Script Spotlight 9: “Cowboy”

The first season of M*A*S*H was hit or miss when it came to quality of storyline. The series creators were defining characters and finding their way, which was no easy task since the feature film had taken much of the source material from the novel. There are some bright spots from first season, however. “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” (01×17) is hailed as a turning point for the series. Another episode that I enjoy in the first season is “Cowboy” (01×08). While the premise of the episode is taken to the extreme, the episode demonstrates how war can take a toll on the people fighting it and the family they left behind. This week, let’s take a look at the script for this very early episode in the M*A*S*H series run, then discuss the episode itself.

The Script

I do not have many script from the early seasons of M*A*S*H. Most of my scripts come from seasons five and later as the series was more popular. The popularity meant the show had a larger budget, larger crew, and therefore, needed more scripts printed. Finding early scripts is difficult, and finding a script from season one is rare. Finding one this complete is even more incredible. This script includes the call sheets, full shooting schedule, wardrobe sheets, and some revised pages (in pink). Comparing these sheets, and their format, to episodes from later in the series, we see that nothing changed. The series was run in the same way for all eleven seasons, right down to the supporting documents. The cover of the early scripts is different. The M*A*S*H logo used is not the stencil logo we are all familiar with. Nor is the full 20th Century Fox Television logo used like it is in later seasons, but everything behind the cover is the same.

That also holds true for the wardrobe pages. In an earlier post, I discussed the wardrobe sheets used by costume director Albert Frankel. In that post I said, “These pages appear to be unique to Albert’s scripts.” But that is not the case. This script, as we can tell by the cover, belonged to “Trish.” She must have been in wardrobe before Frankel was involved with the series (I have found nothing about here in researching). We can see that she uses the same wardrobe pages later used by Frankel. It would make sense that there was a template for wardrobe since every television series would have wardrobe changes.

This script came with one item that I have never seen before. A single sheet of scratch paper contains a list of measurements for each of the guest actors in the episode. For Billy Greene Bush, the actor who played Cowboy, we see his measurements including his shoe size. I am sure this was done for every primary actor and guest star of the series. But this is the first time I have ever seen it recorded on paper and included with a script. It would have been important for wardrobe to know these measurements so they could get the appropriate size clothing, boots, and, in Cowboy’s case, hat!

The primary script pages are blue. Trish went through and circled information that was relevant for her job including names of characters and any mention of clothing. Revised pages are included, and these pages are pink. This script only contains one set of revised pages, and we have seen scripts with multiple sets of revisions. Since this script belonged to wardrobe, she should have gotten all of the revisions as they were released, so it is possible only one of revisions were made, but it seems unlikely given how many differences there are between this script and the final episode.

The final thing you notice about this script is all of the handwriting on the backs of pages. These are all costume notes for various scenes throughout the episode. The notes are prolific, and are on just about every page. Even the revised pages. I like seeing these notes as they go beyond the typical “this actor needs: pants, shirt, boots, dog tags.” The notes go into detail about how the clothing is layered. Whether it is buttoned up or not. These notes are truly what a costume designer does.

This season one script provides a great comparison to scripts from later in the series. We see that over the course of eleven years, not much changed! The production of M*A*S*H was largely the same, and I think this is part of the success. As the seasons went on, cast came and went, and guest stars appears, having a familiar process would keep the show feeling consistent despite the changes. Once you have found a formula for success, you don’t want to change it.

The Final Episode

After rewatching this episode, I realized a two things: this is one of the few M*A*S*H episodes that doesn’t feature Loretta Swit or a second storyline. The primary storyline follows a wounded chopper pilot, known to all as Cowboy, who is wounded. He tells Hawkeye that he would like to go home to take care of personal matters with his wife. Henry denies the request, so Cowboy begins setting traps to kill Henry. At first, Henry blames Trapper for the attacks because he would’t let him use a Jeep, but Hawkeye figures out that it is Cowboy just as he and Henry leave the camp in a chopper. Thankfully, a letter from Cowboy’s wife arrives at the camp just in time to save Henry’s life.

This episode has several funny moments despite the fact that one of the show’s characters is trying to kill another. I had forgotten how many times Cowboy tried to kill Henry as there were five total: 1. shooting the golf ball during a round of golf with Hawkeye, 2. a Jeep crashing into Henry’s tent right after he went to bed, 3. the latrine blowing up just as he goes in, 4. Henry’s desk chair blowing up after Henry tosses a set of keys on it, and 5. Cowboy trying to push Henry out of the chopper. Surprisingly, it is revealed at the end of the episode that Cowboy was getting a month leave to see his wife after treatment for combat fatigue. The fact he was never charged with attempting to kill a superior officer is a real stretch!

Comparing the script the the final episode, there are some changes to note. On pages 2 – 4 of the script, there is an additional scene in the Swamp and a scene in the O.R. that included Ugly John. He did not appear in this episode, so it’s possible John Orchard wasn’t available. On page 11, the scene between Henry and Hawkeye discussing sending Cowboy home is longer in the final episode than it is in the script. The golf scene is also longer than is written in this version of the script. Finally, on page 28, there is a cut scene between Trapper and nurse before Hawkeye discovers Cowboy is who has been trying to kill henry. That leads me to believe that there may have been other sets of revised pages that never made it to this script. Overall, the final episode reflected the majority of what was on paper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: