M*A*S*H Action Figures
Yes, they actually made them.
I'm going to be honest: I'm a die hard, unapologetic M*A*S*H fan. Or is that F*A*N? Is that an appropriate way of describing oneself? Probably not. Either way, I really love the show. The series had already been off the air 3 years when I came around, but through the magic of syndication, the late night airings on our local FOX affiliate introduced me to world of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital when I was in my early teens. It was then that I was hooked big time. Of course, I *knew* about the series long before ever actually watching it on a regular basis, and naturally I had seen clips here and there; M*A*S*H has been syndicated forever. But, it was those late night airings on WJW TV-8 that hooked me, and it's the many VHS tapes I filled with those airings that I hold among my favorite recordings (and I taped a LOT of stuff). Plus, the old commercials with Big Chuck & Lil' John don't hurt.
An example of one of WJW's late night line-ups that led to my fateful fandom. No way in hell did I stay up for The Nanny, though. I hate that show so, so much.
Running from 1972 to 1983, M*A*S*H was a huge deal, one of the best series ever and a monster popularity-wise. For those that are, as the hip young kids say, "not in the know", M*A*S*H dealt with surgeons stationed in Korea during the, appropriately enough, Korean War. The series was based on the great 1970 movie, which was based on the great 1968 book, but it's the TV show that's the most well-known & popular. Initially a black comedy in the vein of the book & movie, it later evolved into more of a dramaedy, but the series maintained a high standard of quality for nearly the entire run. People like to complain about the last few seasons, and yeah, there were times when it got a bit preachy, but M*A*S*H ended before the series ever became truly bad.
The original 1978 Beta release of the film. I didn't necessarily need it, but that didn't stop me from doing a bizarre touchdown dance when I found it, anyway. Okay, not really.
The movie-length series finale was pretty much an event, the most-watched program in U.S. history up until a few years ago; One of the Super Bowl's topped it. Which is impressive, sure, but that just doesn't seem like quite the same achievement to me. Really, who doesn't watch the Super Bowl? For a TV show to garner such massive ratings (estimated at 125 million viewers) is, to me, a far bigger deal. The M*A*S*H finale is still the most-watched actual *TV show* in U.S. history.
Being a huge fan of the franchise, there are few things that make me flip out and forget I'm in public more than when I come across a cool piece of M*A*S*H memorabilia (M*A*S*Hrobilia?) during my many travels through the wilds of Northeast Ohio. A few months back, I spotted a boxed official M*A*S*H Vodka Dispenser at Goodwill, and I swear I'm not making this up, very nearly jumped over an old couch obstructing my path and almost pushed past a guy roughly in the vicinity to get to it. Luckily, it never quite came to any of that, and I went home happily with my Vodka Dispsenser (which was the low, low price of $3.00. Bargain!), but my point is, I really love old memorabilia pertaining to the show. Truth be told, I get the same way around Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, and old Horror Movie Host memorabilia. It's what makes me me.
A fairly decent description of just what exactly I'm into.
M*A*S*H was never lacking in licensed products, but during 1982-1983, when the series was winding down, there was a whole new flood of M*A*S*H merch (M*E*R*C*H? Okay, okay, I won't do that anymore) in anticipation of the finale. Hell, there was even an Atari 2600 game. It was in 1982 that Tri-Star International LTD. (any relation to the movie company? I don't know) came up with what, on the surface, seems like a fairly implausible idea, but in reality turned out to be one of mankind's crowning achievements: A line of 3 3/4" M*A*S*H Action Figures!
