(Since today is the 40th anniversary of the debut of M*A*S*H, I thought I would dust off an old post from August, 2010.)
If there happens to be any Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit sites left in Korean from the days of the Korean War, I would imagine they look a lot like the site of the M*A*S*H television series set in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The Korean War (1950-53) is often called “the forgotten war,” but the movie M*A*S*H (1970), and the television dramedy that it spawned are anything but.
The series, which followed the lives of battlefield surgeons in MASH unit #4077, starred Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Mike Farrell, McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, David Ogden Stiers, and Gary Burghoff. It debuted on September 17, 1972, and lasted nearly four-times longer than the war it was based on. Its run ended on February 28, 1983, with a 2 ½-hour send-off that was the most watched show in American broadcasting history with nearly 106 million viewers. (Super Bowl XLIV earlier this year finally broke the record with 106.5 million watchers.)
I recently led a group of five teenaged family members to the site of the exterior set that appeared in all 256 episodes of the series. It is located in what is now Malibu Creek State Park (formerly 20th Century Fox’s Film Ranch), and is a dusty
2 ½-mile walk in from the campground. (Next to the campground is the house used in the 1948 comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, which starred Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.) It was blisteringly hot that day, but I felt the hike was worth it. I’m not so sure that my young companions felt the same way, not having grown up with talk of “the swamp,” “Hot Lips,” “Ferret Face,” Grape Nehi, and the Toledo Mud Hens.
The site contains the rusting hulks of an army jeep and ambulance as well as a tin shed which contains pictures taken from the show. Over the past few years, volunteers have cleared the area of brush and staked out the former locations of the camp’s tents. The famous directional sign which stood near the mess hall has been re-created and is displayed on weekends. The flattened area that was used as the helipad in the series is still located above the camp.
Apart from the vehicles, nothing remains on site from the actual show, but the “swamp,” which served as Hawkeye’s tent, can still be seen at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Radar’s teddy bear is still around and was recently sold at auction for nearly $12,000. (An interesting bit of trivia: Sesame Street’s Big Bird has a teddy bear named Radar.)
Since it went off the air, M*A*S*H has lived on in syndication and unlike the Korean War, will never be forgotten. (Luckily, there don’t seem to be any AfterMASH reruns out there, so we can all collectively forget that sorry piece of post-partum depression.)