MishM*A*S*H 1: Smithsonian Exhibit Catalog

When the production of a television series or movie comes to end, the objects on set are typically returned to a prop house to be used on other sets. Items that were custom made and unique to the production that can not be used again may be given away or even thrown away. Some sets though become iconic, and that can be said for several parts of the M*A*S*H set. 20th Century-Fox recognized the importance of M*A*S*H, and donated the Swamp set, O.R. set, sign post, a full set of scripts, research binders, and other objects from the series to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC where they reside today.

The M*A*S*H finale was a cultural phenomenon unlike any other in 1983, and the Smithsonian Institution decided to used the donated objects from the series for an exhibit shortly after the series concluded. The exhibit opened only five months after the finale aired and was extended twice. “M*A*S*H: Binding Up the Wounds” ran from July 30, 1983 through February 3, 1985. In that span of under two years, over one million visitors saw the exhibit, and it averaged over 60,000 visitors each month. The exhibit let fans step inside the 4077th M*A*S*H and get a glimpse behind the scenes of an iconic television show. Of course, the Smithsonian sold merchandise to go along with the exhibit, and one of those items is the focus of the first MishM*A*S*H post.

I imagine that the exhibit catalog for “M*A*S*H: Binding Up the Wounds” was a popular purchase for those attending the exhibit. It made for the perfect souvenir as it contained information about the series, photos of the objects in the exhibit, and showed photos from an actual MASH unit in Korea along side scenes from the series. Visitors could take home a M*A*S*H experience in the form of a 32 page book. Let’s dive into this exhibit catalog!

Let’s begin with the inside of the front and back covers. The image above has been stitched together, but the two inside covers create a map of the M*A*S*H set at the Fox Ranch (now Malibu Creek State Park). It appears to be a scan of a property map used by 20th Century-Fox Television to create the set. For fans who had wondered how the buildings were arranged, this was a great surprise. Of course, this is a different layout from what we saw on Stage 9. Since it was smaller, the tents were much closer together and some locations changed.

The table of contents demonstrates that there is something here for everyone. Introductions by the director of the Smithsonian Institution and Burt Metcalfe introduce the exhibit and the show. The exhibit chapter describes what modifications were made to the sets to allow them to fit into the exhibition space. Making M*A*S*H gives you a glimpse behind the camera. The People and Entertainment chapters introduce the characters, actors, and discuss the success of the show. Korea and Hollywood compares life at a MASH unit with the series, and this, in my opinion, is the strongest part of the catalog.

Finally, you learn that the items on display will become a permanent part of the Smithsonian’s collection joining other iconic objects from America’s past. The catalog wraps with a full two page spread containing every object donated from the series (images of these pages are at the bottom of the post). Each item from the set were divided into various categories within the Smithsonian’s collection including the Medical Sciences Division, Community Life Division, and Military History Division. Since some items were actual military objects, they will be a part of that section of the museum’s collection. The catalog also notes that a few items were loaned for the exhibit including an Emmy from Larry Gelbart and a first draft of the pilot script loaned by Gene Reynolds.

There’s a lot to digest in only 32 pages, but I want to focus on the chapter of the catalog titled, “Military Medicine: Korea and Hollywood.” The story of Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds going to Korea and interviewing MASH unit doctors and nurses is well known. As are the binders of interview transcripts they collected. However, it really doesn’t hit the viewer how accurate the 4077th was until you see black and white photos from Korea next to screen captures from the series. The O.R. scenes, doctors’ tents, and triage look just like what we saw on screen. This is why I love M*A*S*H…I love history, and the creators of M*A*S*H were careful to honor those who worked at MASH units by ensuring their stories were told as accurately as possible.

That’s not to say M*A*S*H is a documentary or that there aren’t factual errors, but the writers and producers ensured that accuracy, especially when it came to medical accuracy, was followed. One surprising inaccuracy from the series was the size of a real MASH unit. The 4077th is fairly small. There are only four surgeons at any given time, but the 8055th MASH, on which the fictional 4077th is based, was much larger. It had 200 beds, at least 10 doctors, 12 nurses, and 95 enlisted men. While this would not have worked on Stage 9 or the ranch, it was what the US Army needed to treat wounded soldiers at the front.

The Korea chapter along with the other seven chapters of the catalog provide a fairly in depth view into the series and the processes that went into creating it for 11 seasons. By looking at the actors, producers, objects in the exhibit, and the real people the series represented, a reader learns more about M*A*S*H in 32 pages than just about anywhere else. There have been books written since the catalog was released that go even more in depth, but these 32 pages in 1983, five months after the end of the series, would have been just what a M*A*S*H fan was looking for.

Copies of the exhibit catalog show up on eBay from time to time, and it something that highly recommend purchasing. You gain insight into the series, the people behind it, and, for me at least, experience an exhibit that ended two years before I was born! Of course, the exhibit catalog wasn’t the only souvenir M*A*S*H fans could purchase in the museum gift shop. In the next MishM*A*S*H post, we will look at a very unique item that allowed visitors to literally take a piece of M*A*S*H home with them.

That’s the first MishM*A*S*H post and the final post from the first week of The M*A*S*H Historian. I want to thank everyone for visiting the site this week, and I am excited to share more of the collection over the coming weeks, months, and (hopefully) years! Next week will begin the regular schedule of posts on Mondays at 8am CT. Please follow The M*A*S*H Historian on Instagram and Twitter where the conversation continues and for the all the latest from the collection.

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