RAH Humor Review:
The M*A*S*H Novels
by Dave Bealer
This review first appeared in the November 1994 issue of Random Access
Copyright © 1994 Dave Bealer, All Rights Reserved.
In 1968 the United States seemed to be flipping it's collective lid.
It was a year of riots and assassinations at home, meanwhile young
Americans were laying down their lives in the jungles of Southeast
Asia. In the midst of this insanity came an appropriately insane
novel, one that recalled the exploits of some other young Americans,
from the previous generation, who served in another Asian land war
that wasn't officially a war.
M*A*S*H, by Richard Hooker, recounts the exploits of the surgeons,
nurses, and support staff of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH)
during the Korean War. The novel was well received, being compared
by reviewers to that classic novel of military insanity, Catch-22.
In fact M*A*S*H would go on to surpass Catch-22 in commercial
success, inspiring a hit movie, and even bigger hit television series.
The motion picture M*A*S*H was released in 1970, and starred Donald
Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, and Robert Duvall.
I first saw the movie that summer at a drive-in theater with my parents. I
loved it! It was funny and poked fun at authority; just the kind of thing to
appeal to a twelve-year-old. My mother was quite upset by the film, although
she claimed to be more bothered by the blood in the surgical scenes than by
the dialogue, which included several words I would have been slapped for
Within a few years a hit situation comedy based on the novel and
movie was developed by Larry Gelbart. It ran for eleven years, and
made stars out of Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swit, Mike
Farrell, David Ogden Stiers, Gary Burghoff, Jamie Farr, and virtually
everyone who landed a major role in the show. A top-ten rated series
for most of its original run, M*A*S*H is still a popular resident
of syndication, and is well known to most people.
Rather less well known is the fact that Richard Hooker, who did not
participate in the production of either the movie or the TV series,
went on to write several sequels to the original novel. I found some
of them in used book stores starting in the late 1970s.
It should be noted that these books continue the characters as
developed in the original novel, on which the movie was based, and
have nothing whatever to do with the TV series. This means that if
your only exposure to M*A*S*H has been through the sitcom, you really
need to read the original M*A*S*H novel and M*A*S*H Goes To
Maine before starting any of the others. As a single example of the
inconsistencies, the TV Hawkeye was an only child whose father was a
physician. Hawkeye as presented in these novels is from a large
family, the brood of a Maine lobsterman.
M*A*S*H Goes To Maine
M*A*S*H Goes To Maine, by Richard Hooker, was published in
hardcover by William Morrow in February 1972. The Pocket Book
paperback reprint came out in January 1973. This books picks up the
tale of Hawkeye Pierce shortly after his return from Korea. After
passing his general surgical boards, Hawkeye is persuaded by Trapper
John to move to the New York City area for a couple of years and
complete his residency in thoracic surgery. Hawkeye turns down an
invitation to become a part of the "Cardia Nostra," the big league of
heart surgeons to which Trapper belongs. Instead he returns to Maine,
there to reside in Crabapple Cove while becoming the top surgeon in
nearby Spruce Harbor. By the end of the book Hawkeye manages to lure
the rest of the inmates of "The Swamp" to Spruce Harbor where they
continue their madcap antics. Oddly, one of the best chapters in
this screwball comedy is the serious, tear-jerking tale of Hawkeye's
attempts to save the life of Jonas "Moose" Lord, a lobsterman who had
been a friend to every kid growing up in Crabapple Cove for years
(including the young Hawkeye).
The rest of these novels were cowritten by Richard Hooker and William
E. Butterworth. They were published as paperbacks by Pocket Books.
They all have advertising language on their covers relating them to
the M*A*S*H TV series, although (as mentioned) they having nothing to
do with that show. The sitcom *was* one of the most popular shows on
the air when these novels were published, which explains everything.
M*A*S*H Goes To New Orleans
M*A*S*H Goes To New Orleans was released in January 1975. In this
story, Hawkeye is drugged by his loving wife and spirited to New Orleans
by Trapper John. The idea is to get Hawkeye well out of the way while his
fourth child is born, since he was driving everyone nuts. While in New
Orleans, our heroes try desperately to avoid attending any convention
sessions of the American Tonsil, Adenoid and Vas Deferens Society (Francis
Burns, M.D. - Public Affairs Vice President). By several extraordinary
coincidences (read: plot devices), a few other 4077 alumni are staying in
the same hotel. These include Hot Lips, Father (now Archbishop) John Mulcahy,
and Jean-Pierre "Horsey" de la Chevaux, a former infantry sergeant whose
leg was once saved at the 4077th MASH. Horsey, now a petroleum millionaire,
is a regular inhabitant of these novels. He's usually accompanied by his
comrades, the drunken members of the Bayou Perdu Council, Knights of Columbus.
M*A*S*H Goes To Paris
M*A*S*H Goes To Paris was also released in January 1975. The
French government is giving out awards, and the recipients include
Radar O'Reilly, mid-western fast food tycoon, and Hot Lips, who is
now a religious leader. A new regular character introduced here is
Boris Korsky-Rimsakov, a world renown opera singer whose life was
once saved at a certain MASH unit in Korea (what a convenient, and
oft used, plot device).
M*A*S*H Goes To London
M*A*S*H Goes To London was released in June 1975. England may
never recover from the visit of the 4077 alumni. The aristocracy of
two continents are hammered in this book, which features the presence
of a U.S. Secretary of State with a thick German accent. I wonder who
that is supposed to be?
M*A*S*H Goes To Las Vegas
M*A*S*H Goes To Las Vegas was released in January 1976. This story
revolves around the activities of the mysterious "Matthew Q. Framingham
Theosophical Foundation," of which Hawkeye Pierce is a long time member.
It features Radar's wedding at Nero's Villa.
M*A*S*H Goes To Vienna
M*A*S*H Goes To Vienna was released in June 1976. The Swamp Rats
and a good portion of the new characters from M*A*S*H Goes To London
descend on the home of wiener schnitzel. The heavily accented Secretary of
State makes another appearance.
These novels are not, in general, great literature. They make good
light entertainment, though. If you like parodies of politicians,
the medical profession, Hollywood, opera, and religion (which is
redundant, given the other items on the list) you should enjoy these
novels. The above list of M*A*S*H novels is not complete. These are
the ones I own so far. I'm still combing used book stores for the
records of the M*A*S*H gang's journeys to: Hollywood, Miami, Texas,
Montreal, Morocco, and San Francisco.
Dave Bealer is a fifty-something mainframe systems programmer who
works with CICS, z/OS and all manner of nasty acronyms at one of the
largest heavy metal shops on the East Coast. He shares a waterfront
townhome in Pasadena, MD. with a cat who annoys him endlessly as he
assiduously avoids writing for and publishing Random Access Humor.
Dave can be reached via e-mail at:
Ask not for whom the bell tolls; let the machine get it.