Press Pass 2: Opening the Smithsonian Exhibit

Shorty after M*A*S*H ended on February 28, 1983, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History announced that it would display key objects from the series in an exhibit titled “M*A*S*H: Binding Up the Wounds.” The exhibit would be a huge a success being extended twice and hosting over one million visitors. The focus of today’s Press Pass post is a single page document from CBS Entertainment announcing the opening ceremonies of the exhibit in the summer of 1983.

The press release above is dated July 26, 2983, four days before the opening the exhibit in Washington, DC. The exciting part of the announcement is the opening ceremony during which the objects from M*A*S*H were officially donated to the Smithsonian Institution. What would have gotten the most press attention was the attendance of the ceremony by series co-creator and producer Gene Reynolds and actors Alan Alda, Mike Farrell, and William Christoper. Thankfully, video from this opening ceremony exists and has been posted to the Smithsonian’s YouTube channel. Watch the video below.

The release also lists the original dates for the exhibit as July 30, 1983 – September 30, 1984. Fourteen months is a very healthy run for a museum exhibit. However, the exhibit proved to be so popular that it was extended and ran though February 1985, two years after the series finale aired on CBS and five months longer than originally scheduled. At the time, the Smithsonian had no idea how successful the exhibit would be. Ultimately over one million people would visit the exhibit and museum had to implement a timed ticket system to help alleviate the long lines of fans anxious to see the exhibit.

And why wouldn’t they be anxious to see the exhibit?! The press release details some of the items that were on display including the full Swamp tent set, the full O.R. set, the iconic sign post, costumes, props, scripts, documents, and photos from the set. For fans, it was closest anyone would get to walking on set during filming. Unlike a lot of shows filmed in the 1970s and 1980s, M*A*S*H wasn’t filmed in front of an audience, so there weren’t cutaway sets in front of bleachers. The set of M*A*S*H used real Army tents and would pull back the tent flaps to film inside. You got the impression of the true size of the Swamp leading to the authentic feel of the show.

The press release may only be one page, but the successful exhibit it launched was far beyond what anyone imagined at the time. M*A*S*H is a cultural phenomena that drew over a million visitors to Washington, DC over an eighteen month period. I am glad that parts of the M*A*S*H sets are preserved in the Smithsonian’s collection as many set props go back into prop houses to be used for other shows. I only wish the Smithsonian would pull the M*A*S*H set out of storage for another exhibit, especially with the 50th anniversary approaching in 2022.


Smithsonian Institute: “M*A*S*H: Binding Up the Exhibit

Smithsonian Institute: “Looking back on “M*A*S*H,” the show and the exhibition

Smithsonian Institute: “The “M*A*S*H” scripts: A collection of laughter and tears

The Washington Post: “M*A*S*H Lives, At the Smithsonian

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