Book Review: All About M*A*S*H

All About M*A*S*H
By Peggy Herz
Published by Scholastic Book Services
First Published September 1975
92 Pages; Black and White Photographs

Rather than All About M*A*S*H a more accurate title for this brief book might be All About (Some of) the Cast of M*A*S*H. Peggy Herz, who wrote a variety of short works on television and specific television shows during the mid-to-late-1970s, focuses heavily on various members of the cast of M*A*S*H rather than the show itself. Granted, a handful of the eleven chapters do cover the series but the bulk of them are about an individual member of the cast: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Gary Burghoff, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville and McLean Stevenson. Jamie Farr is mentioned only in a caption for a photograph; I do not believe William Christopher is included at all.

All About M*A*S*H Front Cover
All About M*A*S*H Front Cover (from eBay auction)

With the exception of McLean Stevenson — and, of course, Farr and Christopher, whom she left out of the book — Herz was able to interview the entire cast, along with Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart. The first two chapters cover the birth of the series: questioning whether a television version of the movie MASH succeed, recounting how Gene Reynolds called up Larry Gelbart to write the pilot script, and the oft repeated story of Alan Alda’s initial reluctance to take on the role of Hawkeye Pierce. Herz gives a lengthy biography of Alda (did you know he lived on a ranch in California for six years where he rode horses and occasionally milked cows?) and discusses his scriptwriting.

Herz then proceeds to cover Wayne Rogers, Gary Burghoff, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville and McLean Stevenson, writing more about Burghoff and Swit, slightly less about Rogers and only four pages about Linville. Because the book came out in September of 1975, Herz was able to write about Stevenson’s decision to leave M*A*S*H. She quotes Gene Reynolds as saying “for myself, I think McLean should have stayed — both for himself and for the show. The only thing M*A*S*H demanded of him was to film for about five and a half months of the year. The rest of the time he could do pictures, TV, Las Vegas. But he took third place in M*A*S*H; this way he will be the star of the show.”

There is one brief comment about Harry Morgan taking over for Stevenson; Reynolds calls him “a fine actor who will do a marvelous job as the new commanding officer of M*A*S*H.” But because All About M*A*S*H was written prior to Wayne Rogers leaving the series, there is no mention of Mike Farrell, because at the time she was working on the book Peggy Herz (and everyone else) assumed Rogers would return for Season Four. The second-to-last chapter begins with a discussion of MASH author Richard Hornberger aka Richard Hooker and closes with Gelbart talking about writing for the show.

All About M*A*S*H Front Cover
All About M*A*S*H Back Cover (from eBay auction)

The very last chapter, titled “TV Comedy Has Come a Long Way,” compares M*A*S*H to a CBS series titled Apple’s Way, which Herz calls “totally unbelievable” and “smug and phony.” Hawkeye and Trapper and the rest of the characters on M*A*S*H, on the other hand, are believable. Viewers soon realized that “they weren’t pompous and phony. They didn’t laugh at war. They laughed to keep the shadows away. War was always with them.”

All About M*A*S*H is not an in-depth analysis of M*A*S*H. It is, however, a nice, gentle look at the cast. Its unfortunate that Herz completed the book prior to Wayne Rogers leaving the series. It would have been interesting to see what she — and those she interviewed — had to say about his departure. If you find a cheap copy of All About M*A*S*H at a used book store you might want to pick it up. But don’t expect it to actually be all about M*A*S*H.

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