A TGB READER STORY: Aaah, the Good Old Days
Decoding Medical Bills

M*A*S*H in Old Age

You may think a 40-odd-year-old TV show has nothing to do with growing old. I would have said that too until I took a new look at M*A*S*H, as a 78-year-old. Let me explain.

Before I settle down to sleep, I have now and then been watching a rerun of the 1970's sitcom M*A*S*H. They're short, 30 minutes, just the right length to take me out of the concerns of my day before falling off into limbo until morning.

The show had been a favorite when it was first broadcast way back when (1972-1983) and it is no less so now. It's great fun watching Hawkeye, BJ, Hot Lips, Klinger, Radar, Frank Burns, Trapper and all the rest of the cast again. Not to mention some of the best writing in the history of television.

Until this new viewing, I had not realized how much I identified – and still do - with Hawkeye.

The show specialized in my kind of gallows humor, and I don't get tired of Hawkeye's and Klinger's efforts to escape the horrors of a war neither of them believe in while tending to the often gruesome medical needs of the wounded and dying young soldiers.

The reason I'm writing about a TV show that's nearly half a century old is that it struck me a week or two ago that there is not much daylight between Hawkeye and me. Klinger too.

We each find ourselves in an impossible predicament over which we have little control and is likely to kill us at any time. North Korean bombs in the case of Hawkeye; a nasty disease in mine.

Of course, anyone's instinct is to get out of the way as fast as possible but both of us are trapped having to make the best of that predicament. Hawkeye resorts to women, pranks, mordant jokes, his beloved martinis conjured from homemade gin in the tent he shares with BJ along with a strong sense of decency and compassion.

My defenses include never pretending that my disease won't kill me, doing my best to follow my doctors' instructions, keeping myself honest about the cancer by writing about it here, some mordant jokes along with a strong sense of moral outrage aimed at the current U.S. administration.

What struck me a few nights ago after watching a M*A*S*H episode is that the sitcom is an excellent course in coping with dread in the face of Hawkeye's and my individual predicaments.

It is easy with a diagnosis of terminal cancer to feel despair, wishing even that the wait for the end be over soon. But after watching M*A*S*H, which I do two or three times a week, I feel empowered to persevere, that there are people I love I want to spend more time with, books to read and this blog where you, dear readers, allow me to hold forth on whatever crazy ideas I have.

No matter how discouraged Hawkeye and his M*A*S*H cohorts become, they rely on each other to keep going in frightening circumstances and do you think the writers and actors imagined that even 50 years later, they could inspire me to do the same in my own predicament.

Or, maybe you already know this and I am just a very slow learner.

As I was winding up writing this, I checked the web to see if anyone else had ever found such inspiration in the show. Lo, on exactly this day one year ago, Howard Fishman, writing in The New Yorker (how did I, a lifelong subscriber, miss it), was a year ahead of me.

The piece is titled, “What M*A*S*H Taught Us” and Fishman concludes:
“In 1968, the notion that our true enemy could be the callousness, hypocrisy, and small-minded ignorance of our own leaders was fashionable. Fifty years later, it’s become evergreen.”

Let's end with a fine monologue from Hawkeye, a eulogy when a nurse is killed by a landmine following a date with him, that is more explicit about the show's goals beyond exquisitely rendered entertainment.



Comments

I identify with Col Sherman T Potter (Played by Harry Morgan - one fine actor - born in 1915) who made no bones about being old. I particularly appreciated the episode in which he had a one-nighter with Brandy Doyle (played by Gwen Verdon - another fine actor - born in 1925), a fading performer with a USO group. Potter labeled Doyle and himself as "old war horses" (they would have been in their mid-60s and mid-50s, respectively in the episode) and they were not made up to look "younger".

Unfortunately, except for Maj Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan (played by Loretta Switt), there weren't enough women (or meat to their roles) in the cast for most of us women to find one with whom to identify, I suspect.

I share your enthusiasm for Mash and Hawkeye, especially. I had a crush on him back then, and he did not shrink in my estimation as he aged.

There was always so much wisdom sprinkled in between the jokes and banter. We need shows like that now!!

"Mash" comes from another era. For me, it was Denver. I, too, was of just that "age" when I
questioned everything. I still watch that sitcom as I find it relevant even now. In "Mash",
the actors always seem the same age. Now when I see them, I'm shocked until I realize that
I too have aged the same way. I suppose it was thus for every generation before us. B

I loved Hawkeyes speech . Thank you for sharing it.

