Thirty-five years after finishing his 11-season run, the cast and creators behind CBS’s military comedy look back on one of the most beloved shows in TV history.
February 28, 1983 represents a pivotal moment in the history of American pop culture. That night, the nation apparently shut itself down to watch the final episode of CBS’s revolutionary military comedy MIXTURE. The series would end its 11-season run with a two-hour finale that would bring together 106 million in front of their television screens with the same purpose: to say goodbye to what had become a family of fattened doctors and nurses.
When the series was launched in September 1972, CBS executives thought they had given the go-ahead for a comedy. The creators of the series Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart instead gave the network seriously comic cartoons of universal truths about the human condition. “We helped break the boundaries of the boss who comes to dinner and burns the roast,” says series star Alan Alda (aka Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce) The Hollywood Reporter.
Viewers laughed at the characters’ antics in Rosie’s bar or in The Swamp with Hawkeye, immersed in her purple robe, the color of royalty. They mourned the operating room losses, sensed how much Radar (Gary Burghoff) clung to his teddy bear at night, and felt the pride of Maxwell Klinger (Jamie Farr) in his Statue of Liberty suit and the broken heart of BJ Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) while he lost his daughter’s childhood. Do you remember the first shaky attempt of Houlihan’s Margaret “Hot Lips” (Loretta Swit) or when his walled emotions leaked? Millions of people have seen the fatigue of meatball surgery and exasperation knowing that the soldiers who had healed would soon return with new wounds or body bags.
Everyone wanted a part of it MIXTURE. The stars flocked to the set. Prince Charles flirted with the nurses for lunch at the commissioner. The Harlem Globetrotters passed through there. You would have the chance to see Jane Fonda as you would Henry Kissinger waiting in the wings. Years later, Barack Obama allegedly claimed to have learned many valuable lessons from the show.
So what it was MIXTUREis it secret? The drama about the trials and tribulations of a mobile army surgical hospital unit during the Korean War was truly a love story. In constructing the time series, his cast and crew have forged a bond of love and respect that lives up to the present day: a love of truth in the narrative, a love for the public they were entertaining and a mutual love.
Someone once asked Harry Morgan (who played Col. Sherman Potter from seasons four to 11 and who died in 2011) if he worked on MIXTURE it had made him a better actor. He replied that it had made him a better person.
In honor of the 35th anniversary of the series finale, THR look back at history MIXTURE – as told by those who built it.
Robert Altman’s film MIXTURE became a surprise hit in 1970, motivating CBS to adapt it to the small screen. While the film was classified as R, the network believed it could create a more family-friendly war version.
Reynolds (co-creator, producer, director): You are lucky to fall into a similar topic MIXTURE and the complications of the war. The danger I saw was suggesting that war is all about fun and games. We wanted to be sensitive to the horrors of combat and the value of doctors, nurses and military personnel.
Alda: We wanted to reflect the lives of those people who lived an experience that would upset anyone. There has never been a similar situation on television before.
Swit: We weren’t an advertisement for [Vietnam War]. We were dealing with serious problems with people working in crazy situations.
Reynolds hired his longtime friend Gelbart to write the pilot. Gelbart was a highly respected writer for television, movies and Broadway. At the time he lived in England, writing for the BBC. Its work on MIXTURE would lead the cast and crew to label him a “genius”.
Reynolds: I spent a week with Larry in London. We would go for walks in the park for hours explaining the story, scene by scene. When we finished, I went back to Los Angeles and waited. Finally, after a few weeks, I called and said “When can I look for the script?” He said, “It’s in the mail.” Then he sat down to write it.
Ken Levine (writer): Larry was the Mozart of comedy writers. He just came out of his head right on the screen, as if he was dictating it to himself. Amazing.
Elias Davis (writer): From the beginning, he made the conscious decision to combine serious and comic stories.
Alda: He used many different styles – drama, comedy, burlesque, satire – often in the same show. This gave us an amazing combination, which made me interesting.
Dan Wilcox (writer, producer): Larry and Gene refused to be slaves to make the audience laugh at regular intervals. They believed that I could come to moments that were the meat of what was war. It’s the only comedy I’ve ever worked on that made me cry.
Farrell: Before joining the show, a TV producer asked me to star in his sitcom. I read the script. It was full of the usual silly jokes for love of jokes. I said thank you but no thank you. And he said. “Are you refusing to act in a TV series? Why?” I didn’t want to tell him that his script was stupid, so I said, “Well, it’s not MIXTURE“.
