The M*A*S*H cast played a group of doctors and nurses stationed in Korea. They were far away from the people who loved them, so the 4077th became their community.
The same thing happened on set with the actors, who spent long hours making some of the most perfect television in the history of the medium. That’s not hyperbolic praise. M*A*S*H was nominated for 104 Emmys during its run from 1972-83. The show set a viewership record for the series finale as nearly 106 million people tuned in to watch how M*A*S*H wrapped up its 11-year storyline.
This cast wasn’t faking — or acting — how close they were.
The Hollywood Reporter did an oral history of M*A*S*H in 2018, interviewing the actors who played some of the show’s most beloved characters. Several of them brought up the community the cast made on set.
M*A*S*H Star Mike Farrell Said Show Was As If He’d ‘Fallen Into Paradise’
Mike Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicutt, talked of his first off-set meeting with Alan Alda, who was Hawkeye Pierce. Farrell was replacing Wayne Rogers, who was Trapper John McIntyre.
“When I found out I got the part, my agent told me Alan (Alda) wanted to have dinner with me. I said, ‘Oh, s–t, yes.’ I met him at a Chinese restaurant where we talked for hours. He was full of interest in me, wanting me to know his love for the show, his intentions and concerns. It was one of the more extraordinary moments in my wonderful career. I thought I’d fallen into paradise.”
Farrell also mentioned Loretta Swit. He said:
“Swit put it so wonderfully. She said, ‘Every place I stood in a scene I realized I’d never be doing this again. Every person I had words with, I realized I may never have the opportunity to have this exchange again.’ It was heartbreaking and thrilling because we knew we were wrapping up something we loved with people we all cherished.
Hot Lips on M*A*S*H Said Cast Was On ‘Same Page’
Swit, who was Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on M*A*S*H, also shared specific memories when she first joined the cast. She was one of the series original cast members.
“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’s account of the M*A*S*H set basically described how a group of friends would act around each other.
Alda said: “Most of the time actors disperse and go to their dressing rooms between shots. 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.”
And Alda also recalled the jokes to keep the mood a light one.
“If somebody had a very touching, dramatic close-up,” Alda said. “As soon as someone yelled “cut,” there’d be a snowstorm of gauzes. Or we’d stand behind them, hanging clamps on them.”
Nurse Kellye Actress Said She Brought Mother to Set
Kellye Nakahara, who played Nurse Kellye, talked about how she brought her mother to the set. She was treated like family.
“Alan (Alda) and Mike (Farrell) would play chess all day long,” Nakahara said. “We’d exchange books. I brought my mother from Hawaii to visit the set. Larry (Linville) took her to lunch at the commissary. That’s all she could talk about for the rest of her life.”
Farrell said he revisited the old M*A*S*H set more than three decades after the series finale. He was involved with a show filming nearby.
“Once my work was completed for the day,” Farrell said, “I couldn’t resist the temptation to wander over to stage 9 to see what, if anything, being there would bring back for me. I have to say it was a magical couple of minutes. Pushing through the big door I stepped in and immediately traveled back almost 35 years. The sense of familiarity and warmth was so great I almost laughed aloud. I was overcome with memories.
“The smell of the place, the feelings that came to me, were completely comfortable, welcoming and embracing. Visions of all of you and so many more flooded over me. The jokes; the laughs; the deep, thoughtful conversations; the tricks; the clowning; the long days; and the good, hard, powerful work were all somehow still there. It was as though a vestige of everything we put into the show had somehow been imbued in the bones of the place. I think it has. And I am the luckiest actor in the world for having had the good fortune to be part of that company.”