The Korean War lasted about three years, but it took U.S. Army surgeon Richard Hooker (February 1, 1924 - November 4, 1997) twelve years to pen his wartime memoirs. When he finished, the result was the best-selling 1968 book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. It spawned not only a hit movie, but also a phenomenally popular sitcom that became a cultural touchstone.
Each version of MASH followed the hilarious and heartbreaking exploits of Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, better known as "Hawkeye," throughout the Korean War. Hooker, whose real surname was Hornberger, based the character on himself and built the novel around his real-life experiences as a field surgeon. Hornberger was described as a very good surgeon with a tremendous sense of humor, as was Hawkeye. The author was also known for his quick wit and dry sense of humor, terms that also described the fictional Hawkeye.
Reality parts from fiction, however, once politics come into play. Hornberger, a dedicated conservative, was shocked to see how his novel changed and grew into an anti-war icon as it went to the big screen and then to television. In a 1996 interview, Hornberger described himself as "a conservative Republican," adding, "I don't hold with this anti-war nonsense." He took particular exception to Alan Alda's work on the series, according to his obituary in The New York Times. He reportedly avoided watching broadcasts, although his family reported that he was a fan of the 1970 Robert Altman movie. According to Hornberger's son, William, his father "liked the movie because it followed his original intent very closely."
After the television series became a hit, several more MASH novels were published to capitalize on the popularity of these characters. None of the novels connected with audiences or found the success of the original, however, and many critics suspect Hornberger merely lent his name to the franchise.
Hornberger died in 1997 from leukemia at age 73 after spending years as a thoracic surgeon in Maine. His legacy lives on, for better or worse, through the adventures of Hawkeye and the rest of the team in the 4077th MASH unit.
Still a FAVORITE with reruns shown on television today, the characters you know and love from the movie and TV series are brought to life March 31-April 9 as we present the stage version of Richard Hooker’s novel which used humor to examine the realities of the Korean War.