MIXTURE it was first presented on September 17, 1972. The show initially struggled with ABC Wonderful Disney world. However, Reynolds and Gelbart were furious against the network’s ideas to lighten their portrayal of the war, such as never losing patients, minimizing blood and using laughter outside the operating room.
Reynolds: Before we ever shot anything, someone said to me, “You can’t go to the operating room. When I saw the movie, four women in front of me went out.” And I said, “Yes, but millions of them are left.”
Dennis Koenig (writer): Gene and Larry were at some point in their career that they would do things their way or not. Larry told me they were always packing, ready to go. They believed, what is the point of making the show if it will be like everyone else?
Burt Metcalfe (executive producer, director, writer): A key episode in the first season was “Sometimes you hear the bullet” (above) in which a war correspondent and an old friend of Hawkeye arrives at 4077th, puts himself in the head and then returns and dies on the operating table of Hawkeye. Larry wrote this beautiful aria for Colonel Blake to console Hawkeye with: “Look, all I know is what they taught me in command school. There are some rules about a war and rule # 1 is the death of young people. And rule # 2 is that doctors can’t change rule # 1. “
Wilcox: They got you interested in this guy so that not only did Hawkeye lose him, but the audience too. It may have been the first patient we lost. Alan told me it’s his favorite episode and it’s mine too.
Metcalfe: At the end of that season, this eccentric CBS executive comes into our offices and says, “Let me tell you guys how you ruined MIXTURE, “and quotes that episode. It’s so far from the truth.
MIXTURE introduced drama on television, but not many people noticed it. It was a bubble show that hardly renewed for a second season.
Alda: I was joking that we were in the top 78 [shows on television]. It didn’t bother us, though, because we were too busy doing what we did.
Barbara Christopher (Bill Christopher’s widow, who played Father Francis Mulcahy): At the end of the first season, Bill and I went to the closing party, but we had to leave early. Alan walked us to the door and said to Bill, “It has been such a wonderful year. What if I never see you again?”
Farr: Paley girl [the then-wife of CBS founder William S. Paley] presumably she saved us from telling her husband MIXTURE it could be the crown jewel for the net. At the end of the third season, Larry came to me and said, “You know what, I think we’ll be next I love Lucy“.
Reynolds knew Alda from his theatrical work in New York. He never asked him to try the role because he really believed he had found Hawkeye.
Reynolds: He was attractive, a leading actor and a wonderfully comic actor who could interpret sober moments. There aren’t many types like the ones that float around.
Alda: I was making a film in the Utah state prison. MIXTURE it was by far the best script I had ever read in prison. I said to my wife, Arlene, “I can’t do it because it will be made in California and we live in New Jersey. Who knows, this thing could last a whole year.”
Reassured of the show’s intentions, Alda signed as Hawkeye. Gelbart imagined the role of a nice prankster who uses humor to fight the madness of war. Alda’s hold on him rounded him even more.
Swit: Alan’s Hawkeye approach was a big boy looking for company, a hug and a hold. His flirting was all talkative and never predatory.
Reynolds: He said early that we shouldn’t be like “billy goats”, where women are always available to the doctor. Boys may be cool, but you would never see them sexually use their authority.
Walter Dishell (medical consultant): He wanted to know how you feel when you tell someone they will take off one leg or die. He worried about how Hawkeye would behave in these situations. “If I can’t stop the bleeding, what’s on my mind?”
Wilcox: Alan was brilliant in finding a way to act in a scene so that he wasn’t directly involved. If he had an exhibition in the chaos tent, he would have spent all his time studying his food. He lifted a fork, sniffed it and put it back down, meanwhile taking part in the conversation.
Burghoff: I have never worked with anyone so completely dedicated to a project. His creative energy was infinite.
Jeff Maxwell (Igor Stravinsky): I remember he was making the “River of Liver” speech (above). I never expected him to dance on the table. I asked him later if he planned it and he said no. Nobody else could do it.
Other actors came from television, cinema and theater. Metcalfe, who would eventually become the showrunner after Reynolds and Gelbart came out, found artists who had previously left an impression on him. Swit and Farrell came from episodic TV, Larry Linville from a comedy at the Mark Taper Forum. Guest of David Ogden Stiers– protagonist Mary Tyler Moore and Morgan appeared MIXTURE like a stunned general. Other actors came from different channels. CBS recommended McLean (Mac) Stevenson. Burghoff impressed legendary director Otto Preminger with his Broadway performance as Charlie Brown, leading Preminger’s brother to play him MIXTURE. Others followed a more tortuous path.
