‘M*A*S*H’ Creator Larry Gelbart Was Extremely Strict About the Script, Rarely Allowed Improv

by Joe Rutland
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Sometimes, actors like to use a little improvisation at times. “M*A*S*H” was one TV show where it hardly happened at all.

Wayne Rogers, who played “Trapper” John McIntyre for three seasons, talks about show creator and writer Larry Gelbart. Gelbart brought “M*A*S*H” to TV after movie director Robert Altman’s version had appeared in theaters.

“I would say, for the most part, on the set we were serious about the work,” Rogers says in an interview with “Pop Goes The Culture TV.” The interview with Rogers was done prior to his death on Dec. 31, 2015, at 82 years old. He would act in another CBS sitcom, “House Calls,” between 1979-82.

‘M*A*S*H’ Star Says Gelbart Would Write Rhythm Lines For Show

“Somebody asked me once, ‘You know, it looked like you and Alan [Alda] made that stuff up,'” Rogers said. “What, are you out of your mind? Larry Gelbart wrote those lines and, by the way, he writes rhythm lines.”

Rogers said it’s not as bad as playwright David Mamet and his work. The actor says with Mamet’s work “you have to remember, ‘Uh, uh, wait a minute, did you, you weren’t saying, am I wrong, didn’t you say?'”

He said that was the way Mamet writes. But Rogers says Gelbart would write funny, rhythm jokes for “M*A*S*H.”

TV Show Creator Could Put Down Jokes Funny In Their Timing

“And if you didn’t do it in the way he wrote the joke, you could destroy the rhythm,” he said. “And so, we memorized all that stuff. So that was serious work.”

The actor said there was not a lot of kidding around on “M*A*S*H” when it came to Gelbart’s work.

“Every now and then, Larry would direct one [episode] and he’d hear a line that he thought he could improve upon and do that,” he said.

Gelbart died on Sept. 11, 2009, of cancer at 81 years old. He worked with some of the entertainment industry’s most creative writers like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Selma Diamond, and Neil Simon. They and others worked together for comedian Sid Caesar and his “Caesar’s Hour.”

He got a break when his father, a barber, showed comedian Danny Thomas a few of his jokes. Gelbart wrote for Thomas, then Jack Paar and Bob Hope. The rest, obviously, is history thanks to “M*A*S*H” and beyond. Gelbart co-wrote “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which became one of his big Broadway hits.

Besides TV and film work, Rogers developed a knack for the stock and real estate markets. He became an investor and built up quite a portfolio over the years.

Outsider.com