Text and images © 2010 Peter Kurch.
Tristar International released a line of M*A*S*H figures, vehicles, and a playbase in 1982. What follows is an in-depth look at the Tristar collectibles, written by M*A*S*H fan and avid Tristar collector Peter Kurch. The opinions expressed are based on his experience as a collector and may not represent the entire spectrum of Tristar products.
The character cards are designed with their names on semi-metallic “dog tags” above the plastic blister bubble. Vehicle boxes neatly display a generic G.I. figure and the vehicle in a clear-plastic window with a bold yellow cardboard backdrop.
Both the cards and vehicle boxes feature a white, lime green, and red color scheme. The 1980’s cast photo, signpost, and television title screenshot are displayed on the packaging. I should note that the title screenshot that Tristar used features the injured soldier with his arm dangling down – something that was eventually changed in the opening credits (I’m just not sure which season).
The backs of the packaging were identical, featuring pictures of the three vehicles and prototype versions of the figures that are clearly hand-painted. Based on these pictures, the Klinger in Drag figure features a sculpt that is noticeably different from the final release. A special offer mail-in offer for a M*A*S*H 4077th patch also appears on the packaging.
Tristar’s line included 8 figures on single cards, along with limited 4-pack sets of mixed figures and three vehicles (each with a generic G.I. figure). It is unknown if the Klinger in Drag figure ever made it into these 4-packs.
Tristar designed their line of M*A*S*H figures with 8 points of articulation (compared to Kenner’s 5 points of figure articulation during the same year).
Each M*A*S*H figure included:
- Ball-jointed hips and shoulders
- Swivel-post heads
- Arms and legs with center pins for standard one-way articulation
- A thick elastic band connecting the torso to the hip area
Four figures utilized the same generic “army uniform” sculpt with two paint app differences, mentioned later on in this article.
The ball-joints are connected into the shoulder and hip area via a fish-hook style (white) and straight plastic pin (olive drab). The green pin can be pushed out and the whole arm can be removed – an easy fix for broken limbs.
Each swivel-post head was sculpted to look almost identical to their on-screen counterparts.
Both the arms and legs consist of two pieces that almost connect together as halves to allow for articulation. A connecting pin (made to match the limb color) allows one-way movement and is nicely “capped” off for a smooth-looking finish.
Connected on the inside of the torso halves is a thick elastic band holding the figure together. This band tapers off into a ball that is completely encased in the separate waist and hip area.
Unlike similar figures from the same era, Tristar did not mold peg-holes into the feet. The Copyright, Date Stamp, and Country of Origin are clearly but thinly sculpted on the backs of the figures: “© 1970, 1981 TWENTIETH CENTURY-FOX FILM CORP. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. MADE IN HONG KONG.”
Interestingly, Klinger in Drag, Winchester and Mulcahy feature a different formatted stamp on the back. They read the same, but it’s in a slightly larger font (on Klinger) and the lines are double spaced (on Winchester and Mulcahy). Also, “Hong Kong” is abbreviated on these two figures as “H.K.”
Tristar’s line of 8 figures include the following:
- Captain B.F. Hawkeye Pierce
- Captain B.J. Hunnicutt
- Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger
- Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger in Drag
- Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan
- Colonel Sherman T. Potter
- Father John P. Mulcahy
- Major Charles Emerson Winchester III
Vehicles included a G.I. figure which, in reality, was a blonde-haired version of Hawkeye with an unpainted torso and eyes. A green plastic helmet was included for these figures. It is possible that small amounts of this “blonde Hawkeye” were released on cards.
Hawkeye, B.J., Klinger, and the G.I. all featured the same sculpt as a base for the figures. The stethoscopes and dog tags are accented in silver only on the Hawkeye and B.J. figures. Klinger features painted dog tags but an unpainted stethoscope. On these three characters, the undershirts are painted teal. The generic G.I. (apart from the aforementioned blonde-hair) featured a completely unpainted torso (even with the stethoscope still sculpted on!) B.J. is the only one of the four to feature short-sleeves and flesh-tone arms.