Metcalfe: We made the pilot with another father Mulcahy. He was the only artist Larry wanted to change. Bill was my great white hope. He blew the audition, though. Larry wrote with a specific rhythm and if you don’t adhere to it, destroy the humor. I managed to audition him again.
Christopher: Larry said he wanted someone with natural idiosyncrasies. It was Bill. An interviewer once told me that Bill “is a man who likes to take an idea and surround it with words until he gives up.”
Farr: Klinger was a one-shot affair that came from Larry to read about Lenny Bruce in the Coast Guard. They said, “Dress for the day.” Bruce thought it would be fun to show up on the eve of the morning wearing a suit.
Metcalfe: Wayne Rogers was one of the six candidates we tested. It was by far the most colorful and won hands down. Interestingly, they had all tested as Trapper or Hawkeye because Alan had not yet officially signed. Once he accepted, we put Wayne in the role of Trapper. They both had wonderful chemistry together.
Farr: Gene took me on a trailer with a female Army Corps uniform hanging on these high heels. I thought I was dressing with an actress. He said, “No, those are yours.” I thought, “What kind of character is this?” He takes me with high heels and hairy legs of the arch to level 9. Everyone laughs. They gave me a couple of lines and Gene leaves. The director then tells me to play “gay” Klinger. I was out of work and $ 250 paid the rent. So, I made my jokes. My agent calls the next day and says that Gene doesn’t want to play the part the way the director designated her. I came back and played it directly.
A group of artists built an ensemble and then a community. They gathered on the weekends, rented a bus to attend the Emmys together, celebrated weddings and cried at funerals.
Farrell: When I found out I got the part, my agent told me that Alan wanted to have dinner with me. I said, “Oh, shit, yes.” I met him in a Chinese restaurant where we talked for hours. He was very interested in me, he wanted me to know his love for the show, his intentions and concerns. It was one of the most extraordinary moments of my wonderful career. I thought I had fallen to heaven.
Swit: The first day we met, I can still view the room. I see where everyone was sitting. It was an important moment in my life. Everyone’s attitude has been so fresh, positive and energetic towards the project. We were all on the same page about what we were going to say.
Alda: Most of the time the actors disperse and go to their dressing rooms between the shots. We sat around a circle of chairs, making fun of each other, having fun. Laughing. I brought it with me every time I do a show. For me, it is the best preparation for performing on stage because you are already relating, listening and responding.
Kellye Nakahara (nurse Kellye): Alan and Mike played chess all day. We exchange books. I took my mom from Hawaii to visit the set. Larry took her to the inspector for lunch. That’s all he could talk about for the rest of his life.
Farrell: Bill would have read Homer, in ancient Greek, laughing, “Ho, ho, ho”. Loretta would play with us while doing the embroidery.
Swit: [Linville] it was a riot. We went alone and tried a scene to find the things we liked and then we went to the director. Ten times out of 10 administrators were thrilled.
Alda: If someone had a very touching and dramatic close-up, as soon as someone screamed “cut”, there would be a snowstorm of gauze or we would stay behind them, hanging on clamps.
GOING BEYOND THE WRITERS ROOM
The writers worked in a building originally built as a school for Shirley’s temple. To accurately represent the topic, Reynolds, Gelbart and Metcalfe interviewed the Korean War surgeons who had served in the MASH units.
Metcalfe: You can have the greatest writers in the world, like we did, and never invent some of the rich ideas that we put into the film.
Alda: We examined those transcripts and looked for a phrase or a fragment of an idea on which to build a story.
Dishell: We went to the suburbs of Los Angeles to see this guy who had filmed his MASH unit. He said he had never shown it to anyone because it had been such a terrible time in his life. That’s where The Swamp’s gaze comes from, the signs of the city and other things.
Reynolds: We would have had boys who had been there for two years and said they had to go out because they couldn’t go by seeing boys die all the time. I will never forget that phrase: “Boys who die constantly”. It was brutal.
David Pollock (writer): This surgeon, trying to remember when he had an operation, said it was the same day they received an egg shipment. We ended up making a story about 4077 that received an egg shipment, which nobody had eaten for months.
Wilcox: An 8076 surgeon, Maurice Connolly, told us about a North Korean soldier brought in for surgery. Take out a hand grenade and pull the pin. A doctor grabs the handle and holds it in place so that the spark cannot ignite the fuse. Everyone who was not operating in the operating room knelt until they found the pin and reinserted it. We used it.
Alda: The interesting thing was after the second year, Larry and Gene went to Korea to visit a MASH unit. They found that some of the stories we had invented had actually happened. We were so tuned to what their experiences were.
