The teen boy who co-wrote the M*A*S*H theme song once got a response to his message in a bottle
What's more priceless, penning the lyrics to an iconic theme song or sending a message in a Seven-Up bottle that actually garners a response?
The first time we see Charles Winchester III in the M*A*S*H episode "The Smell of Music," he is playing a French horn poorly.
Careful and forgiving ears would recognize that the tune he’s playing is the M*A*S*H theme song "Suicide Is Painless," which audiences, of course, had just reheard when the episode started.
We’ve told you before that this iconic theme music has a sweet father-son backstory. But we’ll recap here just to get you up to speed.
When M*A*S*H movie director Robert Altman was working on the movie theme with composer Johnny Mandel, he had the song title already, and all he needed were "really stupid" lyrics.
Unable to write the lyrics as stupidly as he wanted them to be, Altman turned to his teenage son Mike, who quickly filled in lyrics that pleased his dear old dad.
Altman was so pleased, in fact, that when his movie was nominated for a bunch of Oscars, he was disappointed that the theme song didn’t also get a nom.
He couldn’t help but wonder what it would’ve been like to share that award-winning experience with his son. Surely, priceless.
"It would have been great to be nominated the same year, together," Robert told The Vancouver Sun in 1971.
For Mike, there was, perhaps, a greater reward from his songwriting than a trophy. Cash money.
He actually earned a cool million off the song, which was many times more than the $70,000 his dad earned for directing the M*A*S*H movie.
We know that Michael Altman knew cash made for a great reward, because years prior to co-writing the M*A*S*H theme song, the boy sent out a message in a bottle with his Cub Scout troop in 1964.
Not convinced the message itself would elicit a response, to entice the finder, the young boy included a cash reward — a shiny quarter.
Remarkably, his ploy worked. Fifteen months after he dropped his Seven-Up bottle in the Willamette River in upstate New York, he received a letter in the mail from another kid across the country.
According to The Albany Democrat-Herald in 1966, his bottle was found in Vancouver, Washington, nearly 3,000 miles away!
"Last Saturday I went shooting along the Columbia River," the response to Mike’s message in a bottle read. "I was walking down the bank and saw a Seven-Up bottle and picked it up so I could shoot it. When I saw the note, I took it out and read it. I was very surprised. I sat down when I got home and wrote to you. By the way, I’m 14 years old, and I’m giving you my picture."
You’ll notice his new pen pal didn’t mention the reward, but we hope Mike promptly sent the quarter to the other boy.
Did you ever send a message in a bottle?
Or perhaps better question: Did anyone ever respond to your message in a bottle?
We imagine the experience of getting the response was as priceless for Mike Altman as the experience of being nominated for an Oscar the same year as his dad would’ve been for Robert Altman.
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"According to The Albany Democrat-Herald in 1966, his bottle was found in Vancouver, Washington, nearly 3,000 miles away!"
There's a very good reason the bottle was found in Vancouver Washington: there is NO Willamette River in New York State. It's in OREGON and is a tributary of the Columbiam, which straddles the line between the two states.
WHY do I keep wasting my time reading this rubbish written by people who haven't the vaguest idea of what they're talking about?
I didn't notice the mistake that it had been dropped in New York.
While I am not suicidal, I can well imagine a health decline that could make me feel differently. I wish to have the control of that option. I support assisted suicide.
Best wishes to you.
I accept the notion that we humans are very self-centered. It is difficult not to be. Even generosity can be traced back to our own reward of good feelings. Note that, still, I admire generosity. But I recognize my own self-interest when I am charitable. I suppose It is innate in humans, but it works for our greater good.
My hunch is that it wasn't nominated as a song at all because of the subject matter. Perhaps the Industry not wanting to give it much play. Causing people to seek out the song and by default the lyrics, adding it to their state of melancholy mind.
By the way the melody is beautiful because of the cord changes. It really didn't need any lyrics at all. Some songs carry their point through emotion, alone.
Being a fugitive, I can not cross into West Virginia. A knock on my door, and my first thought is "bounty hunter!"
"The War of Nerves" The 4077th has a bonfire originally to burn some contaminated clothing, the camp adds other items. Col Potter disagrees but Sidney Freedman convinces him to allow them as a way to relieve stress. (Good episode).