Alan Alda said all those M*A*S*H shower scenes were actually pretty embarrassing
"Even when lithe and beautiful, I was a little embarrassed by shower scenes."
The eighth season MAS*H episode “Nurse Doctor” starts with Hawkeye Pierce in the shower.
Nearby, Potter stands with a towel around his neck, in line behind B.J. Hunnicutt and waiting his turn to get in the stall.
“OK, Pierce, you’ve got 15 seconds of water left,” Potter says.
“You’re kidding,” Hawkeye says. “I haven’t washed my ears yet.”
For Hawkeye actor Alan Alda, these shower scenes weren’t exactly his favorite part of making MAS*H.
In a scrapbook he made with his wife called The Last Days of MAS*H, Alda described how he headed to the showers one last time to film his final shower scenes and revealed how uncomfortable he really was every time you saw him cracking jokes and baring is chest under running water on the show:
“As we worked in the shower that week, I remembered all of the scenes we had shot there and how they would often be scheduled at just the wrong time,” Alda wrote. “They would usually come after I had spent a solid week indulging myself in Chinese food. I would often stand there exposed from the waist up, wishing I had just a little less Moo Goo Gai Pan hanging from my pectorals.”
Throughout the series run, the whole cast takes their turns doing these shower scenes, likely all feeling at times similar to Alda about the awkwardness of filming these particular shoots.
“Even when lithe and beautiful, I was a little embarrassed by shower scenes,” Alda said in his book. “We were naked except for little flesh-colored bikinis and from the side of the set, you could see all our loveliness.”
On M*A*S*H, even if actors like Alda weren’t a huge fan of the shower scenes, the audience certainly saw them as an iconic feature of the show.
In 1975, a debutante ball serves as a perfect example of how fans saw these shower scenes as key to M*A*S*H’s image.
At the ball, the honorees and their guests dressed as M*A*S*H characters while hanging poolside at a makeshift M*A*S*H tent, completing the scene with a jeep, American flags and stretchers in place of lawn chairs. Just as important in setting the scene:
“More American flags and a M*A*S*H shower were placed in the backyard,” according to The Times.
And it wasn’t just debutantes stepping into M*A*S*H-like showers. M*A*S*H parties became a favorite party theme in the Seventies and the Eighties for all kinds of folks from different walks of life.
In 1981, for another example, a convention of Volvo dealers met in Palm Springs, where they were transported to and from their hotels to the convention destination by not just jeeps, but also ambulances and convoy trucks.
Once they arrived at the “camp,” The Desert Sun documented in 1981, that the convention grounds were covered in a “spread with authentic tents, including the famous M*A*S*H shower and the surgery unit.”
It’s fair to say, then, for fans, the M*A*S*H shower was just as critical to the show’s success as an unserious setting, as the surgical unit was as the destination of the show’s masterful tension.
In “Nurse Doctor,” Potter rushes Hawkeye out of the shower at the very second that his allotted time expires, and Hawkeye protests having to walk around “foaming at the elbows” all day.
Potter scolds Hawkeye for complaining and reminds him, “We’ve all got to bite the bullet” when it comes to limiting showers during a water shortage.
This is likely an apt description of how Alda and his castmates felt about doing the shower scenes — they all had to bite the bullet and get through them.
So next time you’re laughing at Hawkeye scrub-a-dubbing, maybe do him a favor and try not to notice whether or not he ate Chinese food that week?