Now, there had been toys based on the series prior to these, but this was the first and only full-fledged attempt at an actual line, comparable to Star Wars and G.I. Joe. Their release is admittedly a little head scratching. M*A*S*H was a popular show, sure, and I mean, I guess kids watched it, but it's still not something that really lends itself all that well to action figure status. Yeah, it was set during a war, and sometimes there was some gunfire, but it was fairly rare and never the point of the show anyway. M*A*S*H focused on the lives of those stationed at this mobile hospital in Korea, far away from their homes and families, and their attempts to deal with the horrors of war. Often, they'd turn to practical jokes, or drinking, or various other forms of entertainment. I guess what I'm saying is that it made for good TV, but I'm not sure this is something kids would want to reenact on their living room floors. Or maybe they would, hell, I don't know. If The Love Boat had a line of figures, why shouldn't M*A*S*H? All I'm sayin' is that when it came to toys, M*A*S*H wasn't G.I. Joe.
Good fodder for playtime?
Speaking of the Joes, 1982 was the year the revived G.I. Joe line appeared on shelves, also in the 3 3/4" format. My guess is that since both franchises are war-related, Tri-Star tried to grab a piece of the pie Star Wars made so popular and piggy-back off G.I. Joe's success. That is, if G.I. Joe was even released at the time. Both lines debuted in 1982, but I don't know which came first. No matter, methinks that for as good as M*A*S*H was (and is), and as much as I love this dedicated line of figures, these probably worked best not so much on their own, but rather as a supplement to G.I. Joe.
Hawkeye never drove this.
C'mon, we all mixed and matched our toys, and given the comparable scales, designs, etc. of the two lines, I can easily imagine kids using Hawkeye to boost their fleet of Joes. Cobra was tough, but even they were no match for martinis and wisecracks.
"You look like an ad for death!"
"That comment is beneath notice!"
"So don't notice it!"
The line was apparently not all that successful. I've seen plenty of people express surprise at the fact they even made M*A*S*H figures. And yet, none of them are especially rare. The core figures are easily obtained loose or on the card. Expect to pay a bit more if they're carded, but even then, you'll still have money left over for Bob Evans. There was actually a big ass camp compound playset, as well as chopper, jeep, and ambulance vehicles. I unfortunately don't have them, though I certainly want them. I just haven't picked them up yet. They run for more money than the figs, but still not unreasonable. Only the camp playset could be considered relatively expensive, if it's complete and in decent shape. Still, there is no M*A*S*H equivalent of Yak Face. Always remember that.
Beej never piloted whatever the hell this thing is.
These fellas were long gone by the late-1980's/early-1990's, which is when my adolescent self, like so many other kids, became obsessed with any kind of action figure. Back then, you could occasionally find neat figures from years prior in the bargain sections of Children's Palace and the like (I'm not talkin' thrift stores or flea markets here. I mean real, big time toy stores). It's not impossible to think I could have come across these figures at some point, I just didn't, at least not to my recollection. Hell, freakin' Bugmen Of Insecta and Pirates Of The Galaxseas figures became mine following excursions to get whatever Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or Batman figure had just come out, and nobody had Pirates Of The Galaxseas. Nobody except me, that is, an incredible 9 or 10 years after they were introduced! Does that sort of thing even happen anymore?
I don't believe Hot Lips was ever licensed to drive a Cobra ATV.
Anyway, my point is, had I been in the right place at the right time, I potentially could have had some M*A*S*H figs back in the day. They would have been woefully out of date, but frankly, that sort of thing never bothered me. Rather, I thought it was cool, I had figures that the other kids didn't, and often they were more badass than what was currently on shelves (see: Pirates Of The Galaxseas). What I'm getting at here is that given my love for G.I. Joe and the various Joe knock-offs I encountered (Remco's U.S. Forces line was admittedly awesome), it's not unreasonable to think I could have happily went home with my very own Charles Emerson Winchester III action figure. Hey, I had a 3 3/4" Richard Petty figure, after that pretty much all bets are off.
Winchester's not Destro.
As it stands, I learned of these figures not long after becoming a fan of the show. Time after time I had discovered previously unknown-to-me toys based on various properties, and it was on that basis that I even looked up M*A*S*H action figures. Lo and behold, there they were, easily had, even back then. Of course, at the time I had no real source of income, and unfortunately other things came first on the rare occasions when I actually did have money. Consequently, it took a few years before I actually owned any of these figures, but I certainly wanted them for the longest time.
