Posts Tagged ‘Korean War’

M*A*S*H, Prime Time Television, and the California Angels of 1977

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

If fans of the California Angels tuned into the CBS television show M*A*S*H on February 27, 1977, they would have seen familiar names during the closing credits—the Angels’ infield: Grich, Chalk, Remy, and Solita [sic].

Tony Solaita—First Base

Jerry Remy—Second Base

Bobby Grich—Shortstop

Dave Chalk—Third Base

M*A*S*H exhibited the antics, anguish, and anger of doctors, nurses, and other staff of the fictional Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 during the Korean War.  It was nicknamed the four-oh double-natural in the eponymous novel, which begat the eponymous film, which begat the eponymous television show, which aired from 1972 to 1983.

The episode “Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde” revolves around Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester III, a pompous sort, refusing to manage his rest.  That, of course, sends him to the cusp of exhaustion.  In turn, he uses amphetamines to endure.

During his blissful ignorance of addiction, Charles treats the company mouse, Daisy, with amphetamines before her race with Sluggo, a mouse champion from the Marine unit recovering in the postoperative ward.  It induces bets from the 4077th personnel, who are unaware of Charles’s action, none making a bigger bet than Charles.

Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicutt, Charles’s bunkmates, discover the egotistical surgeon after the race; his blood pressure is 160 over 100.  In addition, he is suffering heart palpitations.  Surmising that Charles’s condition is not a consequence of long hours in the Operating Room, they deduce—and confirm—that Charles is using amphetamines.  Thereupon, Charles also admits to drugging Daisy.

According to the closing credits, the Marines are named Grich, Chalk, Remy, and Solita.  Whether the misspelling of Tony Solaita’s name results from intent or accident is unknown.

Norm Sherry and Dave Garcia managed the 1977 Angels, each for half of the season—81 games.  The team finished 5th in the American League West, compiled a 74-88 record, and scored 6th place in American League attendance.

The Angels were part of baseball history in the same year that John Travolta danced to box office success in Saturday Night Fever—they played the Seattle Marines on Opening Day, the first major league game for Queen City since the Pilots disbanded after one season.

Nolan Ryan, the Angels’ star hurler, had a banner year in ’77:

  • 19-16 win-loss record
  • 2.77 ERA
  • Led major leagues in complete games (22)
  • Led major leagues in strikeouts (341)

Frank Tanana, a Detroit native, also made a highly significant contribution:

  • 15-9 win-loss record
  • Led major leagues in shutouts (7)
  • 2.54 ERA

Offensively, the best player on the Angels squad was Bobby Bonds, father of notorious slugger Barry Bonds—the patriarch bashed baseballs all over American League turfs:

  • 37 home runs
  • 156 hits
  • Led Angels in games played (158)
  • Tied for 2nd in home runs—with Graig Nettles—(37)
  • 2nd in RBI (115)
  • Tied for 3rd in stolen bases—with Jerry Remy (41)
  • Tied for 3rd in sacrifice flies—with Rusty Staub and Carlton Fisk—(10)
  • Tied for 4th in extra base hits—with Al Cowens—(69)
  • Tied for 7th in runs scored—with George Scott—(103)
  • Tied for 8th in plate appearances—with Cecil Cooper and Duane Kuiper—(679)
  • 6th in total bases (308)

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 29, 2016.

“Ball Four Goes Hollywood”

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

When Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four hit bookshelves in 1970, it exploded myths, revealed secrets, and offered tales of baseball, theretofore kept protected from the public.  If reporters knew about Mickey Mantle’s alcohol problem, for example, they didn’t cover it.  Womanizing, drug use, and clubhouse conflicts were other Ball Four topics, once forbidden from baseball scholarship.

It infuriated Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, betrayed long-observed rules of the locker room, and relieved reporters of the pressure to keep quiet on what they saw, heard, and learned.

And the public ate it up, shooting Ball Four to the best-seller list.

A right-handed pitcher, Bouton broke into the major leagues with the New York Yankees in 1962, ending the season at 7-7.  His next two seasons showed terrific promise:

  • 21-7 in 1963
  • 18-13 in 1964
  • 2 wins in the 1964 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals

Thereafter, not so much.  Bouton spent seven seasons in pinstripes, then played for the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros in 1969.  He stayed with Houston in 1970, his last season, presumably.  A comeback with the Atlanta Braves in 1978 resulted in a 1-3 record; his career was over.

