeps right through. The base didn't have any fuel for a couple of weeks, and they'd burned practically everything except the crutches. The last night we were there, they broke up some packing cases and lit the fireplace in our honor."
The original book was based on the experiences of the late Dr. H. Richard Hornberger, who wrote it under the pen name "Richard Hooker" (a reference to his golf swing — get your mind out of the gutter). Hornberger was a semi-reclusive sort who, in 1973, declined to express much of an opinion on the show since he didn't want to endanger anything that paid him as much per episode as a gall bladder removal ($300), for doing no work. He had no problem pointing out, however, that he had little in common, politically, with Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) or those who saw his creation as an anti-war, left-leaning statement. Matter of fact, they would've been downright hostile to his views.
"I'm a Republican a conservative Republican," Hornberger stressed. "The same youths who liked M*A*S*H liked Easy Rider. Hell, I'm about as far from those people, ideologically, as it's possible to be."
And if Hornberger was pro-war, then he most likely would've gotten a kick out of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that roiled the show from time to time. Over the years, the producers battled CBS over their shifting time slot while certain cast members were unhappy with their prominence (or lack thereof) in stories, resulting in a remarkable turnover in major characters for a series that enjoyed hit status for so long.
The cross-dressing Cpl. Max Klinger (Jamie Farr), initially intended for a one-time appearance, signed on as a regular character in 1973. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) left the unit, killed off in the last episode of the '74-'75 season, and was replaced by Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan, who had earlier played a crazy general on an episode of the show). Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) was sent home in 1975 and was replaced by B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville) departed in 1977 and Charles Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) stepped in. Then Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) was discharged in 1979 and Klinger took over his old job.
But through it all, those who stayed on longterm agreed with producer Burt Metcalfe, who in 1979 said the departures were a sign that their open-exit management policies worked. "Any problems we've ever had, any people who have left, these have simply been the result of career decisions," he said. "If someone is very unhappy, it's going to pervade the existing structure." Besides, he added, showing old characters the door and introducing new ones helped with "our biggest problem area — coming up with stories.... It gives you something to write about."
It certainly did — all the way to the final episode. When the two-and-a-half-hour "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" aired on Feb. 28, 1983, it prompted parties nationwide and set a viewing record: a 60.3 rating and 77 percent of the audience.