Episode Spotlight: Tuttle

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Tuttle” (#15, 1×15)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, January 14th, 1973
Written by Bruce Shelly & David Ketchum
Directed by William Wiard

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye makes up a fictional captain and things quickly get out of hand.

“Tuttle” is a wonderful, low-key episode. I don’t have much to say about it, to be honest, because there isn’t much to it. While donating supplies to Sister Theresa, Hawkeye tells her the name of the man responsible for the supplies: Captain Tuttle. Trapper plays along, leading to this exchange:

Trapper: “Isn’t she wasting her prayers on somebody who doesn’t exist?”
Hawkeye: “Who doesn’t exist?”
Trapper: “This, uh, this Tuttle you made up.”
Hawkeye: “Who says I made him up?”
Trapper: “Don’t con me. He’s a figment of your imagination.”
Hawkeye: “And what makes you think you’re not?”

Poor Trapper looks like he’s having an existential crisis.

The next day, Hawkeye tells Trapper that Tuttle was his imaginary friend when he was a kid. Radar hears the story, too, and reveals he also had an imaginary friend, a girl named Shirley. When Radar brings requisition forms for Henry to sign, Henry starts asking questions about Captain Tuttle. He also wants Tuttle to serve as officer of the day.

From there, events quickly spiral out of control. Suddenly, everyone wants to know about Captain Tuttle. Frank and Margaret have questions of their own. Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar are forced to fabricate a personnel file for Tuttle. Hawkeye even has to impersonate General Clayton. Unfortunately, the real General Clayton announces he’s coming to the 4077t to give Tuttle a commendation.

Backed into a corner, Hawkeye has only one option: kill Captain Jonathan S. Tuttle. In front of the entire camp, Hawkeye delivers a touching eulogy:

Hawkeye: “We can all be comforted by the thought that he’s not really gone, that there’s a little Tuttle left in all of us. In fact, you might say that all of us together made up Tuttle. Our grief will pass. It’s already hard to remember exactly how Johnny looked, how he talked, his little laugh. Thankfully he’s left behind a memorial. I’ve been informed by Radar that Captain Tuttle’s G.I. insurance named Sister Theresa’s orphanage as his sole beneficiary. How typical. We salute you, Captain Tuttle, humanitarian and healer. Good luck, doctor, in that great big waiting room in the sky.”

Is this episode at all plausible? No, I don’t think so. But that’s what makes it so funny. There’s no way Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar should’ve been able to trick everyone, to convince so many people of Captain Tuttle’s existence. Yet somehow they pull it off.

However, it is a little difficult to believe Margaret would be fooled Hawkeye’s impersonation of General Clayton.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Tuttle showing Hawkeye
Hawkeye eulogizes the late, great Captain Tuttle.

Larry Gelbart revealed the inspiration for this episode in a January 2001 post to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup:

Didn’t mean to tittilate [sic] (or should that be tuttlate?).

Some pre-MASH years ago, while still living in London, I saw a marvelous program on the BBC. It was an English adaptation of a French play, it’s English title (or shoud [sic] that be tutle?) was “Lieutenant Tenant.”

It was the story of a lowly private in the Russian army in Napoleonic times, who volunteered to act an officer’s clerk, even though the private was barely literate. He just wanted to able to work in a cozy, warm office instead of being out in the freezing cold.

The first time he was required to take dication [sic] from the officer, the private, a pen in his totally (or should that be tuttaly?) inexperienced hand, he was in trouble.

The officer, writing to another officer, began his dictation, “My dear Lieutenant … ” The private, repeating the word out loud, as he slowly tried to write, “Lieu-ten-ant.” making the officer impatient, prompting the private to go write faster, he repeated the last two-thirds of the name, “Ten-ant.” The result was the private started the salutation by writing, “My Dear Lieutenant Tenant.”

The letter was sent out to a totally fictitious officer. What happened next, you can guess, considering the nature of this thread.

I was so taken with the idea of the play, I checked into its availability for an American adaptation. Other ideas and events intervened, and I never got around to doing one. And, then, along came MASH….

Gelbart is referring to a 1962 French play titled Lieutenant Tenant, written by Pierre Gripari, based on a novella by Yury (Yuri) Tynyanov.