In addition to the transcripts, the writers have looked for ideas elsewhere.
Farr: Larry’s father, Harry, was a barber in Beverly Hills for great comedians like Milton Berle and Jack Benny. One of his clients was Danny Thomas, who was a Lebanese American. Harry tells Danny that his son wants to be a writer. Danny ends up buying the material from this high school boy. Larry never forgot it. Klinger became Lebanese because of Danny Thomas.
David Isaacs (writer): Ken and I wrote an episode, “Point of View” from the seventh season. We have seen a lot of POV movies like Lady in the Lake, where the camera was the eyes of the protagonist. We found it boring when the camera spoke. Someone had the idea that the soldier had brought a splinter to his neck and could not speak. That was great. Only MIXTURE could do it.
Elias: Dave and I won a Humanitas Award for an episode of a soldier accompanying his injured friend in 4077. By offering his blood to help save his friend’s life, he discovers he has leukemia. It was based on a true story of a manager who tagged with a big star for an eye appointment. While there, the ophthalmologist asked the director if he wanted his eyes checked too. The manager accepted and the ophthalmologist discovered that he had cancer.
Wilcox: We were working on ideas with Alan and he says, “Sometimes people can get a story from something an actor is good at. For example, I’m very good at sneezing.” The next day we were in the office saying “Hawkeye sneezes a lot, what do we do?”
Alda: I have always thought in terms of writing. I gave Larry some scenes that I thought could work. He didn’t think the story was right, but he encouraged me. My first screenplay borrowed the idea of comedy La Ronde, turning around, using a pair of long johns that passed from one person to another.
Farrell: Once I got an idea and I asked Burt what he thought of it. He said, “Fantastic, why don’t you write it down?” I thought, “Oh shit. OK, let me give it a try.” This was how they operated. They encouraged without being a dragon to anyone.
The show has had numerous battles with standards and practices.
Alda: I wrote an episode where Margaret sees a jockstrap on the table and starts going crazy. “How dare you pull that thing out in front of me?” Standards and practices said we couldn’t show a jockstrap. I really got angry because we had countless episodes in which we showed women’s bras and panties. Hawkeye had crossed a clothesline and slapped them in the face. Is there anything holy in male genitalia? They never gave a reason why. We have limited ourselves.
Levine: We received the same note every week, “Halve informal vulgarity.” If we wanted eight hells and damnations, we would put 16 of them in the script. We tried to escape one when we told a visiting general’s Radar, “Your tent is ready for your VIP.” We have been caught.
Wilcox: We did an episode where Hawkeye screams “Bastard!” to a South Korean officer who is taking away a North Korean female guerrilla for interrogation and probable torture. The censor said we couldn’t say “bastard”, but we could say “son of a bitch”. We weren’t thrilled, but it was still a strong language. The following year we had a similar moment and the same thing happens. In the last season, we went straight to “son of a bitch” and the censor comes back and says, “It’s a strong language, would you mind if you say” bastard “?
The actors acquired the property by participating in table readings and providing ideas.
Farrell: Gene would have guided us through the script, page by page, to see if anyone had questions or suggestions. I thought, do these people want to hear the script from the actors? Oh my god, I’m in heaven.
Swit: I felt increasingly uncomfortable with Margaret and Frank. She was a bright, ambitious and talented nurse. He could not continue to justify the relationship with the lipless wonder. So, I suggested that you send her to Japan for some research and development and let her fall in love with someone in the army that she could be proud of. I said, “Can you imagine Frank’s reaction? He probably would have ripped the doors off the casino tent.” That’s exactly what he did. He also stabbed me with a scalpel in the operating room.
Burghoff: Larry and I have discovered how to make radar innocent in contrast to sophisticated doctors. That innocence became a special kind of sounding board for the madness and horror of war.
Farr: They put Klinger to sleep on call and I didn’t like it. I said that Klinger does all sorts of crazy things, but it wouldn’t jeopardize someone’s life. They agreed with me.
Pollock: This surgeon told us the story of a field commander with a high casualty rate visiting his MASH unit. The doctors put a Mickey Mouse in his food, told him he had appendicitis and then operated on it to prevent it from facing. Mike had a problem doing it.
Farrell: I said B.J. would not have cut someone’s healthy body. It is against the Hippocratic oath. We have discussed it at length.
Metcalfe: Mike expressed some very positive points. We decided that B.J. it should have expressed everything Mike was saying. Hawkeye ended up doing the operation alone.
