Episode Spotlight: George


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

“George” (#46, 2×22)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 16th, 1974
Written by Regier and Markowitz
Directed by Gene Reynolds

Capsule Summary: Frank plots to get a dishonorable discharge for a thrice-wounded soldier wants to go back to his unit despite being attacked by his fellow soldiers for being a homosexual.

Given the subject matter of this episode it’s only natural to wonder how exactly Larry Gelbart & Co. managed to get it on the air. In the early 1970s, with few exceptions, homosexuality didn’t have much of a place on television in the United States. There definitely weren’t a lot of positive portrayals of homosexuality. As James H. Wittebols points out in Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America, M*A*S*H during its first year on the air featured what he terms “mainstream” homophobia: jokes about homosexuality and instances in which homosexuality was used as a threat or as evidence of mental instability.

Wittebols also points out that it is unlikely a real 1950s-era MASH unit would have dealt with a homosexual soldier as decently as this episode did. Instead, “George” was a reflection of the changing attitude towards homosexuality in the media and society in general. Asked in December 2004 if 20th Century-Fox or CBS had problems with the episode, Larry Gelbart posted this response to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup:

Not from Fox. Fox was not interested in content (merely cost). But CBS was exteremely [sic] nervous about this epsidode [sic]. The subject was more to be avoided than confronted in those days. The network demanded certain changes and it was a challenge to place them while maintaining the integrity if the idea.

I wish we knew what changes CBS insisted on. Does anyone have access to an early script for the episode? Father Mulcahy’s football game and Hawkeye’s weak throwing arm don’t add much to the episode. I wonder if cuts had to be made to the script and these were added to the episode to pad it to length.

It’s interesting to note that Private Weston doesn’t have much of a role in the episode. He’s really nothing more than a plot point to pit homophobic Frank against Hawkeye and Trapper. We don’t know anything about him other than the fact that he has been wounded three times and drank too much and talked too much while on leave, leading to his assault. In an August 2002 post to the alt.tv.mash Newsgroup, Gelbart suggested that “George” may have been the first time television attempted to deal with gay bashing.

It’s a little surprising that Margaret didn’t seem to care at all about Weston, although she was certainly surprised.

The plan hatched by Hawkeye and Trapper to keep Frank from sending his letter doesn’t make any sense. It’s plausible they could fake a fight to convince Frank that Trapper was on his side. It’s less believable that they knew they would be able to get Frank to let slip a big secret that they could use to blackmail him. Furthermore, why would Frank even worry about them telling people he bought the answers to his medical exams? They had no proof and he could simply deny having ever said anything.

Private Weston shares his secret with Hawkeye

During surgery at the start of the episode, Hawkeye and Frank share a brief but actual moment of professional cooperation. Hawkeye’s insult about the two going into partnership together was uncalled for.

Why exactly is Radar giving Colonel Blake his physical and not one of the doctors?

This was the first of three episodes written by the writing team of John W. Regier and Gary Markotwitz (credited as Regier and Markowitz). The others are “Payday” (Season 3) and “Some 38th Parallels” (Season 4). Markowitz would later write a fourth episode on his own and contribute the story to a fifth.

Although the title of this episode is “George” and Richard Ely is credited simply as George, his character is only referred to as Private Weston or just Weston, never George.

George Simmons is included in the closing credits for playing a character named Simmons. I’m assuming Simmons is the unnamed soldier in Post-Op with his face wrapped in bandages.

Klinger does not appear in this episode.

20 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: George”

  1. I think this episode was a bold subject to tackle especially when audiences were still not used to seeing gay characters on screen. That said, very little time is devoted to the actual person the episode is named after. Just a brief mention of him being wounded and then his confession to Hawkeye. That’s about the extent of it.

    More time is spent on people’s reactions to this revelation. Frank, especially, who thinks it’s a perversion. Hawkeye’s reaction is interesting considering he came from this little tiny town in Maine and didn’t seem all that fazed when confronted with the knowledge about the soldier.

    Considering the time the episode aired and the content, Larry Gelbart was extremely brave in writing and getting this episode on air. I don’t think there were any other shows at that time that dealt with the subject of homosexuality this openly. They were taking a risk and the payoff was that this episode is very very unmemorable.

  2. I’ve just seen this episode and the lines where Weston tells Hawkeye about the drinking with his buddies and the revelation of his homosexuality were cut.

    From memory, Weston and Hawkeye stop in the compound and…

    Weston: one guy was a homosexual and one was black
    Hawkeye: So you’re a negro?

    Those two lines were cut. Bizarre.

