Between May of 1996 and August of 2009, Larry Gelbart posted more than 3,000 messages to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup. Gelbart used the name Elsig: “El” for his first name (Larry), “si” for his middle name (Simon), and “g” for his last name (Gelbart). A regular contributor, Gelbart often posted more than 50 times a month. Jeff Maxwell also posted to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup. I believe Larry Linville occasionally did as well.
(For those who don’t know what a newsgroup is, read all about Usenet and newsgroups at Wikipedia.)
In February 2006, Gelbart was kind enough to write and post three brief interview segments, like those seen in “The Interview,” for Colonel Blake, Trapper John and Colonel Flagg. I recall having read these several years ago but had forgotten about them until yesterday when Bob e-mailed me suggesting I post them here. It seems like a fitting tribute to Larry Gelbart, so here’s Henry’s interview segment, copied directly from the alt.tv.mash newsgroup via Google Groups:
Henry’s “The Interview” Interview
February 9th, 2006
REPORTER: How does it feel, having the responsibility for saving such a great number of lives?
HENRY: We just take ’em one or two, sometimes maybe twenty at a time. The big trick is not to start thinking of ’em as numbers – as just so many stats that go into a report that winds up in somebody’s filing cabinet under “out of sight, out of mind.” You’ve gotta always remember that what you’re dealing with is hurt people, people that have been run over by a war.
REPORTER: And not just –
HENRY: You gotta remember to take a peek at the odd dog tag now and then and remind yourself that that dangling leg or busted gut you’re going to try and put back together again is somebody’s dad or son or boyfriend – that all that blood and guts soiling your linen belongs to somebody that’s got a name attached to him.
REPORTER: You can’t afford to lose your sense of humanity.
HENRY: There’s just so many senses you can lose over here.
REPORTER: Humor not being one of them, obviously.
HENRY: Around here laughter’s just crying without the tears.
REPORTER: You have a family back home, sir?
HENRY: In Bloomington. The one in Illinois, not in Indiana – unless things have changed since I went away.
REPORTER: You keep in touch with them, of course, your family.
HENRY: We write, we phone. Far apart as we are, I don’t think we’ve ever been closer.
REPORTER: Would you like to say hello to them on television?
HENRY: Be better if this was kissovision, but, yeah, can I?
REPORTER: Go right ahead.
HENRY: Lorraine? Hi, honey. Hi, kids. I got your report cards this morning and I had Radar go out post ’em on the bulletin board here so everybody can see why I’m so darn proud of you. Especially how you’re doing in math. You must get those brains from your mom. Got to be. Old as I am, I still don’t know how many tens to give someone for a five-dollar bill. (TO REPORTER) Thanks.
REPORTER: That it?
HENRY: That’s it. (TO CAMERA) Except I’m counting the days till we’re back together again.
REPORTER: You have any idea when that will be?
HENRY: I try not to have too many ideas. There’s always someone who ranks you who’s sure you’ll agree he’s got a better one.
REPORTER: When you do finally get home, what are you going to tell your children is the biggest lesson being over here has taught you?
HENRY: To always try to work things out, I guess. Whatever those things might happen to be. You don’t make your point killing the other guy. Even if you do it’s kind of wasted if the other guys not around to get the message.
REPORTER: You seem – if all may so, Colonel – you seem near exhaustion.
HENRY: What I am mostly is tired of being tired. We’re supposed to be a hospital but it’s more like a chop shop around here. We’re up to our elbows in people that other people are doing their best to chop down.
REPORTER: That doesn’t lead to a lot of sleep, I would imagine.
HENRY: I used to think of sleeping in terms of hours. How many did I get last night, how many will I get to steal tonight. I’m down to minutes now. It’s like somebody broke one hand off the clock.
REPORTER: Does that ever affect your performance?
HENRY: I fell asleep a few weeks ago in the middle of resecting a patient’s bowel. How’s that for exhausted?
REPORTER: Does that fishing hat mean there are those times when you do get to get away from it all?
