This month, several posts will relate to final days of filming the series in January 1983. We continue this week by looking at Arlene and Alan Alda’s book about the final days of filming.
What is it?
Alda, Arlene and Alan Alda. The Last Days of M*A*S*H. Verona, NJ: The Unicorn Publishing House, 1983.
Why should M*A*S*H fans care?
The photos in this book, taken by Arlene Alda, come straight from the set during the final days of filming. The photos are candid and fun. As if that wasn’t enough, Alan Alda writes some of the captions and tells stories about those final days of M*A*S*H.
As a M*A*S*H fan, what part should I read?
Every page! It offers a great behind the scenes look at the set, the actors out of character, and the story of M*A*S*H‘s final days with personal isight from the Aldas.
A must own for every M*A*S*H fan as it is one of the best behind the scenes book available for the series. The personal nature of the photos, captions, and materials make this book special.
I have to confess…this is probably my favorite M*A*S*H book. The book is well organized, well written, and well printed. The photographs are wonderful and full of emotion. You can tell that the photos were taken by someone the cast and crew knew personally and trusted, as opposed to just any photographer assigned to the job. Arlene Alda explains at the end of the book, the photographs she took in January 1983 were part of an assignment for Life magazine. Her job was to capture the final days of M*A*S*H, and the photos she took went far beyond that. But the book is more than photos. There are scans of documents, press materials, and letters from fans reacting to the end of the series.
The first section of the book is photos behind the scenes during the final days of filming the episode “As Time Goes By.” The photos are accompanied by handwritten captions by Arlene and typed comments from Alan. This is by far the most emotional part of the book. Each photo shows an actor, or group of actors, between scenes. Whether they are goofing off or crying, you sense the love these people felt for each other. There’s also the realization that this part of their life is coming to an end. Whether it is David Ogden Stiers and Harry Morgan sharing a hug or Loretta Swit crying between takes during the final scene, the feeling oozes off the page.
Beyond the photos, there are a few more sections of the book. Behind the Camera features several documents and hand written notes, including Alan’s handwritten title possibilities for “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” Another hand written section of the book comes next in the form of the storyboards for the series finale, “Goodbye, Farwell and Amen.” Storyboards are a common way for production to plan camera angles and the visuals of the scene. They bring the script to life in a way words cannot. These hand sketched storyboards are great to look at and read through as they demonstrate some of the changes that were made as the episode was filmed.
The final two sections are about the press and public reaction to the series ending. One section features a collection of cartoons and press articles about the finale. There’s an article that says that the kiss shared between Hawkeye and Margaret in the finale was worth $522,000 due to the length of the kiss (34.8 seconds) and the going rate for advertisements during the finale ($450,000 for 30 seconds)! The next section includes telegrams from President Ronald Reagan and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. But the best part of this section are the personal letters from fans expressing about their connection to the series. We are used to hearing personal connections to M*A*S*H today on podcasts such as M*A*S*H Matters, but reading similar sentiments from 1983 really shows how connected fans felt to the series while it was airing.
The book closes with short histories of Korea and the Korean War. Biographies of Alan and Arlene Alda are also included. The most important information at the end of the book, however, is about the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. The foundation was working in 1983 for the benefit of Amerasian children in Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand. The treatment of these children, often the children of an American service man and local woman, in their home countries was very poor. They were often treated as second class citizens. M*A*S*H showed this in the season 8 episode “Yessir, That’s our Baby” (8×15). The Alda’s donated their proceeds from the sale of The Last Days of M*A*S*H to the Pearl S. Buck Foundation.
As I said, this is my favorite M*A*S*H book. I have always been interested in the behind the scenes perspective, and it doesn’t get much better than this. Seeing the photos, documents, storyboards, and fan letters is great. But add the personal reflections of the Aldas, and the book becomes a time capsule in its own right. Used copies of this book are available online, and I highly recommend picking up a copy for your M*A*S*H collection.