Isaacs: Ken and I rewrote it with Alan. We finished the show with Radar by telling them that there are helicopters with other wounded on the way. In other words, Hawkeye has achieved nothing.
The dedication to storytelling and storytelling eventually paid tribute to Gelbart and Reynolds. They left after the fourth year.
Metcalfe: Larry had just given his best. Sometimes, when there was the pressure to have a script on the table at 9 am for a reading, he stayed all night and worked to polish it and then took it to Mimeo at 6 am. He often slept on the sofa in his office. Gene and Larry got to the point where they had done everything they could. We have been devastated to lose them, but we have been able to see their point of view. They adored and thrived, but feeling enough was enough. They wanted to leave and do something new and fresh.
THE GREAT EPISODES
Over the course of 11 seasons, MIXTURE has constantly touched the whole spectrum of human emotions. Some shows in particular stand out with the cast members for what they represent, the envelopes they pushed and the emotions that emerged from the cast and audience. At the end of the fourth season, CBS asked for an additional last minute episode. Reynolds and Gelbart made “The Interview”, a black and white episode in which a real journalist, Clete Roberts, interviews the members of 4077.
Reynolds: There was an old Ed Murrow CBS documentary called “See It Now” in which he went to Korea and interviewed soldiers fighting on the field. Larry kept reminding me, “We have to do it.” We knew that we would use it at some point.
Burghoff: Larry knew then that no one knew the characters better than the actors who played them. It was an extremely divine matter of artistic trust. In my way of thinking, that episode should be in a museum. It is my favorite. Innovative.
Farrell: I remember thinking how flattering it was that these genes wanted us to contribute to our personal opinion of who these people were. It was typical of these wonderful people to try to figure out how to do something unusual, new and exciting. I think it’s the best episode of the series.
Alda: They gave us tape recorders and a list of questions. Larry took the best of it and punished him with better lines. So while the camera was still filming, Clete asked us questions we had never heard before, forcing us to improvise on the spot. Some of the best things came out that way.
Metcalfe: One of my favorite Larry jokes in the whole series came when each character is asked if the experience has changed them in any way. When he arrives at Father Mulcahy, he explains: “When doctors cut a patient, and it’s cold, as it is today … the steam rises from the body … and the doctor warms his hands on the open wound. How could anyone look at him? and you don’t feel changed? “
Metcalfe: It still takes me today.
Colonel Blake is discharged and plans to return home. Like many soldiers, he never succeeds, leaving the actors and spectators in pieces during the third season finale, “Abyssinia, Henry”.
Burghoff: I was shocked when I learned it [Stevenson, who went by “Mac”] he had decided to leave [after three seasons]. He was such a kind, kind-hearted man.
Farr: I heard that NBC was trying to sabotage our show. Mac was a guest guest on The Tonight Show and they were teasing him with the idea that he could be Johnny Carson’s replacement.
Reynolds: He had people telling him he could be a star. Some of the advanced things were exaggerated and outrageous promises that people were unable to keep.
Metcalfe: We thought he was making a mistake. The chemistry of a character, a performance – all the other actors contribute to that success. You can’t just take it and take it with you.
Swit: A week or two before leaving, Mac said to me, “I know I’ll never be in something so good again, but I have to leave.” I said, “But Mac, if you know, then why?” Said, “I want to be number 1 out of six. I’m number 3.” I said, “Maybe it’s your billing, but you’re not.” We had no numbers; MIXTURE it was the star.
Reynolds: Burt, Larry and I talked about it. We all complained that death on the show was as impersonal as it was in the news. We thought everyone should feel personal loss. We wanted to say that many kids can’t make it home.
What happened next surprised both the cast members and the audience, redefining the loss on television.
Metcalfe: We said we have another scene to shoot. Everyone has an envelope with a page inside. Linville [who played Maj. Frank Burns] she looked at him and said, “Fucking genius.”
Swit:They didn’t want us to suffer for a week of testing. It was kind. Of course, the Mac was torn apart like all of us. His character dies and it was that character.
Reynolds: I think he sank with him when the character died, he couldn’t go back.
Burghoff: I have been devastated by the cruel “purpose” of it. I took Mac aside and said, “If you don’t want me to do this scene, I won’t.” I was hoping that the shock would change his mind. “Not you to have to do it! “She said.” Don’t you remember the promise that we all made? “He always referred to showing the reality of war whenever possible.
Swit: We all split up. Henry was Mac and Mac was Henry. And to hear a telegram saying that he had just been shot down on the Sea of Japan? You could hear sobs. It only devastated us.
