How It All Began
It all started with a book written by Dr. Richard Hornberger as he sat waiting for patients at his offices in Bremen, Maine. Using the pseudonym Richard Hooker it was a fictional account of his years at the 8055 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea. He based Hawkeye on himself (though he said he never liked Alda's portrayal of the character). Hornberger wrote a number of books featuring the same characters but non were as successful as the first.
The movie rights to Dr. Hornberger's book were bought for $100,000 by Ingo Preminger and a screenplay was written by Ring Lardner Jr. who had been blacklisted by Hollywood in the fifties. The film was directed by Robert Altman and starred Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye and Elliot Gould as Trapper John.
The film had a number of storylines. One involved Trapper and Hawkeye traveling to Seoul to treat a Congressman's GI son and managing to get in a round of golf. Another storyline involved a football match between the 4077th and the 325th evac in which the doctors of the 4077 drafted in Dr. Oliver Harman "Spearchucker" Jones, a former pro football player as a ringer. (Spearchucker appeared in the first few episodes of the series but was dropped when the writers found that there were no black surgeons during the Korean war). One of the most memorable scenes in the movie was the "suicide" of Painless Pole (played by John Schuck) which featured the song "Suicide is painless".
The movie was released in the fall of 1970 when anti-Vietnam sentiment was high, and was an instant hit. Ring Lardner Jr. won the Oscar for Best Screenplay and the film was nominated for Best Movie. Sally Kellerman also received a Best Actress nomination for her role as Hotlips.
It was William Self (the president of Twentieth Century Fox) who turned the movie into a television series. With the movie set still available and with Fox owning the rights to the story he knew the series would be inexpensive to produce. He hired Gene Reynolds to produce (Reynolds had himself been a child actor), who in turn contacted his friend Larry Gelbart to write a script for the pilot show (Gelbart had visited Korea while working as a gag writer for Bob Hope). Reynolds then hired Burt Metcalfe as associate producer and casting director.
The first to be cast was Gary Burghoff, who was the only actor from the movie asked to repeat his role. McLean Stevenson was cast as Henry Blake, although he had originally wanted to play Hawkeye. The role of Hawkeye was the last character to be cast, apparently Alan Alda was reluctant to commit to a show that could have a long run.
The series lasted 11 years with 251 episodes made. It won countless awards and the final show was one of the most watched television programs ever.
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