Bouton finished his career with a 3.57 Earned Run Average, 720 strikeouts, and a 62-63 record.  In Ball Four, co-authored with sports writer Leonard Shecter, Bouton captured his season with the Seattle Pilots, in addition to a sprinkling of tales about Mantle et al. during his tenure in the south Bronx.

In 1976, CBS aired an eponymous television series based on Ball Four.  The Tiffany Network, so called because of its quality programming, revolutionized television in the 1970s.  M*A*S*H combined comedy and pathos in its tales of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.  Authored by a MASH surgeon named Richard Hornberger, whose pen name was Richard Hooker, the 1968 novel M*A*S*H was, in a sense, like Bouton’s Ball Four.  Readers learned a first-hand perspective of war’s horrors beyond anything digested before in books, films, or television shows.  A 1970 film followed, starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Robert Duvall; the television series began in 1972, ran for 11 seasons, and racked up Emmy Award with the dependability of Cookie Monster devouring cookies.

All in the Family incorporated the Vietnam War, Watergate, and civil rights into dialogue that balanced humor, intelligence, and topicality.  Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor, became a lovable bigot who saw his sure-fire patriotism threatened by the zeitgeist personified by his daughter, Gloria, and her husband, Mike Stivic.

Mary Tyler Moore, starring the actress famed for playing housewife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show a decade prior, featured the comedic tales of Mary Richards, a single professional woman working as a television news producer in Minneapolis.  Before Mary showed she could “turn the world on with a smile,” as the show’s theme song indicated, it was rare to see a single woman as the central character of a television show.

Ball Four did not fall under the umbrella of groundbreaking television shows, despite its literary lineage.  Five episodes aired, starring Jim Bouton as Jim Barton of the Washington Americans, a fictional baseball team.  It was, to be sure, a thinly veiled portrayal.  To the dismay, worry, and scorn of his teammates, Barton takes notes for an upcoming series of articles in Sports Illustrated.  In her review of Ball Four for Sports Illustrated, Melissa Ludtke wrote, “The mediocrity of the opening show is particularly unfortunate because Bouton had hoped to give a true portrayal of his baseball experiences in the series.  Pill-popping, religion and women sports-writers in the locker room and homosexuality are some of the issues that he would like to cover.”

Bouton co-created the television series with Marvin Kitman and Vic Ziegel.  Harry Chapin performed the theme song, offering wistful lyrics with his trademark guitar playing as a soft complement.  Ben Davidson, a former professional football player who made Goliath seem like one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs, played Rhino, the Americans’ catcher.  As a defensive end, Davidson tore through offenses in the AFL and the NFL from 1961 to 1971; he played with the Portland Storm of the WFL in 1974.

Hollywood became a second calling for Davidson, who became a household name in the infamous “Less Filling, Tastes Great” television commercials of the 1970s and the 1980s for Miller Lite.  Bob Uecker, Mickey Spillane, and John Madden were among the other sports personalities in these humorous commercials.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 8, 2016.

Football and Comedy

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Football, a brutal sport symbolizing man’s primal quest to conquer territory, offers humor as compelling as the viciousness of Dick Butkus, the grace of Lynn Swann, and the agility of Walter Payton.

Necessary Roughness exemplifies the underdog theme, a common focus in sports films.  Film critic Roger Ebert noted, “I fell for it again this time, because it was well done, and because the movie doesn’t try to pump itself up into more than it is, a good-humored entertainment.”

Starting from scratch after a corruption scandal, which includes recruiting violations and steroid abuse, forces the firing of its coaches and the expulsion of its players, except one, the Texas State Fighting Armadillos hires Coach Ed “Straight Arrow” Gennero.  A lack of players forces him to rebuild by employing “iron man” football, where the same players take the field on offense and defense.

At the heart of the team is a player who might have ranked with Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Terry Bradshaw as one of the best quarterbacks ever.  Paul Blake, on the verge of entering college, quit football to take care of his family’s farm after his father died—a decade and a half ago.  To pass the time, Blake throws footballs at a scarecrow that he dresses with a football jersey.

Necessary Roughness utilizes the device of gathering misfits coming together to win the game against a superior opponent.  Blake throws the winning touchdown to Charlie Banks, the only player remaining from the corruption-laden squad.