Margaret has unique arms and a torso that were made just for this figure – complete with a molded wrist-watch and brown painted boots. It should also be interesting to note that her flesh tone head and arms are a considerably lighter tone compared to the other figures.
Father Mulcahy and Colonel Potter also feature two unique sculpts; Mulcahy has a sculpted cross and his trademark hat, while Potter clearly sports a regulation uniform complete with his Colonel insignias. Both figures have sculpted glasses that are painted in gold.
The Klinger in Drag figure portrays him in a dress that was never seen on the television series. The legs and torso were molded in pink plastic, with the boots and skin color painted on. His arms are molded in skin tone with the shoulders painted on. A sculpted purse, lace accents, dress wrinkles, and a rose in Klinger’s hair makes this a detailed and hilarious addition to the Tristar LTD M*A*S*H line.
Last but not least, Major Winchester is the only character who was sculpted with a doctors coat. The torso, upper thighs, and arms are molded in white plastic. Olive drab paint completes the upper legs. A stethoscope is accented in silver over a collared shirt with no sculpted dog tags.
Minor paint variations can be seen throughout the line; both the teal undershirts and brown painted eyes can range from light to dark application.
M*A*S*H 4077 Military Base
Tristar’s giant M*A*S*H 4077 Military Base was released alongside the vehicles and figures. This set features an astounding 16 square foot playing area with various tents, barrels, benches, and other set pieces seen on the show. Although not 100% accurate to the series, this playset has plenty to offer.
- Preprinted 16 square foot durable vinyl playmat
- The Mess Tent
- Headquarters (an expanded take on Potter’s tent seen on the series)
- Potter’s Office, Klinger’s Office, and the Post-Op Building
- The Swamp
The vinyl playmat is illustrated with tire tracks, footprints, bordering stones, and even the helicopter pad for Tristar’s Bell Helicopter. It’s tightly folded into a 12 inch by 12 inch square.
The Mess Tent is large enough to fit 4 tables and 8 benches, although getting the figures to sit without tipping the benches over would be a hassle.
The Post-Op Ward would ideally fit 12+ cots in two rows, but even for it’s size as a toy, this Post-Op can only fit 2-3 beds in one row. Klinger’s office in the next room is adequate enough to fit both his bed and his work bench (with a typewriter). Potter’s Office, although bare (even with the included horse painting stickers) allows just enough room for his desk and a stove. Outside lamps (above the double doors) must be attached with double sided tape or glue, which is stated in the instruction booklet.
“Headquarters,” as identified by the instruction booklet, is really an expanded version of the Colonel’s tent on M*A*S*H. His bed, a table, and a shelf can fit into this rather large tent. A bulletin board label sits on the exterior of the tent.
The Swamp! A square foot in size, this tent features the screen-accurate 4 cots, center stove, two shelves, footlockers, a chess table, and a record player for Winchester. An Adirondack chair can be assembled and placed appropriately outside. Tristar did not include the trademark still – but they decided it was okay to print martini glasses on one of the shelf stickers. Their dartboard can be placed on the interior door as an extra detail.
Numerous accessories include the basketball hoop (which fans saw numerous times by this time on the series), Adirondack chairs, crates, medical boxes, footlockers, gas cans, and the iconic signpost seen on the show. “Toledo” seems to have been left off of the signpost for some reason. An entire sticker sheet full of clipboards for Post-Op, paintings, books for the shelves, and signs for the signpost are included (although the adhesive has considerably weakened over the years.) The medical cross stickers for both the playset and the vehicles were inaccurately printed in yellow and red; the reason is unknown.
It should also be noted that the “high-impact” tents that Tristar produced were made out of brittle paper-thin plastic that cracks and snaps with the slightest force. Some pieces were molded and even warped slightly, making the assembly of the extra-large Post-Op extremely difficult. All of the tent pieces “lock” into place via tabs and slots, with most of the wall pieces marked with a letter to match up. The roof of each tent is slightly sturdier, sitting firmly on top with no issues.