M*A*S*H was beautiful & so are you, Ronni.

Thanks, I will start to watch this show again just as you do. You are an inspiration!

Wow! How beautiful! Thank you very much, Ronni, what a scene! When M*A*S*H* was in vogue, where was I???? Oh, I just did the math, I had just moved to the woods and thrown out my TV. It was a fine 7 years without it, but look what I missed! What a gift, I'll watch it now! Thanks again. Inspiring for all of us. A good learning.

I loved M*A*S*H when it came out, but I haven't thought about it in decades. I'll give it another look. Thanks. Great clip.

I didn't watch the show when it was in prime time. Have never been one to seek out the comedies. But later, when I was working and it aired in reruns at 10:30 every night, it became my bedtime story. There are still nights I wish I had it again.

I started watching MASH with my mother when I was 12, in 1972. I chose the show because I love physical comedy. However, since my mom was watching the show with me, she encouraged me to really listen to the characters. What she didn't realize, I always listened.

I still watch MASH reruns when I need to reaffirm the humanity in words and deeds these characters bring during a difficult time. Life, death, all or nothing to help others. While they fill the duties of people who never and never will understand the decisions made behind a desk.

Thanks for your thoughts and the excerpt.

Thanks Ronni for sharing every thing you do. You are loved by all who read your posts. I still watch the program when I find it. I have the videos of the entire series and nothing to play them on now when the VHS went kaput. That makes me sad, what to do with them.

Hawkeye was a little too handy with the wisecracks for me. Nice to see him relax and reveal honest emotion for a change.

Oh I was probably a number one fan, if there was a fan club for MASH. I loved the live series, and re-runs so much that I now look at the guide for which one is being shown, and decide most of the time to skip watching them again for the 10th (or more) time. But MASH inspired me to be a pacifist, as well as the Vietnam war. Actually it was not long after the Korean conflict that it came out, which was a very bold move for entertainment, but they couldn't very well have a comedy about Vietnam (yet.)

Thanks for the reminder, Ronni. I loved this show and still do. It was the most continuously profound thing I have ever seen or heard. It moved me, and taught me, and delighted me, and reminded me of the important things in life for 30 minutes every week. It's as vivid today as it was the first day I ever saw it.

A re-visit is called for at this stage in my life, too.

Part of the show's appeal was its ability for the audience to identify with the characters. There was something , and someone, for everybody. This is why the final episode of M*A*S*H remains to this day as the most watched (105 million) TV show final episode of all time.

I have all the seasons of M*A*S*H on DVDs. My husband could and did watch them every day. I see watch them occasionally when I can't sleep. They never really get dated.

I don't like Facebook language but if I could, I would just give this post a big old heart.

Yes just today a pet scan confirmed lung cancer. I'm with you. This is the kind of humor i need at the end of a tiring day of doctor's.

One of my favorite quotes from the series was from the character Sidney friedman. "Anger turned inward is depression, anger turned sideways is Hawkeye." Given your situation, I think you can fully understand the meaning.

Great reinforcement of wisdom we all need.

I was 14 when the series began coming off the death of my father and a major flood I never watched the series when it first ran. Decades later, when I was in my fifties I rediscovered the show and realized just how smartly the writing was. I enjoy this show so much that I watch it every day and it is one of my two all-time favorite shows The Rockford Files the other. I too, get lost in the show and find that the show in all its reality was decades ahead of its time. you can now see every episode on Hulu and they are all unedited. worth the price for Hulu

I always figured that hawkeye would be the doctor known as “The Butcher,” his skills well deteriorated due to alcohol, and with a multitude of #metoo sexual harassment complaints against him. Probably multiple divorces, too.

Or was someone going to change his “I’m always right” arrogance? :) A wife, perhaps?

I enjoy the show, though.

You won’t see shows like MASH anymore. It was too politically incorrect. It glorified alcohol and objectified women. Regarding one reader’s comment regarding women of content, you’re right. They didn’t exist other than Margaret made the rank of major. But think back to one episode with Kelleye when Hawkeye didn’t see her for who she is.

Did you know Kellye Nakahara was the first Asian actor to not play an Asian character in Hollywood? She was also in the most episodes (six less than Gary Burghoff) without being presented as one of the stars in the lead in.