Little Giants, too, relies on the underdog story, pitting the O’Shea brothers—played by Ed O’Neill and Rick Moranis—against each other.  Kevin O’Shea is a former Heisman Trophy winner, hence, a football legend in his hometown of Urbania, Ohio.  Now a pee wee football coach, Kevin prides himself on leading the best players Urbania has to offer.  Danny, meanwhile, strives to lead the misfits cast off by Kevin.  During halftime of the climactic game between Kevin’s Little Cowboys and Danny’s Little Giants, Danny tells a story about how he beat Kevin racing their bikes down Cherry Hill, an iconic part of Urbania.  It only happened once, but it proves that you only need “one time” to score a victory.

A trick play called “Annexation of Puerto Rico” helps the Little Giants defeat the Little Cowboys, despite the latter’s superiority.

The Replacements told the story of the fictional Washington Sentinels during a players strike.  Shane Falco finds another shot at football stardom when he replaces Eddie Martel as the Sentinels quarterback.  A college phenom, Falco suffered an ignominious defeat in a bowl game, burned out quickly in the professional ranks, and wonders what might have been.  Jimmy McGinty, the newly hired coach, recruits Falco along with other players who, under other circumstances, would never get a second look.  Or a first one, probably.

Martel crosses the picket line, though the players don’t have the same respect for him that they do for Falco.  McGinty sends in Falco, the Sentinels win, and another underdog football story ends in victory.

Gene Hackman, Keanu Reeves, and Brett Cullen played, respectively, McGinty, Falco, and Martel.

On his web site www.brettcullen.com, Cullen revealed his awe at standing on the field at Nextel Stadium—which served as the Sentinels’ home stadium—with the film’s location manager.

“I call him the first night I got into Baltimore and said, ‘Let’s get together.  I’d been there for a day,” Cullen explained.  “So, we had dinner at McCormick and Schmidt’s and after dinner we got in his car and he said, ‘Come on, I want to show you something.’  We drove over to the stadium, which was completely dark.  We went around to the back entrance and he flashed his badge to security and they let us in.  We walked onto the field and out to the 50-yard line in the Ravens stadium, and you look at all those seats being full, and you’re playing football and you’re in a fishbowl and everyone’s screaming at you—it’s a lot like being a gladiator.  I saw it and went, ‘I get it now.’  That was real thrilling for me.  That was one of those moments before we started doing the picture that I went, ‘Wow this is going to be cool.'”

The Longest Yard stars Burt Reynolds, James Hampton, Michael Conrad, Bernadette Peters, and Eddie Albert.  This 1974 film centers on a game between prisoners and prison guards.  It’s fixed, though—the warden ensures a victory for the guards by threatening Paul Crewe, played by Reynolds.  Crewe, a former pro quarterback, was known to fix football games.  In turn, the prisoners think he’s thwrowing this game for some kind of bribe.  All is going according to the warden’s plan until Crewe decides to turn against the warden.

In his memoir But Enough About Me, Reynolds exposed his method of filming at a real-life prison—Georgia State Prison in Reidsville.  “I’d filmed in prisons before, and I knew it was essential to have the inmates on your side, so in addition to building a football field complete with bleachers, we had six basketball courts installed on the yard.  I also knew from experience that every prison has its inmate leadership, so I went to the top man and made him my stand-in.  His name was Ringo.  He looked like a Brahma bull with glasses and he was serving ninety-nine years for manslaughter and kidnapping.

“Six months later I was in Nashville shooting W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings when who should appear at my trailer door but Ringo.  There were a couple of state troopers guarding me, and I was afraid of bloodshed if they knew who he was, so I sent him to James Hampton’s trailer.  Ringo told Jimmy that he’d decided ‘to take a vacation.’  The next time I saw Ringo, he was leaning against a wall watching us shoot a scene.  A week or so later I heard that he was back at Reidsville, in solitary confinement.

M*A*S*H, based on the novel by Richard Hooker, revolves around the antics of the doctors, nurses, and enlisted men at Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 during the Korean War.  A football scene gives real-life NFL player Fred Williamson an opportunity to showcase as Dr. Oliver Harmon “Spearchucker” Jones, a neurosurgeon who also played professional football for the 49ers.  Through Jones’s tutelage, the 4077th team creates sufficient confidence to place a bet with the rival team from the 325th Evacuation Hospital—with one catch, however.  Hawkeye devises a scheme to keep Jones out of the game for the first half.  Then, the 4077th will get larger odds from the 325th, bring Jones into the game, and receive a windfall upon victory.