Metcalfe: We have so much mail. Some people thought it was fantastic and others were very upset. “You made my baby cry!” “You did it for revenge!” We received a letter from a 15-year-old girl who said she understood our reasons. “I feel I have joined the all too inclusive brotherhood of those who have lost a loved one abroad.” I thought it was such an incredible observation from such a young person. This was the answer we hoped for.
Burghoff: Gene and Larry made the right choice. It greatly added to the integrity of the show.
Wilcox: A few years later, I was on the set of a show that Mac was on. Between one shot and another I heard him say: “I thought I was the next guest of The Tonight Show. And then the fucking Carson didn’t retreat. “He was also very good at hosting. But with Carson still there, he was left adrift.
Col. Potter is given a bottle of brandy as the sole survivor and is told to share it significantly. Every actor deserves their moment in the sun and after his long career in Hollywood, Morgan has earned the right to this.
Koenig: I think Harry loved to be present MIXTURE more than anyone else. He had been a working actor all his life and never had what he had with that show. È stato grandioso dargli qualcosa, che se io romanzassi, sarebbe stata una pietra miliare nella sua carriera.
Metcalfe: Harry aveva una qualità meravigliosa, che quando si sarebbe emozionato come personaggio, si vedeva che stava facendo del suo meglio per non piangere. È un trucco emotivo molto saggio per un attore. È come l’ubriaco che cerca di non spavalcare o cadere.
Koenig: Ricordo che mentre lo stavano girando, Metcalfe, venne dal set nella stanza degli sceneggiatori e disse: “Harry lo sta solo uccidendo laggiù”.
Farr: Harry era nostro nonno. Sapevamo tutti che quando ha fatto quell’ultima scena ci stava parlando e in un certo senso ci ha salutato.
Swit: Harry era tutto per me: il mio amico, collega, collega attore, confessore, figura paterna, compadre, insegnante. Ha rappresentato tutto nella mia vita. Eravamo solo distrutti mentre lo guardavamo fare questa esperienza.
Farrell: Non posso dirti quante riprese ci sono volute, ma è stata una delle scene più difficili da superare perché Harry era così fottutamente brillante ed era così ovviamente significativo per lui.
Alda: Ho ricordi molto vividi del primo spettacolo che ho diretto, che comprendeva un picnic con 80 comparse e molte cose che accadevano. È stato molto eccitante per me. Ricordo di essere saltato giù dal marciapiede del terminal dell’aeroporto mentre tornavo a casa quel fine settimana pensando di potercela fare.
Swit: Ho avuto un bavaglio di corsa con Jamie che se fossi stato alle prove nei miei civili, sarebbe venuto da me, avrebbe puntato un dito sulla mia camicetta e avrebbe detto: “Aspetta un minuto, è uno dei miei?”
Nakahara: Harry avrebbe voluto che i servizi artigianali mettessero le ferite di pollo nelle ferite aperte, quindi quando aprivamo le lenzuola avremmo visto delle viscere in una ferita che doveva essere polistirolo.
Farr: Per ripagare Stiers per tutti i suoi scherzi, abbiamo avuto il suo camerino dipinto di arancione e viola durante la pausa del Ringraziamento. Quando tornammo, stavamo aspettando che scoppiasse. Non disse nulla. Alla fine, uno di noi ha chiesto “Novità?”
Farrell: David disse: “Oh, ho appena fatto rinnovare il mio camerino. Anche tu?” Ho risposto: “No, come va?” Ha detto: “Molto carino, è una favolosa combinazione di salmone e malva”. Era il suo modo di farci sapere che aveva capito, ma nessuno l’avrebbe preso.
Farrell: Quando Radar torna a casa, Peg ed Erin scendono per incontrarlo. Erin vede Radar in uniforme e lo chiama papà. Incredibilmente perfettamente ha catturato il crepacuore di essere lontano da tuo figlio che stava crescendo senza di te. È stato un episodio tanto potente quanto mi è mai stata data l’opportunità di fare.
Wilcox: La nudità di B.J. sta piangendo alla fine. Ricordo di averlo visto con una donna della Fox [who produced the show] chi ha detto di non aver mai visto un uomo piangere così alla TV americana. Se guardi la scena, Occhio di Falco mette il braccio attorno a B.J. e lo tiene stretto. Allo stesso tempo, sta guardando altrove. Sta cercando di dargli privacy mentre lo conforta, il che lo ha reso ancora più potente.