Great article...Thank You for your insights...

I absolutely love M*A*S*H. Although I have seen every episode 100s of times I can still watch it and laugh. There aren't many shows these days that can do that.

I spent my childhood watching sitcoms, especially M*A*S*H. I can only imagine how much my personality reflects the characters from the show, Hawkeyes humor, Radars childlike innocence, Klingers devotion to his responsibilities, while trying to get out of the military. Every character from the show holds a place in my heart. Harry Morgan's character probably made the biggest impact in my life. As stern as he could be, as a career Army man, he appreciated his people and loved them like his own family. It will forever be known as a great show, and a model for sitcoms. I also was a huge fan of Get Smart and Hogan's Heroes. Each of them sculpted my humor, and the way I deal with less than ideal situations. Even Star Trek's TOS and TNG made impacts in my life. They dealt with alternate versions of modern day events, like racism. Even Mister Rogers dealt with difficult events for adults, much less children, to deal with from day to day. When African Americans were swimming in a pool with whites, and we're attacked by racists, Mister Rogers broke that line by sharing a foot soak with Francois Clemens, a homosexual black man. He told Francois several times, in a song, that he loved him just the way he is, and it took Me Clemens two years to realize that he was actually speaking directly to him, not just singing a song. Mr Clemens had never received that kind of love from any father figure prior to that, which garnered Fred Rogers the greatest love and respect from Francois Clemens, from that point. These are the special people, special characters, and special moments I've treasured in my life. If you surround yourself with kindness, respect, and love, you'll always be rich!

Thank you Ronnie. I too just rediscovered MASH. I adored this series when it aired. My father was a career Army man who served as a surgeon in a MASH unit in Italy during WWII. He remained in the Army for 33 years. During that time he formed a MASH unit in Western Kentucky. Watching MASH reminds me of my times with my father. This series is so well written and brought the characters to life. I so appreciate your wisdom, Ronnie. Thank you.

I still find myself watching MASH anytime it’s on and still watch in amazement how these tv doctors and nurses executed their jobs in what to me was the worst place to be in the world at that time, all while keeping it together and at times enjoying it. To this day I find myself thinking if I was Hawkeye what would I do in a particular event or occasion.....forever a MASH fan Scott

I really did not get into M*A*S*H until maybe the 9th season. I'm sorry it took me that long. My father loved the show and I got a charge watching and listening to him roar with laughter. As long as it is on in reruns, I will forever be a M*A*S*H watcher.

Ronnie, this was beautiful. It would be an honor to be your friend and I envy those that are. I'm 24 and have watched the show for years, and I too connect with the same gallows humor after a far share in my own life and it is a hardship not many bear, to be in a position of such caliber but I do wish you and your family all love and strength through this. With generous gratitude I thank you for everything you are an I will keep you in mind whenever I watch the show, B

Call me weird, but I loved Colonel Flagg.He did everything deadpan.Good actor

My husband and I still watch it every day from 7 -8 PM. on METV.
Perfect cast. The best show ever .

To Mage B--I am so sorry about your pet scan. You must be in shock.
Good luck to you!

Check out the speech/sermon by the father to the bishop, very powerful. With Patrick Swayze guest starring.

For those who can't seem to find it, HULU shows MASH reruns. I have it added to my shows list.

Mage B and Ronnie, my heart is with you both as you bravely walk the path you now have to face. I have loved M*A*S*H from the first showing to now. The characters were human and showed the diversity of our world. They addressed how one might react to horrible situations due to war. I cried, laughed, hated, learned to love again and felt remorse with them through every episode. It was difficult to pick a favorite as they all impacted my life. Watching reruns brings back all those memories and reminds me how short life really is, and how we should get to see each other face to face before we hate and rage war. Ronnie and Mage, I love you and wish I could be there to help hold you both up as you travel your journey, just as the characters of M*A*S*H held each other up.

If your cable company includes WGN with your package, M*A*S*H is included in the line-up.