In his review of M*A*S*H for the New York Times, Roger Greenspun wrote, “In one brief night scene, some MASH-men and the chief nurse meet to divide the winnings of the football game.  In the distance, a jeep drives by, carrying a white-shrouded corpse.  The nurse glances at it for a second, and then turns back to her happy friends—and we have a momentary view of the ironic complexities of life that M*A*S*H means to contain.”

Forrest Gump features the title character as an outstanding kick returner for the University of Alabama.  In turn, he becomes an All-American football player.  After college, Forrest becomes a war hero in Vietnam, a ping-pong champ, and a shrimp tycoon.  In his review for the New York Daily News, Dave Kehr commended director Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks, who played the title character, on creating Forrest’s life journey from the 1950s to the 1980s.  “With Hanks’ graceful and creative performance at the center (his first role since his Oscar for ‘Philadelphia’), Zemecks combines a mastery of wide-screen composition, camera movement and long-term patterns of theme and image to create na original and deeply moving experience,” wrote Kehr.  “The sweetly sentimental and the unbearable grotesque exist side by side, with little to mediate between them.”

An episode of The Odd Couple features Alex Karras as a guest star.  In the episode “That Was No Lady,” Felix engages in a romance with a woman named Melanie, who shares his passion for New York City’s culture.  Unbeknownst to Felix, Melanie is the wife of Jarrin’ Jake Metcalf, a football star, who’s working with Oscar on his autobiography.  When Felix wants to confront Jake because love has made him strong, Oscar responds, “Strength has made him stronger.”  In the end, Melanie returns to Jake leaving Felix with wonderful memories that hopefully dull the pain of heartbreak.

Silent film star Harold Lloyd stars in The Freshman, a comedy about a college football player.  The Turner Classic Movies web site lauds the film’s production qualities, sourced to Lloyd’s attention to detail:  “The Freshman lacks the high stakes of Keaton’s comedies and the pathos of Chaplin’s struggles but it doesn’t lack for comic invention or filmmaking polish.  Longtime Lloyd collaborators Sam Taylor and Fred C. Newmeyer direct and his regular writing team (Taylor, Ted Wilde, John Grey, and Tim Whelan) provide the story, gags and titles, but this is Lloyd’s production down the line and lavishes all the time and money necessary to perfect every gag.  The campus backgrounds are filled with students, the big dance has Lloyd maneuvering through throngs of couples while quite literally tearing his suit apart (a hilarious sequence that builds to a predictable yet comically perfect gag finale), and the big game looks like ti was shot at a real championship match.  Throughout it all, every last extra seems to hit their marks and react on cue.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 7, 2016.

World’s Finest

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Baseball’s history is highlighted by its heroes.

Lou Gehrig revealed unimaginable courage in his “Luckiest Man” speech as he faced the debilitating, horrific, and fatal disease of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis that took his life nearly two years later.

Ted Williams sacrificed prime playing years to fly combat missions in World War II and the Korean War.

Jackie Robinson pioneered civil rights by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in the major leagues during the 20th century.

Superheroes, as well, occupy a rung on baseball’s ladder of history.

In its nascent years, the DC Comics title World’s Finest featured Superman, Batman, and Robin playing baseball on two comic book covers.  Issue #3 (Fall 1941) depicts Batman batting, Robin catching, and Superman umpiring.  Issue #15 (Fall 1944) shows Superman sliding into home plate while Batman tries to tag him.  Robin scratches his head, looking perplexed as to whether Superman is safe at home.  It’s an illogical scenario, given Superman’s superhuman speed.

In the Foreword to Batman: The World’s Finest Comics, Archives, Volume 1, R.C. Harvey points out that the early World’s Finest covers featuring Batman, Superman,  and Robin concurred with the the uncertainty surrounding America’s involvement in World War II.  “Over the next several years, this trio engaged in a variety of activities on the covers together, playing sports at first and then, after the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, patriotically engaging in scrap paper drives or raising vegetables for victory,” states Harvey, who also notes a baseline attitude on the covers.

