Remember the M*A*S*H pilot, which aired nearly 50 years ago? No one really knew what to think about wise-cracking doctors treating the wounded in the Korean War.
It was a series that started in 1972 about a war that happened two decades before. M*A*S*H introduced the country to Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce. And the nation got to know Loretta Swit as chief nurse Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. In the early 1970s, it still was a novelty to see a working, single woman on your TV screens.
“The thing about Margaret was that she was living in the ‘50s. I don’t think ‘feminist’ was even coined yet,” Swit said. “I think she existed before any kind of major movement took over… (And) I think that’s what made her so spectacular.”
The show, itself, was spectacular. Here’s the initial CBS synopsis from the pilot, which aired Sept. 17, 1972: “The Swamp’s Korean houseboy, Ho-Jon, is accepted to attend school at Hawkeye’s alma mater. The camp raises money to send Ho-Jon to Maine by raffling a weekend in Tokyo with a nurse, much to the chagrin of Hot Lips and Burns.”
Now, flash through 11 seasons to the M*A*S*H series finale, Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, which aired on Feb. 28, 1983. The episode became a pop culture phenomenon as nearly 106 million Americans tuned in to say their personal goodbyes to the beloved characters.
Did you know that there were only two actors who appeared in the pilot and the finale? They were Alda and Swit. You couldn’t have Hawkeye without Hot Lips. Alda and Swit also were the only two actors who appeared in all 251 episodes.
Alda also directed 32 episodes, including the finale. Plus, he wrote 18 of the episodes. His work was so superior that Alda won Emmys for acting, directing and writing for M*A*S*H.
Meanwhile, Swit was nominated for 10 Emmys for her acting on M*A*S*H. She won two Emmys for her work.
The two characters finally got together. This was all after Margaret married Donald, the colonel she met while she was on an R&R trip to Tokyo. But she found out Donald cheated on her after he accidentally mailed her a letter he’d written to a girlfriend.
Alda wrote and directed the episode, called Comrades in Arms, that told the story of how Hawkeye and Margaret shared a night of passion. The two visited another medical unit and their jeep broke down behind enemy lines. They found a safe place to stay, but they didn’t know whether they’d be captured. Margaret had an anxiety attack, while Hawkeye tried to calm her. They ended up sleeping together.
“Alan and I were very, very close,” Swit said in a 2015 interview with an Australian TV station. “We were such a family, I can’t describe it – you had to be there. But Alan told me he had written that [episode] with the idea for quite a while before we actually did it.
“And Gene Reynolds [M*A*S*H executive producer] felt that the audience might not be ready for that in the earlier years. We really needed to grow into [when] they believed this could happen. And so we did finally do it. God, I loved it.”
We all loved M*A*S*H.