The following article appeared in TV Guide August 24, 1974. It is one of the earliest articles to describe Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds’s trip to Korea to research for the show and interview doctors and nurses that served in MASH units. This trip is famous within the M*A*S*H community as it contributed to what made the show more realistic, and that is addressed in the article. Gelbart and Reynolds discuss how what they learned from the trip would be integrated into the series beginning as soon as the third season, which debuted in 1974. One of those changes was the introduction of Rosie’s Bar, which was a real bar outside of the unit in Korea. The following is the full article as it appeared before the third season began. Instead of summarizing, I felt it was better served to present the article in full.
Cocktail Hour Starts at 4:30
What the producers of M*A*S*H found when they went to Korea to see the original in operation
By Leslie Raddatz
For inspiration, the producers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show didn’t go to Minneapolis, where the action ostensibly took place, nor did the producers of All in the Family or Sanford and Son seek new plot ideas through visits to Queens or a South Los Angeles junk yard. But Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart, the producers of M*A*S*H, went to Korea, and as a result you’ll be seeing some changes in the popular CBS series next season.
Reynolds and Gelbart not only went to Korea, they spent five days visiting the 43rd Surgical Army Hospital, formally known as the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), the very hospital that inspired the books, movie and TV show, and which, believe it or not, is still in business at the old stand more than 20 years after the “police action” in Korea ended.
“It was an eerie feeling when we landed in the helicopter,” Gelbart said. “The hills and the terrain looked just like our set at the Fox Malibu ranch.”
There were differences, though. Clustered across the road from the installation, 40 miles north of Seoul, is a group of civilian Korean enterprises with names like Rosie’s Bar, Goldie’s Palace, G.I. Classy and Hollywood Tailors, dependent upon the 680 men and women of the base for business. M*A*S*H fans will be seeing something similar on their TV screens next seasons. There will be other changes based on Reynolds’ and Gelbart’s visit – more snow, for instance. “It’s cold there,” said Reynolds. “The wind comes down from Siberia and sweeps right through. The base didn’t have any fuel for a couple of weeks, and they’d burned practically everything except the crutches. The last night we were there, they broke up some packing cases and lit the fireplace in our honor.”
Beginning this fall, M*A*S*H will also place new emphasis upon helicopter pilots. “They play a much bigger role than we realized, and they’re more romantic than the doctors,” said Gelbart. He told of one legendary pilot known as Dangerous Dan, who parlayed two bottles of Amphojel into $200,000 worth of helicopter parts. Gelbart explained, “The food was very spicy there, and everybody has stomach trouble. There were plenty of chopper parts, but Amphojel was scarce and precious.”
Korea is justifiably considered a “hardship tour,” limited to one year. Thus, the men and women of the 43rd are familiar with M*A*S*H and, according to Reynolds, “are aware of their image.” Whether by a conscious upholding of this image or a natural outcome of being stationed in a forgotten backwater, “They do some pretty bizarre things.” St. Patrick’s Day, which fell during the visit of Reynolds and Gelbart, was celebrated by an Irish wake, complete with green drinks (“God knows what was in them!”) and a nurse (live) laid out in a coffin, before which everyone prayerfully passed.
With the tour of duty limited to a year, someone is always coming and going, and that is excuse enough for a party. “There has also been some streaking, and there’s a lot of singing, guitar playing and messing around with nurses,” said Reynolds. “Actually, it’s a boring life. When you get off duty at 4 o’clock, there’s nothing to do, so the cocktail hour starts at 4:30.” Rosie’s Bar is a favorite rendezvous, since it features dancing as well as drinking.
Going to Korea was Gelbart’s idea (he had been there once before, with Bob Hope in 1951). Reynolds immediately agreed: “After two years on the air, it was time to refresh ourselves, to get some new ideas, new characters, new stories.”
Why is the former 8055th MASH still operative after all these years? The Army has 32,000 men in Korea. The hospital takes care of them, and several other patients are Korean civilians. While Reynolds and Gelbart were there, someone stepped on a land mine, and a Korean child was run over by a jeep.
Physically, the hospital is different from its TV counterpart in one important respect. It is housed in concrete block buildings, which were classified as “temporary” when they were put up 20 years ago. The tents familiar to TV viewers are packed and ready to move out in case of emergency. (The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital was unique to the Korean conflict. It was never used in any previous war nor was it used in Vietnam since. In its brief career, it was responsible for saving many lives and limbs and developing new techniques.)
Reynolds and Gelbart found that much of what they had done on M*A*S*H turned out to be true. One show that was on the air last season involved a professional victim – a Korean civilian who conveniently arranged to get into “accidents” with Army vehicles. Such an incident occurred when the two producers were there. But more important, they found that they have managed to duplicate the spirit of the place. Reynolds said, “The show deals with human beings coping with misery, with a terribly destructive situation. The humor comes out of recognizing human beings coping with this kind of ridiculous, destructive situation and rising above it. Their humor is a defense against misery.”
This is what the producers found at the former 8055th, plus an ironic sense of accomplishment. “None of them want to be there, and most Americans don’t know they’re there,” said Gelbart. “But when they leave after a year, they’re filled with pride and achievement. As far as we were concerned, being there had a real sobering effect. It took a while to get back into the fun and games.”
Raddatz, Leslie. “Cocktail Hour Starts at 4:30.” TV Guide, August 24, 1974.