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American television series
M*A*S*H, American television dramedy series that aired on CBS for 11 seasons (1972–83). It was based on the 1970 motion picture of the same name directed by Robert Altman. The show enjoyed excellent ratings and critical acclaim, with its final episode drawing the largest audience to date for a television episode. M*A*S*H won 14 Emmy Awards over its run, and it received a Peabody Award in 1975.
Set in South Korea during the Korean War, M*A*S*H followed the medical staff who cared for the wounded in a mobile army surgical hospital. Initially, the series focused on the characters that had been established in Altman’s film, with the two lead roles being the army surgeons Capt. Benjamin Franklin (“Hawkeye”) Pierce (played by Alan Alda) and Capt. (“Trapper”) John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers). Although talented physicians, Hawkeye and Trapper were unlikely soldiers. Both had nonconformist personalities and strong affinities for nurses and bootleg liquor. Their antics routinely outraged their straitlaced superior officers: Maj. Margaret (“Hot Lips”) Houlihan (Loretta Swit), the ranking nurse; Maj. Frank Burns (Larry Linville), their nemesis during the 1972–77 seasons; and Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester (David Ogden Stiers), their priggish foil from 1977 until the end of the series. The base was officially commanded by incompetent but genial Lieut. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and later in the series (1975–83) by irascible Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan). However, the base’s operation was held together by the company clerk, Corp. “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff, reprising the role he had played in the film). Another corporal, Max Klinger (Jamie Farr), frequently cross-dressed in the hope that it would earn him a medical discharge and flight home.
Despite significant cast changes during the course of its run—including the departure of Rogers, replaced as Hawkeye’s partner in crime by Capt. B.J. Honeycutt, played by Mike Farrell—the series maintained its continuity through its consistently strong performances and writing (most notably by producer Larry Gelbart). The complex characters were able to learn and grow over time, evolving in a style seldom seen in sitcoms. The series was also unique in its use of multiple plotlines, visually handled by longer takes and tracking shots that changed direction as the story line moved from one character to another. Though set during an earlier war, M*A*S*H aired during and in the wake of the Vietnam War, and the antiwar message was never far from viewers’ minds.
Harry Morgan, original name Harry Bratsburg, (born April 10, 1915, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.—died December 7, 2011, Los Angeles, California), American actor best known for his television work, particularly as the gruff but kindhearted Col. Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H.
He was raised in Muskegon, Michigan. He enrolled at the University of Chicago in 1933, but, lacking the funds to continue, he found work selling office supplies. He began acting in summer stock productions while working in Washington, D.C., and debuted professionally opposite Frances Farmer in At Mrs. Beam’s at the Westchester Playhouse in Mount Kisco, New York, in 1937. He joined the Group Theatre in New York City that year and tread the boards opposite Farmer again in Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy.
After appearing in several other Broadway productions, he moved to California in 1942 and was signed by 20th Century Fox after a scout saw him in a staging of Hello Out There. Bratsburg made his film debut that year in To the Shores of Tripoli, a World War II recruitment movie, under the name Henry Morgan. He later performed as Harry Morgan to avoid confusion with another actor. In 1943 he starred opposite Henry Fonda in the gritty western The Ox-Bow Incident. Morgan then accepted supporting roles as a tenant farmer in Dragonwyck (1946) and as a lecherous soda jerk in The Gangster (1947).
Though he continued to appear in films, among them the moralistic western High Noon (1952) and Inherit the Wind (1960), about the Scopes trial, Morgan spent much of the latter portion of his career on the small screen. He had a recurring role on the situation comedy December Bride (1954–59), which led to the development of Pete and Gladys (1960–62), a spin-off focusing on the marriage of his character, Pete Porter. Morgan then starred in the police procedural Dragnet 1967 (1967–70), a revival of an earlier series that had featured his on-screen partner, Jack Webb.
Morgan’s stint (1975–83) on M*A*S*H as the irascible Colonel Potter, for which he won an Emmy Award for best supporting actor in 1980, was his defining role. The show, a comedy-drama about a U.S. mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) in South Korea during the Korean War, was widely praised for its sharp humour, though it courted controversy with its antiwar tone. Morgan reprised the role in the short-lived spin-off After MASH (1983–84).
Morgan also appeared in the television miniseries Roots: The Next Generations (1979) and as U.S. Pres. Harry Truman in Backstairs at the White House (1979). He continued to make television guest appearances into the 1990s.
American actor, director, and screenwriter
Alan Alda, original name Alphonso Joseph d’Abruzzo, (born January 28, 1936, New York City, New York, U.S.), American actor, director, and screenwriter best known for his role in the long-running television series M*A*S*H (1972–83).
Alda was the son of actor Robert Alda (1914–86). He attended Fordham University before acting in such Broadway plays as The Apple Tree and The Owl and the Pussycat. After gaining notice for his performance in such motion pictures as Paper Lion (1968) and The Mephisto Waltz (1971), he became a star on television in the role of Capt. “Hawkeye” Pierce, a wisecracking but soulful U.S. Army surgeon during the Korean War, in the popular television comedy M*A*S*H. Alda cowrote and directed many of the show’s episodes and won numerous Emmy Awards. His later television work included recurring roles on ER; The West Wing, for which he won an Emmy; 30 Rock; The Big C; The Blacklist; and Ray Donovan. He also appeared in the Web series Horace and Pete (2016), Louis C.K.’s comedy about the goings-on at a bar. In addition, Alda hosted the TV series Scientific American Frontiers from 1993 to 2007.
Alda appeared in numerous films, including Same Time, Next Year (1978), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Flirting with Disaster (1996), What Women Want (2000), Tower Heist (2011), Wanderlust (2012), The Longest Ride (2015), Bridge of Spies (2015), and Marriage Story (2019). He received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for his performance in The Aviator (2004). Films he directed included Sweet Liberty (1986) and Betsy’s Wedding (1990).
Hear Alan Alda speak about his preparations for playing iconoclastic physicist Richard Feynman in the drama QED (2001)
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Alda made occasional returns to Broadway as well, appearing in Jake’s Women (1992), QED (2001–02), Glengarry Glen Ross (2005), and Love Letters (2014). His books included Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned (2005), Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007), and If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating (2017).