“They all look like they are having fun,” opines Harvey.  “And that brings us to the most significant difference separating these stories from those of more recent decades: back then, superheroicism was infected with an exhilarating spirit of adventure.  One did deeds of derring-do because it was exciting, and one went into battle against the Forces of Evil charged up with an invigorating zest for the Good Fight.”

When DC graced its early World’s Finest comic book covers with patriotic scenes involving Superman, Batman, and Robin, it aimed to boost morale among younger readers in an uncertain time.  The two baseball-themed covers of World’s Finest provided an additional attraction.  At the time, baseball dominated the recreation of Americans.  For example, President Roosevelt suggested to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that baseball continue for the country’s morale during World War II.

In a letter dated January 15, 1942, Roosevelt wrote, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.  There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.  And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

During a period fraught with peril, fear, and uncertainty, the World’s Finest superheroes reinforced the power of baseball to inspire.  And vice versa.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 15, 2014.

The Man Who Made the Mud Hens Famous

Monday, November 21st, 2016

As Corporal—later Sergeant—Maxwell Q. Klinger on M*A*S*H, Jamie Farr brought laughter to millions and fame to the Toledo Mud Hens as he incorporated his hometown of Toledo, Ohio into the Klinger character.

On his web site www.jamiefarr.com, Farr explains the nexus between actor and character:  “Klinger’s back story was, in part, my back story.  I came from Toledo.  So, too, did Klinger. I never forgot some of my old neighborhood haunts, like Packo’s Hot Dogs.  Neither did Klinger.  I rooted for a minor league baseball club called the Toledo Mud Hens.  So, too, did Klinger.”

Indeed, Farr often wore a Mud Hens jersey and donned the team’s cap as a wink and a nod to his hometown.  Consequently, Toledo and Mud Hens became household names to a national television viewing audience.

Like his fictional counterpart, Farr saw the Mud Hens play at Swayne Field.  Noah H. Swayne donated the land for the ballpark.  Wayne’s father was United States Supreme Court Justice Noah H. Swayne, appointed by President Lincoln.

John R. Husman’s article for the Society for American Baseball Research web site discusses Swayne Field’s genesis:  “Swayne Field was privately financed and as fine and modern a baseball park as there was in America when it rose out of an old fairgrounds in west Toledo.  It was the largest baseball playing field in the world.  Construction of Swayne Field began on March 6, 1909.  Less than four months later, baseball was played there.  The concrete and steel plant was the apparent brainchild and investment of William R. Armour and Noah H. Swayne, Jr.”

M*A*S*H ran on CBS for 11 seasons—from 1972 to 1983—giving Farr ample opportunity to promote his Toledo heritage and Mud Hens fandom.  From the beginning, Farr was in the cast as a member of the United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 during the Korean War.  First, though, he had a supporting role.  In the early seasons, Klinger tried to get a section 8 discharge requiring an assessment of him having a mental disorder.  His modus operandi was wearing women’s clothes to persuade doctors, especially psychiatrists, to authorize the discharge.  It never happened.

Gary Burghoff played Corporal Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly, the Company Clerk for the 4077th.  After Burghoff departed the show, Farr stepped into his shoes as Klinger took over the clerical duties that kept the 4077th operating.  Before M*A*S*H, Farr found regular work as a guest star on network television shows, including Room 222The Flying NunFamily AffairGomer Pyle: USMCGet SmartGarrison’s GorillasThe Dick Van Dyke ShowDeath Valley DaysMy Favorite Martian, and F Troop.

Farr got his show business break as Santini, a mentally challenged student in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier as a teacher and a rebel student, respectively, in an urban high school.  Farr said, “For its time, Blackboard Jungle was pretty shocking, so shocking that MGM thought it best to put a pious disclaimer on the screen at the beginning of the film stating that all schools were not like this—so as not to alienate hundreds of thousands of school teachers all over America.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 1, 2014.

Visitors at the 4077th

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

RemingtonM*A*S*H was a powerhouse show for CBS from 1972 to 1983, depicting the adventures of the fictional Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 4077 staff during the Korean War.  Guest stars populated M*A*S*H, later becoming fixtures of other CBS shows.

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“M*A*S*H” Is Anti-War But Not Antiseptic

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

On September 17, 1972, CBS introduced television viewers to M*A*S*H, a half-hour comedy filmed with a laugh track and set in an Army hospital situated approximately three miles from the front lines of the Korean War.  The M*A*S*H acronym stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

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