All of the previously-mentioned accessories (about 60 in total) are made of a heavy high-quality plastic in olive drab and dark brown colors. The instruction book is “signed” by the Colonel himself.
Tristar released three M*A*S*H vehicles in 1981-1982:
- 4077th Medical Unit Ambulance
- 4077th Medical Unit Jeep
- 4077th Medical Unit Helicopter
Tristar glued everything on these vehicles together, such as seats, windows, steering wheels, and spare gas cans. As the toys have aged, the glue has weakened – which means that these pieces tend to fall loose.
The Ambulance was released in two colors, a lighter green and the normal dark olive drab. The hinged back doors open up and allow room for up to 4 wounded, and the cab doors can fit two figures with a little work. It’s interesting to note that the numbers “4077” don’t appear anywhere on the ambulance, but they appear on the box title. “4084” (a unit that wasn’t even mentioned on the series) is painted on the toy’s bumpers. Why did Tristar do this?
It appears that the Jeep has only been released in the normal olive-drab color. The windshield can be set up or down, held in place by a plastic bar. The jeep does not include the number “4077” either, but instead features “4083”, different from the Ambulance. Interestingly, the stamp on the bottom of the Jeep states something about the design being “4083”. These unit numbers were probably related to the production numbers. A non-removable gas can and spare tire are glued to the back.
The Bell Helicopter is almost 15 inches in length. The cockpit bubble is hinged at the bottom and lowers down for easy placement of the pilot. It snaps back into place when placed upright. A non-movable control stick and blue gauge label sit inside. The sides of the helicopter feature easily removable stretchers, just like on the show. A soft plastic strap holds the G.I.’s in place.
The engine section of the Helicopter is completely glued together (I would have liked to see how the interior mechanism works.) Essentially, two chrome and black wheels on the bottom spin the propellers when they’re turned. Tristar designed these propellers to click as they spin, and they create a sort of high pitched “springy” clicking sound that is reminiscent of the real thing. (I wonder if this was intentional or not.) The wheels sit a little bit too low, which means that the helicopter doesn’t sit entirely flat.
The back propeller “snaps” into place horizontally. A clear plastic disc (and a clear plastic propeller, painted black) are attached together for manual spinning. I’m not sure what the larger disc is for; my guess is that it gives the appearance that it’s quickly rotating. The black paint on this piece is chipping off; it didn’t adhere to the plastic too well.
Labels include a green sticker for the engine section, with the trademark M*A*S*H titling and medical insignia. The back section features the military insignia and the number “4082”, which probably proves that 4084, 4083, and 4082 were related to production numbers because every vehicle used a different sculpt.
If you do decide to collect the Tristar LTD M*A*S*H line, here are a few things to look out for:
Yellowing. Sometimes seen on the clear blister of the cardbacks, the clear windows of the vehicles, or Major Winchester’s white lab coat. The “caps” on the elbow and knee joints can fade a bit, and so can the limbs – especially on the pink Klinger figure.
Oxidization. Father Mulcahy’s glasses, Colonel Potter’s glasses, and Margaret’s wrist-watch were originally painted gold. Sometimes you’ll find the gold paint turned green, and it’s an irreversible chemical change.
Loose Joints. Depending on how heavily the figures were played with, loose shoulder and hip joints are common. Loose hip joints can affect how well the figure stands.
Brittle Plastic. Learned the hard way. While its mostly dependent on what kind of conditions the figure (or vehicle) was subjected to over the years, the neck-posts and other pieces can literally twist off and break with little effort.
Typical Playwear. Since the torso and hips are separate pieces connected by the elastic band, plastic-on-plastic scuff marks are tell-tale signs of play on the top of the hip section. The elastic bands are surprisingly strong, but over exerting them can cause them to snap. Finally, light to heavy paint wear on the hands and hair are commonly seen.
Published June 6th, 2008
Last updated March 5th, 2013