HENRY: What it means is that I have to fish for those times. And let me say, the biting’s pretty poor.
REPORTER: Business is too good around here.
HENRY: Let’s just say it takes a whole lot longer to take a bullet out of a belly than it does putting one into one.
REPORTER: Thank you, sir.
HENRY: Can I say one more thing?
REPORTER: Of course.
HENRY: I just want you to know we all here are grateful for this visit you’ve paid us, this attention you’re paying to the job we’re doing. You get the feeling sometimes, being over here that, aside from our families, we’ve kind of dropped off the planet, that we’ve been kind of disinvited to the party – like everyone back home is busy living their real lives and for us to give them a call when we get back to town. (TO REPORTER) That sound too preachy?
REPORTER: It sounded just fine, Colonel.
HENRY: Henry. I’m a lot more a Henry than I’ll ever be colonel.
REPORTER: Thank you, Henry.
HENRY: Tell me the truth: didn’t that feel better?
REPORTER: You’re an excellent doctor.
HENRY: Hey – that’s why I’m over here getting 300 hundred dollars a month.
And here’s Trapper’s interview:
Trapper John’s The Interview Interview
February 10th, 2006
REPORTER: Captain John McIntyre is a surgeon attached here at the 4077. What they call a chest cutter, is that right, Captain?
TRAPPER JOHN: Right. I look inside ’em for any souvenirs our troops might be trying to smuggle home as souvenirs.
REPORTER: And removing them forthwith.
TRAPPER JOHN: I don’t get into a lot of fights from any patients who want to hold on to them.
REPORTER: A lot of them are very young, is that true?
TRAPPER JOHN: Too young to be doing what they’re doing. Our job’s giving ’em a chance to get old.
REPORTER: You have a most unusual nickname, I’m told. “Trapper John,” is that correct?
TRAPPER JOHN: It’s a hangover from college.
REPORTER: Would you tell us how you got it?
TRAPPER JOHN: The hangover?
REPORTER: The nickname.
TRAPPER JOHN: Nope.
REPORTER: Too personal?
TRAPPER JOHN: Sorry.
REPORTER: Didn’t mean to pry.
TRAPPER JOHN: I’ll tell you the college, if you like.
REPORTER: But not how you –
TRAPPER JOHN: It happened a long time ago. Happened B.M., you could say. Before marriage.
REPORTER: Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to get you into any trouble back home.
TRAPPER JOHN: Let me tell clue you in on something: I wouldn’t mind being in trouble back home one bit. I wouldn’t mind anything if I could be doing it back home.
REPORTER: It’s not easy being this far away.
TRAPPER JOHN: You know what’s easy? Hating being this far away. Hating just being a picture on the mantle that my two little girls say goodnight to.
REPORTER: General Sherman was right, huh? About war being hell?
TRAPPER JOHN: If generals hate war so much, how come they can never wait to get into the next one?
REPORTER: I understand you tried to adopt what you thought was a Korean orphan some time back.
TRAPPER JOHN: I thought I could make us both a little less miserable about what was going on here. Happily, the kid’s mother was still alive.
REPORTER: That would have been a lovely gesture.
TRAPPER JOHN: I’m not big on gestures. Unless there’s some kind of payoff.
REPORTER: Would you like to say hello to your own children right now?
TRAPPER JOHN: Not really. Not as just one more picture in our living room. It’s enough they’re seeing me. That’s a big enough kick for all of us.
REPORTER: Do you feel this experience has in any way helped you as a doctor?
TRAPPER JOHN: Let me ask you a question: just how many people you figure’re going to be carried into my office someday with a chunk of shrapnel sticking out of their heads? I don’t know where you live, pal, but where I come from very few folks ever step on a landmine in the middle of trying to cross the street.
REPORTER: Would you say there’s been any positive aspect of any of this for you at all?
TRAPPER JOHN: Of course, there is. You see people at their best around here – see them coping with the results of what some people can do when they’re at their worst.