Swit: Margaret si sta rompendo nell’episodio di “The Nurses”. Quella donna era così sola e stava cercando di fare un ottimo lavoro. E nessuno l’ha apprezzata. Gene mi ha chiamato la mattina dopo averlo girato e mi ha detto che avevano visto i quotidiani e la mia scena era l’ultima. Quando le luci si accesero, tutti stavano annusando. Ha chiesto al proiezionista di gestire nuovamente la scena. Le luci si spengono e lo guardarono di nuovo. Le luci si accendono e tutti continuano a piangere. Dice a tutti: “È la cosa migliore che tu abbia mai visto?”
LA SERIE FINALE
Farrell: Durante la stagione 10, Alan e io stavamo girando una scena insieme e gli ho chiesto: “Per quanto tempo ti aspetti che finisca?” Ha detto che ha pensato a circa 10 anni. Ho detto che avevo delle preoccupazioni su come finisce lo spettacolo. He said I was right and that maybe we should talk to everyone about whether the show should come to a halt. We didn’t want to ride the horse downhill to get to the point when a studio exec pulls the plug on us.
Koenig: A TV series, like a human existence, has a lifespan. Our show was stuck in time in a small space. It was just so hard to find fresh ideas. We’d say, “Burt, listen to this idea.” Two sentences in, he’d tell us we’d done that in season three.
Farrell: We decided to end the war, so we could say goodbye and thank you to the audience and each other. A fellow from the studio comes to the set and says we can’t do an “end of the war” episode. When the one-armed man got caught in the finale of The Fugitive, it killed the show in syndication. We all looked at each other. I said, “It might surprise you to know the Korean War ended.” He looked at us and walked out.
Wilcox: All the writers wanted to take part, so Alan wrote a couple scenes with everyone.
Pollock: Alan had a tape recorder. We’d work on a line and then he’d say it into his machine and have someone transcribe it.
Elias: I remember Metcalfe saying, “We’ve got to get this right. I don’t want to go out a punch-drunk fighter staggering around the ring.”
The major plot points, the ones that leave lasting impressions, came again from real-life situations.
Metcalfe: When I went to Korea, a man told me that during the war, a North Korean patrol was crossing across a bridge. Hiding underneath were 40 or 50 South Koreans trying to escape south to avoid being imprisoned or killed by the invading soldiers. A mother’s baby in the group started to cry, and she smothered it to avoid the group’s detection. It became the focal point of the whole opening of the show with Hawkeye in the psychiatric ward under the care of Dr. Sydney.
Alda: I wanted to send everybody home having been wounded in some way by the war. [The finale] emphasized the seriousness of what Hawkeye had been through.
Wilcox: People were coming to MASH units to surrender because they had food. This included a Korean dance band who played Western instruments. Winchester loving classical music, which gave us the idea to have him meet surrendering musicians and try and teach them Mozart. They’re sent away to a POW camp before he can do a concert. In the last triage, Winchester learns they were all killed in an attack. He can’t listen to his passion ever again.
Swit: When Harry and I have to say goodbye, we could hardly rehearse. I had to look at this man whom I adore and say, “You dear sweet man, I’ll never forget you” without getting emotional and I couldn’t. I can’t now even. It wasn’t words on a page. You knew what you were saying was truth.
Farrell: Metcalfe directed the finale and said he’d never been in a situation where he had to ask actors not to cry so much.
Farr: Klinger remaining in Korea with Rosalind Chao was a fabulous idea, a great twist. The man who went to every outrageous extreme to leave Korea and the U.S. Army was the only one to remain. Wow.
Pollock: The CBS correspondent who broadcast the final peace announcement from Panmunjom was Robert Pierpoint, who was still working at the network. I asked him if he had saved the tapes. He said when you’re running from foxhole to foxhole you can’t be juggling reel-to-reel tape. He thought, however, they shortwaved his reports directly back and said he would look. A few weeks later, we get the tapes. It turns out we can’t use them due to the quality. So, we transcribed it and Robert agreed to do them over.
Metcalfe: In camp, as a kid, we used stones to write out something. So, we used the white rocks from the pathway for B.J. to write goodbye, which of course Hawkeye sees when he gets into the helicopter and takes off. On a bigger note, it’s the show saying goodbye to the world.
Swit: A few episodes before, Margaret had borrowed a book of poems from Winchester. He got angry with me at one point and made me return it. In real life, we had this running gag. Prenderei in giro David tutto il tempo che nessuno aveva il suo numero di telefono privato. Era proprio la sua persona, in un certo senso molto solitario. Quindi, nell’episodio finale, Winchester restituisce a Margaret il libro. Lo apro e leggo l’iscrizione. David aveva scritto il suo numero di telefono all’interno. That’s my real emotion on camera.
