What is it?
Kalter, Suzy. The Complete Book of M*A*S*H. New York: Abradale Press, 1984.
Why should M*A*S*H fans care?
This was the earliest and most complete M*A*S*H book published and has been the source of most M*A*S*H material since the mid 1980s. Larry Gelbart’s involvement with it adds to its credibility.
As a M*A*S*H fan, what part(s) should I read?
All 240 pages! This is the book that most M*A*S*H fans probably already own.
Kalter’s The Complete Book of M*A*S*H is still considered an essential book for M*A*S*H fans despite being published in 1984. It is one of the most definitive books about the series available. The detailed episode descriptions, writer and director list, and award list make it the only M*A*S*H book you may need!
Ask M*A*S*H fans if they have any M*A*S*H books in their collection, and most will probably say that they have a copy of Suzy Kalter’s The Complete Book of M*A*S*H. Published in 1984, Kalter’s book was one of the earliest books to feature color photos and full episode descriptions for all eleven seasons. The book also carried a great deal of credibility with an introduction by Larry Gelbart himself. Where the book excels is the 251 episode descriptions that make up the majority of it. That is what made this a must own for every M*A*S*H fan as it is a great reference guide.
After flipping past the colorful title page and table of contents, fans were greeted with an introduction by Gelbart. But this was no standard introduction. Gelbart wrote his introduction as a scripted conversation between himself and M*A*S*H psychiatrist Major Sydney Freedman. It contains everything we expect from both. Freedman’s pointed dialog and Gelbart’s sense of humor. The introduction is followed by an opening chapter by Kalter entitled “One Hundred Years Ago,” which is a play on the opening of the pilot episode. In it, Kalter gives the history of the Richard Hooker novel, Robert Altman film, and the television series. She gives a great overview of how M*A*S*H came to be and how it functioned for eleven seasons.
The episode descriptions that make up the majority of this book are what make it shine. These are not the typical TV Guide, one line episode descriptions. The book goes in depth describing the story lines in each episode. If you thought that M*A*S*H featured a story about something, Kalter’s book is where would turn to find out! It still is the go-to guide for a lot of M*A*S*H fans. Throughout, you also get short articles written by the principal M*A*S*H cast members. This made this book more essential to M*A*S*H fans as the memories from the series shared by the actors were still fresh in their minds in 1984. The memories shared by the actors and the detailed episode descriptions are why everyone had to own this book.
The back of the book contains three appendices. The first lists each episode and its writer and director. This ensured that proper credit was given to the crew behind the scenes who made M*A*S*H possible. The second appendix is a list of awards won by the series over its eleven year run. And there are a lot! Emmys, Golden Globes, Directors’ Guild, Writers’ Guild, American Cinema Editors…they’re all listed here by year. Finally, there is a list of M*A*S*H merchandise available. This is the most interesting page for me as it shows a list of items available for sale in 1984, just as the series ended. And there was still still a lot available in stores!
This is more than a M*A*S*H fan book, it is a time capsule. It captures the public’s need for more M*A*S*H after it went off the air. Being the most complete reference guide for the series for years made this book popular among M*A*S*H fans and fans of television in general. But what makes this book special, is that like M*A*S*H itself, Kalter did not forget that the series represented the actual doctors and nurses who served in the Korean War. The opening pages of the book has a great photo of the cast in the O.R. with an inset copy of the Hippocratic Oath, the oath taken by doctors. M*A*S*H was a series about surgeons in a war zone. Surgeons who were sworn to uphold the sanctity of life. Kalter honors that by including the oath in the book. And I cannot think of a more fitting conclusion to this post.