August 19, 2013

"On M*A*S*H you never heard the lyrics to the theme song. (But, doesn't everyone know them anyway?)"

Said Auntie Ann, reacting to my implication that the lyrics — heard in the movie — were omitted from the TV show because they were about suicide. Actually, I don't know whether taking the words out was a kind of censorship or whether — more likely — they were rejected because they didn't set up the story for an ongoing series of episodes. It wasn't like "The Beverly Hillbillies" or "Green Acres," where the song fills you in on how these characters got into this situation.

And I'd be surprised if even 50% of audience for the "M*A*S*H" TV show knew the lyrics from the movie version. That TV show became much bigger than the movie. The movie came out in 1970, and the TV show was on from 1972 until 1983, back in the days when people didn't have VCRs, so it wasn't easy to go back and check out a movie you'd missed. But even if it had been easy, I think people became very attached to Alan Alda in the main role and wouldn't have enjoyed seeing Donald Sutherland horn in on it. And the main character in the movie is the Elliot Gould character, Trapper John. [OR: He was equally important.] These barriers are hard to cross. I loved the movie, and I didn't want to see the actors that I knew replaced by the warmer, fuzzier TV personalities.

On the subject of TV themes played without the lyrics, do you know the words to the theme whistled on "The Andy Griffith Show"? Here's Andy singing them. [ADDED: The words are about fishing. Wouldn't it be a kick in the head if it turned out that theme was also about suicide?]

32 comments:

YoungHegelian said...

Yeah, but do you know the words to the "Bewitched" theme?

"Bewitched, bewitched.
You've got me in your spell.
Bewitched, bewitched,
I'll see you burn in hell!"

Actually, the real words to the last line are "Bewitched, bewitched, you know your craft so well.", but I prefer my version.

Christopher said...

I'd be stunned if 5% knew. Most people don't even know the lyrics to songs they think they're singing.

MTN said...

"Wouldn't it be a kick in the head if it turned out that theme was also about suicide?" Hah! I laughed out loud at that one. Images of a darker Mayberry: Andy goes fishing out on the lake...cut to an empty boat gently rocking on the water. Floyd the barber slowly sharpens his straight razor, his gaze to distance (as was often the case). Then the scene fades to black. Barney finally puts that one bullet to use. Aunt Bea...no, not Aunt Bea. Someone has to mourn and bake pies for the wakes.

Mitch H. said...

It didn't help that the movie was aggressively unpleasant, and actively hostile to the spirit of the original novel and the TV series. The thing that stuck with me from that movie was the serial misogynistic abuse of "Hot Lips" - the Frank Burns character was a colorless nullity, quickly dispatched, so all the crap gets dumped on Houlihan instead. And that awful, rotten, unwatchable football game sequence!

Ring Lardner, huh? Who knew that an embittered ex-blacklister would write such an unpleasant America-hating, religion-mocking trudge in the midst of the Nixon era? And Altman! Pretentious, pompous, proud that he made a principle of indiscipline and carelessness!

tim maguire said...

I remember reading years ago that Trapper John was supposed to be the main, or at least equal, character on the TV show as well. When, over the course of the first couple seasons, Alan Alda emerged as the lead, the actor left the show rather than be demoted to supporting role.

This was before Shelley Long taught the TV actor world that you never ever walk away from a successful series.

donald said...

The cool thing about Andy was that there is no way suicide could have been involved in any way and I find that concept silly.

Then in 2008, just before the election he should up in a radio add with Ron Howard talking about just how racist many Americans were when faced with the glory of the light giver (Or as Andy said "boy".

It is hard to say just how broken hearted that me, a cynical and hard bitten dude that knew if we were all more like Andy and Carol Burnett, good would always prevail I became.

That was Andy F'ing Griffith. That is some serious betrayal to what is good and right.

Jeff Hall said...

When I was in high school, I played the organ at a wedding where the bride wanted "Suicide is Painless" as an introit.

Afterwards, the pastor's wife took my mother aside and said, "Jeff has an odd sense of humor, doesn't he?"

(The couple is still married, for what it's worth.)

donald said...

As for Mash. Bleh.

That said Ken Levine who wrote for Mash and all kinda o other pap has his own website. Probably kenlevine.com or whatever.

gadfly said...

"Suicide is painless" because of the Painless Pole, the MASH dentist who committed suicide.

surfed said...

Robert Altman's 14 year old son Mike Altman wrote the song "Suicide is Painless." Somewhere I read an interview where Altman said his son made way more money (millions) off M.A.S.H. than he ever did as his son received his songwriter royalties every time the song is performed. Movie version or tv rerun.

surfed said...

And the Fishing song is easy...The Ernest T bass song is the real deal...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJUmIuc1X5s&safe=active

Bob Ellison said...

50%? Try 1%.

You make a mistake when you assume intelligence and knowledge in the general populace.

Crunchy Frog said...

This was before Shelley Long taught the TV actor world that you never ever walk away from a successful series.

A lesson David Caruso failed to take to heart.

Captain Ned said...

I knew/know the words, but only because I played the song in HS band back in the mid-'70s.

As for movie/TV, I much prefer the movie. Never read the books, so I can't be disappointed there. Of course, a lot of this is the last 5-6 years of the show where Alda took over and started preaching.

PatHMV said...

I knew the lyrics simply because I learned to play them on the piano, once upon a time. Had it not been for that, I never would have had any idea.

