M*A*S*H creator explained why the singing captain only appears for one season

"I wish we had done more episodes with him as Captain Spalding."

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Loudon Wainwright sings a tribute to nurses on ’M*A*S*H’
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It may surprise you to learn that it wasn't Alan Alda who pulled the stellar songwriter Loudon Wainwright III into M*A*S*H. At that point in his life, Alda was a bigger fan of the chamber music concerts that his wife put on in their home than he was of the folk songs that made Wainwright an American music legend.

However, it definitely doesn't matter to fans what Alda thought of Wainwright, who featured in three episodes on M*A*S*H as the singing captain Calvin Spalding. For the rest of Wainwright’s life, he said M*A*S*H fans chased him down after concerts to get the answer to this most-asked question: "What is Alan Alda really like?"

If you want to know the truth, it was actually M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbart who was Wainwright's bigger fan. "Loved Loudon Wainwright's songs, so we gave him a shot," Gelbert is quoted as saying in the essential TV’s M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book.

In fact, Gelbart was such a big fan of Wainwright — who was sometimes called "the new Bob Dylan" and once hailed by Elton John as the "best songwriter on the planet" — he wanted to use the musician even more on the show.

"I wish we had done more episodes with him as Captain Spalding," Gelbart said, revealing that the character is a Groucho Marx reference.

However, this wasn’t to be, because M*A*S*H's famously "tight shooting schedules made it impossible."

For M*A*S*H, Wainwright wrote and performed original songs only during the third season, starting with his songs "North Korea Blues" in the episode "Rainbow Bridge" and "Unrequited to the Nth Degree" and "I Wonder if They Miss Us" for "There Is Nothing Like a Nurse." His final appearance is in the episode "Big Mac," in which he performs "Five Gold Stars" and "Big Mac Is Coming."

Though brief, this short stint on M*A*S*H would kick off a sparse and selective range of TV and movie appearances that Wainwright has made since his onscreen debut in the 4077th. Among these roles, in 2004, he reunited with Alda as they both appeared in the movie The Aviator.

As a songwriter, Wainwright is known for being playful, mocking himself and infusing lyrics with wit, all characteristics any M*A*S*H fan would see reflected in Hawkeye. This certainly helped Wainwright fit right in on the show, whether the songs he sang were about appreciating nurses or the famous General MacArthur. It's also likely why fans associate him so strongly with the show's star.

In an interview with Short and Sweet NYC, Wainwright explained what inspired his writing process for folk songs like the ones we love from M*A*S*H:

"The parallel I use is fishing," Wainwright said. "I mean, you've got a line in the water and a bait on a hook I suppose and you know you have some skills as a fisherman. In my case, I've been writing songs for forty years or thereabouts so there's also mystery: why do you get a bite? Or a strike? Or why does the fish take the hook? I mean I don't quite understand how it all works, the inspiration part, but you know you're out there trolling around looking for stuff and then all of a sudden you pull up and you've got something. That's the best way I can describe it."

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Xsquid 21 months ago
Interesting read about the real life “Hawkeye”.

RedSamRackham 31 months ago
* He was merely seen on the base playing guitar and singing yet never seen in the OR or anywhere else. He could've been used like the Duke character from the movie. ☺
LSUFAN44 39 months ago
Cause he was god awful
RedSamRackham LSUFAN44 15 months ago
* Now now! Wainwright as Captain Spaulding singing his folk-songs while strumming his guitar was to M*A*S*H episodes kind of like a comedic tribute to the chorus of classic Greek tragedies. He was a kind of narrator for those episodes!
UTZAAKE 41 months ago
Grant-Lee Phillips player a similar role in Gilmore Girls. He was the troubadour of Stars Hollow.
MrsPhilHarris 41 months ago
I had wondered why his character disappeared. It just seemed like they got rid of some interesting characters. The first few seasons were my favourites.
KevinJNewell 41 months ago
Wainwrights' songs we're completely out of place on the show and didn't fit the time period at all. Their use reminded me of how the movie tried to make the Korean War an allegory for Vietnam.
woyzeck KevinJNewell 41 months ago
it was an allegory of Nam, and how both were worthless wars
cperrynaples 41 months ago
Wainwright had quite a career! He had a hit with "Dead Skunk" and was on one of the first SNLs! His son Rufus is a singer in his own right! Fun Fact: Because Rufus was breast-fed, his father wrote a song called "Rufus Is A T-t Man"! Obviously, he had no idea that Rufus would grow up to be gay...LOL!!
justjeff 41 months ago
Animal Crackers (1930) is the Marx Brothers film where "Hooray for Captain Spalding" was first introduced. This later became Groucho's theme for his popular radio and tv quiz show "You Bet Your Life".

The basic lyrics are as follows...
[Crowd] Hooray for Captain Spalding, the African Explorer
[Groucho] Did someone call me 'schnorrer'?
[Crowd] Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!
[Crowd] He went into the jungle, where all the monkeys throw nuts
![Groucho] If I stay here I'll go nuts!
[Crowd] Huzzah Huzzah Huzzah!

Even after 90 years, anyone hearing the tune automatically thinks of Groucho and his sharp wit. One of my favorites lines of his is this one:

"Man comes from a woman's womb, and he spends the rest of his life trying to get back in there!

Another remark by him has a backstory: As an up-and-coming performer, Groucho wanted to join a particular country club, but was denied membership because he was Jewish.

Years later, when The Marx Brothers became world-famous celebrities, the same country club offered him a membership. Groucho replied (and I'm paraphrasing here): "I would never join any club or organization that would have someone like me as a member!"
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Wiseguy cperrynaples 41 months ago
Cosby didn't "try" to reboot You Bet Your Life he did it regardless of how successful it was. So did Buddy Hackett. Let's not re-write history. Putting an exclamation point at the end of every sentence doesn't make it true.
cperrynaples Wiseguy 41 months ago
Good point! Neither Hackett or Cosby were successful! I always hated the Hackett version because the secret word was always what we call 10-dollar words that no one would say! Remember, 'it's a common word, something you see everyday"...LOL!
RedSamRackham justjeff 15 months ago
* Also there was a story of a Jewish celeb (Groucho?) being denied country club membership. However since his children were only half-Jewish besause he had a non-Jewish wife he asked if they could go into the swimming pool just up to their knees.
justjeff RedSamRackham 15 months ago
The country club story was that Groucho had applied for a membership before he was well known, and he was denied one because of him being Jewish. Years later, when the Marx Brothers became famous, that same country club offered him a membership and he replied something to the effect of "I would NEVER join any club or organization that would have someone like me as a member!"...
Hogansucks1 41 months ago
Klinger’s portrayal of the Statue of Liberty at the closing shot of the ‘Big Mac’ episode is great ! 🗽 😂
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