If you want to know what it felt like to experience something, it’s best to ask people who actually experienced it. So, when it came time to understand what it was like to serve during the Korean War, the writers of “M*A*S*H” wisely interviewed surgeons who served in real MASH units.
This turned out to be very helpful to the show’s writers. It allowed them to create memorable plot lines and character development for the famous television series. And, the writers found their interviews with real-life MASH surgeons to be incredibly beneficial. They talked about this with The Hollywood Reporter in 2018.
“You can have the greatest writers in the world, like we did, and never come up with some of the rich ideas we put on film,” Burt Metcalfe said. Metcalfe worked as a writer, director, and executive producer on “M*A*S*H.”
According to Actor Alan Alda, those interviews were used as much as possible to create episodes. Alda famously played Hawkeye on the popular television show.
“We’d pore over those transcripts and look for a sentence or a fragment of an idea that we could build a story around,” Alda said.
There was one Korean War veteran whose story was particularly influential to the writers of “M*A*S*H.” His story helped shape several elements of the show, according to one of its medical consultants.
“We drove out to the L.A. suburbs to see this guy who’d filmed his MASH unit,” Walter Dishell said. “He said he’d never shown it to anybody because it was such a terrible time in his life. That’s where the look of ‘The Swamp’ and the city signposts and other things came from.”
Stories Told By Veterans to ‘M*A*S*H’ Writers Were ‘Brutal’
Hearing stories those Korean War veterans had to share was “brutal,” one “M*A*S*H” crew member said. That crew member was Gene Reynolds. He was a co-creator, director, and producer on the famous show.
“We’d have guys who were over there for two years and said they had to get out because they couldn’t go through seeing guys dying all the time,” Reynolds said. “I’ll never forget that line: ‘Guys dying all the time.’ It was brutal.”
One of the more thrilling stories the writers on “M*A*S*H” heard involved a Korean soldier and a hand grenade. Dan Wilcox recounted the story. He was a producer and writer for the show.
“A surgeon from the 8076, Maurice Connolly, told us about a North Korean soldier brought in for surgery. He takes a hand grenade out and pulls the pin,” Wilcox said. “A doctor grabs the handle and holds it in place so the spark can’t light the fuse. Everyone not doing surgery in the OR got down on their hands and knees until they found the pin and put it back in. We used that.”
The fictional storylines on “M*A*S*H” were closer to the truth than they realized, according to Alan Alda. This came to light when members of the show’s staff traveled to Korea. While there, they talked with members of a real-life MASH unit.
“The interesting thing was after the second year, Larry and Gene went to Korea to visit a MASH unit,” Alda said. “They found out that some of the stories we’d made up had really happened. We were that tuned in to what their experiences were.”