I've seen both the movie and the TV show. I'm far more partial to the TV show, but then that's what I got to know first.

I've often been interested to see some researcher to a study measuring how individuals' opinions vary based on the order in which information is provided.

navillus said...

Once Trapper John, Col Blake & Frank Burns all left, MASH became unwatchable drek. Good comedy needs an edge to it & the left wing kumbaya-fest that Alan Alda presided over during the last half of the show's span just was NOT funny. I frakking hate Alan Alda for what he turned MASH into. Vastly prefer the movie & the early TV seasons. Once, I killed a gopher with a stick!

Darrell said...

This was before Shelley Long taught the TV actor world that you never ever walk away from a successful series.

Pernell Roberts--Adam from Bonanza--left the hit show when it still a hit in 1964. The show ran until 1973.

I turn the channel when I hear the theme song. I can't stand to watch a second of the show now. Seeing Alda with his 70s long hair playing a Korean vet makes me want to kick him in the face.

Kelly said...

I was about nine years old when I started watching MASH the TV series. You wouldn't think that would be the type of show a kid would love, but I did. My parents hated it, so I had to watch it on the small tv.

I was an adult before I even knew there was a movie that proceeded the tv series. I caught it on the tube when I happened to be in the Army and thought it was genius. They're definitely worlds apart.

The TV version of Frank Burns has to be one of the best tv villains/fall guy in television history.

Gahrie said...

There are a series of books that are sequels to M*A*S*H, the first one or two written by Hooker, the original author, the last dozen by the man who later wrote under the name W.E.B. Griffin. (His real name is Butterworth)They talk about what happens to the characters after the war. They are far more amusing and surreal than the TV series ever was (and I mostly liked the TV series). Based on the books, I prefer the movie cast to the series cast.

Gahrie said...

It didn't help that the movie was aggressively unpleasant, and actively hostile to the spirit of the original novel and the TV series.

The movie was actually much truer to the novels than the TV series, and the TV series came after both the book and movie.

Gil said...

Movie, just for Captain Bobby Troup's cameo.

Beldar said...

Hooker's book was very, very good, and quite popular -- although as pop culture icons go, almost nothing in American history can match the long-running T.V. series. I read it in high school in the early 1970s, and gave it to my father, who'd been a junior officer on a WW2 attack transport (troopship), the U.S.S. Zeilin that did post-invasions duty as a hospital ship too. My father didn't read much fiction, and never any war fiction; and of course, M*A*S*H was set in Korea, not WW2. But my father very much liked the book, and said it evoked powerful memories in him of the grim humor in crisis that helped him and his mates survive the war.

rcocean said...

The lyrics sucked, people liked the melody. And most people don't even know there WERE lyrics.

As for the movie, Gould and Sutherland have to go down as two of the least funny, most obnoxious, self-entitled, sexist pigs, ever, ever.

And who ever thought that football game was interesting? Unless they were on drugs, like the cast and the director.

Captain Curt said...

The original MASH book was just a series of humorous anecdotes (with some dark humor) from an Army surgeon in Korea. Robert Altman used it as a framework to create an anti-Vietnam-War movie. (A classic strategy to set a story in historical times when it was actually about contemporary events.)

By the time the TV show came around, the Vietnam war was over, and the show had more the flavor of the original book.

Michael K said...

"It didn't help that the movie was aggressively unpleasant, and actively hostile to the spirit of the original novel and the TV series."

Friends of mine who are non-medical were startled when I told them that MASH, the movie and Bullet were the best depictions of surgery in the movies. They were far more accurate than most Since then, The Doctor is one I show my medical students.

I'll take facts, hold the narrative said...

M*A*S*H was set during the Korean war but was about the Vietnam war. In the series, enemy combatants were given medical treatment and were decent and honorable. In realty, the North Korean soldiers receiving treatment would kill the attending nurses and had to be restrained.

There was an attempt to spin-off another series about the 8055th MASH Unit starring Adrienne Barbeau. It was not a comedy. In it, the Adrienne Barbeau character warned her nurses about not turning their backs on the enemy soldiers or they too could have their throats cut.

Lucien said...

Screw the movie -- read the book: "Finest Kind Pediatric Hospital & Whorehouse", "The Pros from Dover", & c., &c.

JAWilson said...

I watch Radar to check his hands. He was hiding one.

Bill said...

Darrell said... "Pernell Roberts--Adam from Bonanza--left the hit show when it still a hit in 1964. The show ran until 1973."

And Pernell Roberts went on to play the lead in Trapper John, M.D.

Mitch H. said...

The movie was actually much truer to the novels than the TV series, and the TV series came after both the book and movie.

Dunno about "novels", I only read the one, and that long before I saw the movie. And obviously I disagree with you on how "truer to the novel" the movie was. Strangely, Altman likewise disagrees, since he's on record as denouncing the book as racist and rubbish.

Martin said...

Home

richard mcenroe said...

Actually, the vocal version was only used in the original release of the feature in 1970. For the theatrical rerelease it was replaced by a synthesizer cover by Ahmad Jahmal.

Historical note: Ring Lardner, Jr., wrote a script that was very faithful to the original novel. And Altman shot everything in his script. The fabled Altman "improvisation" occurred in the editing room, as you can easily tell by continuity jumps in the wardrobe and interactions of the performers.

The football game is straight out of the novel except for Hot Lips and the Cheerleaders.