    1. I just watched it on Netflix. The lines were intact. Where were you watching it? Could it be that your local station censored it?

  3. There is an episode transcript here. Just search for “negro” and you’ll see the bit that was cut.

    Well, Doc, two guys got beat up in my outfit: One colored and one homosexual.

    So you’re a Negro? Who’d have guessed?

    1. This was actually in the episode. Not sure if it was cut from the actual broadcast or not. Im watching the series on Netflix and just finished this episode. Great episode and was great to see this subject matter on television and the reaction that hawkeye had to it. Great job to the writers!

  4. I am very curious as to how the people who were young and watching this episode when it first came out reacted. It took 40 years after the release of this episode for gay marriage to be legal all across the country, and there are still a lot of people trying to fight it. Incidentally the year this episode came out was also the year that homosexuality was determined not to be a mental disease, but I’m betting a lot of people still considered it to be one.

  5. This episode is quite anachronistic, looking at homosexuality in the conservative early fifties with a seventies liberal viewpoint. Our local station didn’t edit it back then, but I think they did run a disclaimer.

    For another seventies take on the subject, watch the episode of All In the Family “Judging Books by Covers”.

  6. There so many examples of anachronisms in MASH. Margaret’s 70’s hair styles and makeup which appear from time to time. Long collars as worn by Col Potters son-in-law. Immigrants working in fields as quoted by Charles and him saying, ‘ever since we came to this country we have had problems with immigrants’. Mention of credit cards and parking meters, and many other such examples.
    A great deal also related to the Vietnam war and anti- commie/red bigotry which stands true even for today.

    1. Parking meters existed in the Fifties. Meter Maids, however, didn’t come along until 1960. There was also the Diner’s Club card, first introduced in 1950, although credit cards as we know them didn’t exist until 1958, also Hawkeye and BJ’s hairstyles (and his mustache!) Some other anachronisms included Radar’s comic books, and I believe some of the references to movies & TV shows not yet made. Also, Truman seemed to be President throughout the series even though it ended in 1953 when Eisenhower would have been President, and MacArthur was never fired.

  7. Did anyone notice right before the end of Act I the background color was darker than earlier in the scene? The scene concludes with Frank bluntly telling Hawkeye and Trapper he plans to send a letter to Division concerning Pvt. Weston hoping Weston would get dishonorably discharged. IMO, this soured me on the whole episode because I’m sure few viewers wanted Frank to have his way.

  8. i just noticed a possible goof recently. When Radar is looking in Henry Blake’s ear an says he sees something that looks like a little Nativity scene, Gary Burghoff is holding the otoscope in such a way that he couldn’t actually see inside McLean Stevenson’s ear. I took audiology in college and handled otoscopes; you have to stick the instrument inside the ear canal to see anything (You’ve probably had a doctor do this to you at some point). In the episode, the otoscope does not appear to be inside of Henry Blake’s ear canal.

  9. Rewatching this episode on Sundance’s MASH Marathon, decades after its first broadcast, is amazing. Sundance cut nothing, as far as I can tell. The terms homosexual & negro … I had almost forgotten the many levels of meaning in the words. I’m grateful they seem to have mostly vanished…even though there are groups which would like to bring them back, sadly.

  10. I know little about military regulations so answer this if you can. What would happen to Pvt. Weston if Frank’s letter to Division was mailed and they agreed that Weston should be dishonorably discharged? What would be the ramifications of receiving that kind of discharge?

    1. As a former military wife, I can tell you that dishonorable discharges mean:
      Lifetime loss of the right to vote
      No VA benefits
      In most states, no firearm ownership
      Lifetime ban from working for the government
      Lifetime ban of any type of public assistance
      Inability to qualify for bank loans.

      It’s a punitive discharge, reserved for those engaged in criminal activity. Dishonorable discharges can only be issued by a court-martial.

  11. “Hawkeye and Frank share a brief but actual moment of professional cooperation.”
    I think at this stage Frank still has some redeemable qualities or sympathetic moments, rather than the cardboard cut-out villain/antagonist/punching bag he was by season 5.
    Is it early in this season that, after Hawk is seen resting in bed at episode’s end (the episode where every other doctor is flu-ridden? – ah probably is, I’ve checked: ‘Carry On Hawkeye’), Burns is happily smiling bedside at Hawk along with everyone else. Can’t see that happening post-break up with Margaret!
    Other examples of cooperation/similar with Trapper & Hawk: “Why can’t I remain mad at you guys?!”; Frank’s few attempts at Trapper-bonding; and so on …

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