It's funny that you mention M*A*S*H as a source of renewed inspiration. Within the last year I, too, have begun regularly watching M*A*S*H reruns. I am continually amused, delighted, and moved by the characters, the writing and the underlying messages. I missed many episodes during the original run while serving in the U.S. Air Force overseas. I find that watching the series now is like seeing it for the first time. It remains timeless, ageless and epically entertaining. Hawkeye reminds me so much of my best friend in the Air Force who has now passed on. The entire cast, from the original characters to the final ensemble, are much like my Air Force Band of Brothers. Even now in 2019, M*A*S*H remains relevant, because for me, the M*A*S*H family IS the family I never had.

The year I started watching M*A*S*H* was 1994. At that time I was 10, parents were getting divorced, moved to another state and was dealing with all that. The characters especially Hawkeye helped me get through all that. His sense of humor rubbed off on me, and has helped in both the good times and the bad times. Sometimes you have to look for comedy in a bad situation and laugh to keep going to get through the day. Sometimes you joke around to make others laugh or bring a smile to their face. Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine.

Just listening to the theme song always makes me sad thinking how many we’ve lost in our lives. Loved the show and still do.

Yes Ronni:
I was 12 years old when Mash was originally aired. I had always loved the show even then for its humor one moment and the next show you would be wiping tears. Now I am almost 62 years old and even though I am older and do have a number of health conditions that could take me down much sooner than later, I still turn to this show as a way to get me through the rough patches when I get tired and depressed. I thought years ago that Alan Alda was not just handsome and funny but today, he is not only older but such a wise man as well as what his character brought to Mash. Also I have also learned to appreciate all the casts including all the fine actors but also what Harry Morgan brought to Col Potter role.

Thanks for reminding us what a great show Mash was and still his. Also, I will keep you in prayers as well Ronni

Thank you, Ronni, for your beautiful tribute to MASH and your courage to share your own situation (so beautifully written) with all of us. The responses have also been touching and have made me realize how important MASH has been in so many of our lives. Sending love and prayers to you.
I watch the reruns EVERY DAY.
I never get tired of watching genius.

Before my return from Afghanistan I was interviewed by our local newspaper “The Saratogian”. When asked what I wad looking forward to I said a nice cold glass of milk. The milk we had was awful tasting shelf stable milk. It wasn’t until years ago I was watching the final episode when Hawkeye said he looked forward to a cold glass of milk. My hob in the Army was closer to Radar’s. Love M*A*S*H*

I don't have a terminal illness, but an everlasting one with Fibro, and look forward to Heaven some day without pain. MASH met pain in many ways and each day is better when an episode or two can be watched. I am sure those wonderful actors and writers didn't realize what a blessing they would be for so many years. I, too, liked Kelley and find her everpresent goodness to be comforting.

I too am dying from cancer, metastatic lung. Not much longer now. But I like the sentiment of the story, every now and then something like this happens to me and make my day a little bit better.

M*A*S*H* is also shown on MeTV.

I have Hawkeye to thank for my sense of humor. I have always been a joker but i learned how to refine my wit and sarcasm from Hawkeye. MASH holds a special place in my life. I can recite shows verbatim and yet my wife and I watch MASH and laugh at the same shows over and over. I have a favorite episode I always look for. DEAR SIGMUND.

I remember how much my cousin and I would groan when our parents would watch M*A*S*H when we were kids (at the time, I was more into Three's Company). We both recently talked about how ironic it is that he and I are now huge fans of the show! I had to have seen each episode at least 5 or 6 times. By the way, Three's Company doesn't hold up very well...

Thank You, Ronni and Thank You to all who shared their reactions, their sufferings and the enlightenment that M*A*S*H gave them. I just wanna hug you all and send you wishes that you may have more joy and that blessings be bountiful for you!

Thank you for sharing. MASH is undoubtedly my favourite show and has had a huge influence on my life. Hawkeye and BJ especially are close to my heart.

I have every copy and the M+A+S+H cap (hat)

Always enjoyed watching M*A*S*H lots of funny moments Klinger, Frank Hawkeye etc Sometimes watch on Sky (pay t.v) 🐹

That sir was a great read this morning. I wish you the best of luck with your disease . Thank you for a wonderful story!

I was an army medic love mash . watched every episode 100th of times.i have a11 year old granddaughter she loves it also we sit and watch every Sunday morning . We even have mash tee shirt we wear when we are watching mash .thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

ONE OF MY FAVORITE QUOTES CAME FROM MAJOR FREEMAN”PEOPLE TAKE MY ADVICE PULL DOWN YOUR PANTS AND SLIDE ON THE ICE”

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