The final episode set records for viewership, not to mention the most expensive kiss in TV history between Hawkeye and Margaret (based on length of time and the episode’s ad revenue per minute).
Pollock: That night we had a special showing for the staff on the lot, earlier than when it aired on TV. Afterward, we drove to our favorite restaurant in Westwood. On the way, we noticed there were no cars on the street. Everyone was home watching.
Metcalfe: In New York, the only people making money that night was pizza delivery. According to the utility commission, when the show ended, there was an enormous drop in the water pressure because people were flushing their toilets at the same time. The sheer weight of it totally surprised us.
Due to the amount of time required for postproduction, the two-hour finale was shot the summer before the premiere of the shortened last season. The real last episode shot was “As Time Goes By.” Hundreds of journalists and photographers from around the world waited outside stage 9 to capture the moment.
G.W. Bailey (Sgt. Luther Rizzo): They had 300 members of the press waiting outside, so they had us go say hello to them. Kelly and I were out there waving and she was shouting, “You’re the world press, so get the word out. We need jobs!” Someone from Fox heard us and cut us off and put us back inside.
Farrell: Swit put it so wonderfully. She said, “Every place I stood in a scene I realized I’d never be doing this again. Every person I had words with, I realized I may never have the opportunity to have this exchange again.” It was heartbreaking and thrilling because we knew we were wrapping up something we loved with people we all cherished.
MIXTURE means different things to everyone involved in the show and at home. Most important, it means something that people hold dear to their hearts. Could such a show exist today? It’s a debatable point.
Reynolds: It could if intelligently and carefully done without being too silly or morose. But you have to get a guy like Alan, someone that has star quality and can be a comedian.
Alda: I think that’s almost an impossible question to answer. We were doing the show in a certain moment in time. The country is in some ways as divided now as it was then, but there were different currents in the culture then.
Swit: Years ago, someone commented on how MIXTURE couldn’t be put together and sold today. So much has changed; TV, the whole concept of reality shows and the number of channels. We weren’t a military show and I don’t think I’d want to watch one about behind the lines in Afghanistan.
Alda: We’re all proud of what we did. The show was so remarkable that we all get asked about it all the time. Everybody includes it in every interview.
Burghoff: There are no adequate words to describe the honor I feel to have shared in the MIXTURE experience.
Isaacs: I think it’s the most profound sitcom ever made. A lot of sitcoms deal with fear of embarrassment, shame, change or disclosure. Hardly any deal with fear of death and madness.
Levine: Everything about MIXTURE is universal; the issues characters go through, the quest for humanity in the middle of this world of brutality. I think it’s something we as a culture will respond to forever.
Metcalfe: I’d like MIXTURE to be remembered for its statement about war, though sadly we’ve learned nothing. It’s life. It’s not all perfect and hopefully never all that sad. That we could portray that is very gratifying.
Wilcox: It will be remembered for reasons people can’t articulate. It expresses things that are deeply sad and screamingly funny. We were probing areas that needed probing whether people knew it or not. Someone once said to a girlfriend of mine, “I don’t know what it is with MIXTURE. I used to like it and now I can’t miss it.”
Swit: I’m going to paraphrase what someone wrote in a telegram when we ended the show. It said, “Dear MIXTURE folk: You made me laugh. You made me cry. You made me feel. Thank you.” I’ve never forgotten that. That’s one hell of a legacy.
Recently Farrell caught up with the M*A*S*H family to share a story. In the process, he captured in a few short paragraphs what no writer outside the family circle ever could:
“For the first time in many years I returned to the Fox lot to work on a miniseries[FX’s[FX’s[FX’s[FX’sAmerican Crime Story]. On the second day, I was told to report to stage 10 and did. Once my work was completed for the day, I couldn’t resist the temptation to wander over to stage 9 to see what, if anything, being there would bring back for me. I have to say it was a magical couple of minutes. Pushing through the big door I stepped in and immediately traveled back almost 35 years. The sense of familiarity and warmth was so great I almost laughed aloud. I was overcome with memories. The smell of the place, the feelings that came to me, were completely comfortable, welcoming and embracing. Visions of all of you and so many more flooded over me. The jokes; the laughs; the deep, thoughtful conversations; the tricks; the clowning; the long days; and the good, hard, powerful work were all somehow still there. It was as though a vestige of everything we put into the show had somehow been imbued in the bones of the place. I think it has. And I am the luckiest actor in the world for having had the good fortune to be part of that company.”