REPORTER: The doctors, you mean?
TRAPPER JOHN: The doctors. The nurses. The orderlies – Koreans, mostly. Every day kind of bleeds into the next around here – in every sense of the word -the routine gets to be fairly unmemorable. But I have the feeling that years from now I’m gonna remember each and every one of them. And the face that goes with each one. (A PAUSE; THEN TO THE CAMERA) Hi, sweetheart. Hi, Becky. Hi, Cathy.
And finally, here’s Flagg’s interview:
Flagg’s “The Interview” Interview
February 13th, 2006
REPORTER: As you might imagine, an army field hospital sees an awful lot of traffic in any 24-hour period. A certain percentage of those comings and goings have nothing to do with the medical personnel stationed here with the 4077. We spoke with one such officer on the strict condition that he be allowed to be interviewed only if he could respond to our questions with his back to the camera. Why this was so would soon become apparent – even if his identity did not. May I at least call you by your rank, sir?
FLAGG: I’d prefer you didn’t.
REPORTER: It’s all right to say that you’re an officer, though?
FLAGG: It’s all right to say anything you like. One of the things our country is fighting for over here is the right for anyone and everyone to say anything at all they like. Likewise, it’s my right not to say whatever it is I don’t want to say.
REPORTER: Fair enough.
FLAGG: It’s also my duty to report anyone to the proper authorities for saying something that they thought it was all right to.
REPORTER: I’m not sure I follow.
FLAGG: I’m not sure you realize just how much you do.
REPORTER: When you say “the proper authorities,” can you be a bit more specific?
FLAGG: About what?
REPORTER: About just who “the proper authorities” might be?
FLAGG: If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ll probably never have any occasion to find that out.
REPORTER: And what would qualify as doing something wrong?
FLAGG: Anything, anybody that questions what we’re doing over here – any questions about our leadership.
REPORTER: In short, anything that questions anything at all.
FLAGG: Anything having to do with the war.
REPORTER: Technically, this isn’t a war.
FLAGG: Then technically no one’s dying, right?
REPORTER: And just how does all that concern you, if I may ask?
FLAGG: It’s my job to see that everyone in this effort is all on the same team. That everyone on our side has the right amount of blue and white to go along with however red they might be.
REPORTER: You’re from army intelligence?
FLAGG: You setting up your own punchline? Save it. I’ve heard them all.
REPORTER: Basically speaking, what it is is you’re spying on people.
FLAGG: Spying’s a crass word. I think of what I’m doing as monitoring their patriotism.
REPORTER: And this is all in the cause of freedom?
FLAGG: The price of freedom includes giving up however much of it is required so that you can hold on to the rest.
REPORTER: Do you ever listen to whatever it is you’re saying?
FLAGG: I don’t have that kind of time, really.
REPORTER: I think I’m beginning to understand why it is you won’t face the camera, sir.
FLAGG: Who I am is not important. The more people know about me, the harder is for me to find out about them.
REPORTER: Does that include getting all the dirt you can on the surgeons at this MASH unit? The medical officers?
FLAGG: (Scoffs) Officers. There’re enough bleeding hearts around here to fill up a bucket a minute.
REPORTER: You don’t think that they do their job well?
FLAGG: Saving lives? The odd limb? I’ll give ’em that.
REPORTER: I’m sure they’d appreciate it.
FLAGG: You going to need much more time, fella?
REPORTER: You have to get back to work?
FLAGG: Vigilance is not piecework, friend. It’s not a hobby either.
REPORTER: I’ll let you go then. And I do thank you for your time.
FLAGG: You mind if I ask you a few questions?
REPORTER: Turnabout’s fair play. Shoot.
FLAGG: Not now. Before you go. I did a little research when I heard you were coming here and there’re a couple of organizations you belong to that I’d like to know a little more about.
REPORTER: Anytime you say. I’m not leaving until tomorrow.
FLAGG: Let’s hope you do.
Text copyright © 2006 Larry Gelbart