The original script did not include Hawkeye’s eulogy for the late Tuttle. Here’s Larry Gelbart’s explanation, from a May 2002 post to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup:

Hawkeye’s speech (about Tuttle) was written after we did the exteriors. Just felt that sort of euolgy [sic] was necessary.

That’s why we had to shoot it on the set.

Tuttle’s parents were named after Larry Gelbart’s mother and father. Tuttle’s serial number was Gelbart’s Army serial number.

Sparky (aka Sgt. Pryor) makes his one and only on-screen appearance in this episode.

Radar is seen reading an issue of Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders that wasn’t published until January 1969.

Klinger does not appear in this episode.

9 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    There are two things that really “make” this episode for me:

    1. The bogus personnel file (and the scene in which Hawkeye & Trapper create it).
    2. Col. Blake & Radar. The already established interplay between the hapless Henry and his right hand Corporal is used to make Tuttle “real” to the entire camp. Henry’s “I had breakfast with the man yesterday” cracks me up everytime.

    On a personal note, Tuttle is the episode I used to introduce M*A*S*H to my kids many years ago. They immediately fell in love with the series and watch it regularly.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    An altogether funny episode, if you can suspend your belief in what transpires. IMO, An exercise in human gullibility.

    I believe this was the only episode where a non-existent character was credited with an appearance.

  • BDOR says:

    A perfect example of how M*A*S*H could be really clever as a comedy – Hawkeye’s eulogy seals the deal: “There’s a little Tuttle left in all of us. I guess you could say all of us together made up Tuttle.” Perfect.

    Klinger wasn’t in this episode because he wasn’t a regular yet.

    In addition to Sparky, Sister Teresa also makes a rare, on-screen appearance as well – the first of only two (the other being “Kim” when she finally reunites Kim with his real mother).

    One thing that surprises me about this episode is this one line from Frank: “Oh, Margaret, you’re my snug harbor, I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you to sail into.” Wow. Were the network censors asleep that day?

    • Seoul City Sue says:

      BDOR, that line is from ‘The Trial of Henry Blake.’

    • Seoul City Sue says:

      Never mind. I got my dialogs confused.

    • BDOR says:

      I forgot to mention, there’s another never-seen character who made one on-screen appearance later: O’Brien the chopper pilot. He was played by Buck Young in “Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde” when Hawkeye tries to convince him not to go up in his chopper anymore; otherwise, he’s refered to quite a bit throughout the series, particularly the earlier seasons.

  • Larry P. says:

    I think if I ever HAD to make a top 10 favorite episodes list, “Tuttle” would make the cut. It’s quite simply an episode I never get tired of, and to me a perfect example of early, ‘funny’ M*A*S*H. As far as the first season goes, it may not have any ‘deeper’ elements (such as “Sometimes You Hear The Bullet”), but for sheer comedy, it’s hard to beat. It’s probably my favorite episode of that entire first year.

    The scene where Hawkeye, Trapper and Radar forge Tuttle’s documents is a riot, Hawkeye’s General Clayton impression always cracks me up, and the entirety of the eulogy is fantastic. And the end credit of “Tuttle as himself” is a hilarious; I didn’t notice that for years!

    Also, as a big HILL STREET BLUES fan, I always get a kick out of seeing James B. Sikking show up in this one.

    • Andrea says:

      I’m a big Hill Street Blues fan too. I keep meaning to write a fan letter to James B. Sikking but I wouldn’t know where to start.

      I love Tuttle, definitely in my top five episode. It’s silly and far fetched but it’s a funny concept and well acted and well executed, plus we get to see Sparky. What’s not to like?

  • 007 says:

    Whenever I tell people about why I love M*A*S*H, this is one of the episodes I bring up, and it’s a prime example of why the Trapper-Blake years were unquestionably the best. The dynamic between Henry and Radar is just so good, and Trapper really is the perfect side kick for Hawkeye, in a way BJ could never quite get to.

    To this day I’m still saddened when I think about McLean and Rogers leaving the show, which IMO was eventually one of the things that made Gary leave too. If McLean and Rogers had stayed, I have no doubt that Gary would have as well, and I always wonder what the show would have been like with more years of them. Sure it’d mean we never get Potter, and BJ, maybe Winchester too, and as much as I love Charles & Potter, I still wish so much it had stayed the way it was those first 3 seasons.

    Winchester together with Trapper and Blake would have been super interesting too, although I don’t think it would top the fighting/bickering between Charles and Potter, especially when he first showed up.

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