M*A*S*H writers used parkas to get revenge on actors who complained too much
Change the way you watch M*A*S*H's winter episodes.
The M*A*S*H set was famously a collaborative place to work. Actors frequently weighed in on writing and directing decisions, and for the most part, M*A*S*H executive script consultant Ken Levine confirmed the cast's input dramatically elevated the cherished series.
Just not always.
In the writer's blog detailing stories behind the scenes of M*A*S*H, Levine wrote in 2006: "Sometimes someone in the cast would have a real ticky-tack issue with some line. And not to be upstaged, another cast member would have a 'problem.' Pretty soon, they all were having 'problems.' Page after page after page. We loved and admired the cast and would always be accommodating, but inside we were irked."
So Levine devised a way to make sure the actors learned to cede creative control when it came to these tiny details: He turned parkas into a form of punishment by accepting all their suggestions and editing the script — but then adding one little tweak of his own.
He wrote, "This happened a couple of times, and finally, we got smart. The next time it occurred, we went back to the room, addressed all of their minor concerns, and then made one other little change of our own to the script. We made it a cold show."
The next day, the actors got the script back and realized they'd have to spend the next day wearing those thick green parkas pretending to be in the middle of a Korean winter. The catch? They filmed the show on a typically scorching day in southern California.
Levine laughed looking back, "The next day filming began at the Malibu ranch. Summer temperatures were routinely in the 90s and 100s. Now the cast was all in parkas standing over fire barrels, delivering lines about how bitterly cold Korea was in the winter."
His scheme worked, though, and he assured us the cast quickly stopped going overboard with feedback. Levine wrote, "This happened maybe twice and we never got a ticky-tack note again."
Next time you're watching M*A*S*H and see the cast shivering in thickly padded coats, earmuffs and scarves, realize you may not only be watching some of the most convincing actors in Malibu, but also seeing one script consultant's revenge play out on the screen.
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I've often wondered (as writers) how they picked the Korean weather conditions, when it wasn't pertinent to the storyline. If cold weather was a punishment, what in the world did the actors do, to deserve rain (wet) weather. They didn't feature rain a lot. (Often an expensive added special effect). But there were a few times everybody was slopping through the mud! And leaking tents!