From the M*A*S*H Library 7: Life: M*A*S*H: TV’s Most Extraordinary Comedy

What is it?

Kennedy, Kostya, ed. “M*A*S*H: TV’s Most Extraordinary Comedy.” Life, 2022.

Why should M*A*S*H fans care?

For the 50th anniversary of M*A*S*H, Life has re-released it’s special edition magazine dedicated to the book, film, and series. As is the norm with Life magazine, it is packed with lots of great photographs.

As a M*A*S*H fan, what part should I read?

All of it! It is informative and covers the the evolution of M*A*S*H from novel to television series.

TL;DR Review

This magazine provides insight in the creation of M*A*S*H and includes great summaries, quotes, character profiles, and photographs. It is a great tribute to the series as we prepare to celebrate its 50th anniversary in September 2022. But if you have the 2020 edition of this magazine, you don’t need to purchase this reissue unless you really want it!

Full Review

In 2020, Life issued a special edition magazine for the 50th anniversary of the MASH film directed by Robert Altman. The issue covered much more than just the movie. In fact, only 14 pages were dedicated to the film while the vast majority of the magazine discussed the series. Since 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the M*A*S*H television series (September 17 to be exact), Life has reissued the magazine to celebrate. Let’s take a look at the magazine, and you can decide whether this is something you need to add to your M*A*S*H collection!

The magazine’s cover is a great attention getter as it features a great photo of the original M*A*S*H cast from 1972. Open up to the table of contents, and you quickly discovery this magazine is going to focus on the eleven seasons of the M*A*S*H television series. The first chapter, “First Do No Harm,” places M*A*S*H in context. The series aired at the time of the Vietnam War and amid social issues in the United States. Other series, such as All in the Family, tackled similar issues as M*A*S*H including racism, feminism, and homophobia. Before M*A*S*H, other military comedies didn’t show the horrors of war, and the series creators, Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, didn’t want to create another Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C or Hogan Heroes. The article explains that they wanted to focus on the human element that is ever present in war, and they succeeded. In fact, the article concludes by saying, “M*A*S*H achieved something remarkable: It was of its time, yet remains relevant for all time.”

The second chapter, “From Page to Screen,” provides the story of how Richard Hooker’s novel became the Robert Altman film. The film mixes comedy with the horrors of war and captured the balance presented in the novel. The film took the comedy and violence to the extreme and earned an “R” rating. When the idea of a M*A*S*H television series was first pitched, the issue was transforming the dark comedy into a television series. The magazines third chapter, “M*A*S*H Lands on Television”, goes into detail on how the show runners achieved the transformation. This article is the most extensive in the magazine spanning 22 pages. It is wonderfully detailed and provides a great summary of the series over its eleven year run.

The next chapter, “Roll Call at the 4077th,” provides character summaries for each of the major characters in the series. Strangely, they leave out Hawkeye and Trapper. Yes, they are discussed elsewhere, but it is a strange choice to leave out the two original adversaries of Frank Burns. This section gives each actor and character a chance to shine, and it contains some great photos. The chapter also highlights some of the series’ most famous guest stars including Ron Howard, John Ritter, Shelley Long, Laurence Fishburne, Jeffrey Tambor, and Patrick Swayze.

Chapter five, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” is dedicated to the record breaking M*A*S*H finale. The article features some great images from the finale, and provides an overview of its development. The article ends by describing what is, in my opinion, the best scene in television. “As the Sioux [helicopter] lifts off from the 4077th for the final time, [Hawkeye] sees on the ground below stones arranged to spell GOODBYE. The theme music plays, a recessional hymn. And 11 glorious season of M*A*S*H come to an end.”

The final chapter, “Life Beyond the Finale,” talks about the last 39 years since the series ended. Two spinoffs are mentioned, including AfterMASH and the lesser known W*A*L*T*E*R, a series starring Gary Burghoff as Radar who joins the police force in St. Louis, Missouri. While W*A*L*T*E*R was never picked up by CBS, AfterMASH ran for two seasons and starred Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, and Rosalind Chao. Gelbart and Reynolds returned to produce the series. It couldn’t live up to M*A*S*H, however, and it was cancelled before the conclusion of its second season. The two reunions specials held in 1992 and 2002 are briefly mentioned, then the chapter concludes with updates about each of the cast members and what they are doing today. Sadly, only Alan Alda, Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, and Gary Burghoff are the only living members of the primary cast.

Overall, this is a great magazine and is a fun read! Life always puts together great tribute issues, and this one is no exception. As I mentioned earlier, this is a reissue of the 2020 release of of this magazine, so don’t think you have to rebuy this magazine unless you absolutely have to have it (like me)! This magazine, as with the series, made me smile as I read the stories and quotes and looked at the pictures, and I think the magazine’s conclusion says it all, “Laughter remains the best medicine right behind medicine itself and sometimes behind martinis, too. M*A*S*H provides all of those comforts. In that way, the doctors and nurses of the 4077th have never stopped healing us.”

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