Swank pulpit or beacon of impending death?
The entire main cast of the last few seasons of the series are represented in plastic form here: Hawkeye Pierce, BJ Hunnicutt, Colonel Sherman T. Potter, Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, Max Klinger, Charles Winchester, and Fr. Mulcahy. One of the great tragedies of these figures' failure is that their lack of success meant no additional figures. You know how in Star Wars they made a figure for everyone, even characters that only made a half-second cameo in the UK-only trailer? That could have been M*A*S*H. I'm probably the only one that wishes it was M*A*S*H, but still. Think of the variations! Hot Lips with decidedly-1980's hair, Hawkeye in Hawaiian shirt with action cowboy hat, the list could go on and on!
You never had this figure.
Okay, maybe not, but on the more realistic side, perhaps if the line had been just a bit more successful, figures for Trapper John, Frank Burns, Col. Blake and Radar could have been made. The series was widely syndicated, even then, so kids would have been familiar with those characters, even if they were no longer on the show by 1982. I lose a little bit of faith in the world every time I remember there is not and probably never will be an action figure that looks like Gary Burghoff.
Radar: Confused & Angry.
At first glance, the figs appear to do nearly everything the Joes could do. Bend at the waist via rubber band, joints in the elbows and knees, arms and legs move as the should, although the legs don't enjoy quite the same freedom of a Joe. The wrists don't move, and there's no ball joint in the neck in order to move the head anywhere but side-to-side, but the first line of Joes didn't have those features either, and in fact it took a few years before the neck option even appeared. In short, they have all the features of the '82 G.I. Joe figures.
However, these M*A*S*H figures feel definitely cheaper than Hasbro's product. Don't get me wrong, they're not Dollar Store quality, but they seem distinctly more fragile than any Joe ever did. I'd say their quality falls somewhere in the middle of those two spectrums. They won't shatter if you look at them wrong, but they probably don't lend themselves to rough play very well, either. Did anyone even have to worry about "rough play" with M*A*S*H figures? I suppose kids could reenact that scene where BJ punched Hawkeye in the face for pretty much no reason.
"YOU TWO PANSIES GOOFING OFF AGAIN?!"
"CAPTAIN! PICK UP THAT DAMN GUN!"
"I will not carry a gun! I'll carry your books, I'll carry a torch, I'll carry a tune, I'll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I'll even "Hari-Kari" if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!"
"...SOMEONE 'BOUT TO DIE!"
The only accessory any of the M*A*S*H figures come with is a happy face. You'd think a medical bag or IV stand or martini glass would have been appropriate, but apparently not. The previously mentioned 4077th playset had plenty of little bits and pieces, but I'd estimate only 8 kids had that thing, and they had it not really because they loved M*A*S*H so, so much, but rather because some relative didn't know what the hell to get them for Christmas.
Luckily, a trip to the G.I. Joe's accessory drawer can result in props for any occasion:
See! Endless possibilities!
"What the hell's taking you so long?!"
"If you don't fight faster, you're going to get us both killed, dammit!"
"I do one thing, I do it very well, and then I move on."
(To the dismay of Halo fans worldwide, that was supposed to be Master Chief. Yes, I know it doesn't really look like him, and that he rarely speaks. I don't play Halo, who cares, deal with it.)
Let's take a look at the individual figures:
Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce
If someone's going to buy a single M*A*S*H figure, 9 out of 10 people are going to buy Hawkeye (and which figure would that tenth person buy? We'll get to that later). Played by Alan Alda, Hawkeye was most people's favorite. There was just NO WAY Tri-Star could, or would, leave him out. He was also one of the few characters to stay with the series for the entire run, which is a good thing, because Alan Alda's Hawkeye was, in my opinion, the only character that was a true necessity. The series could and did rebound after numerous cast changes, but I'm not sure it would have worked in the case of Hawkeye. The series just revolved way too much around him.
The sculpting is about on par with any other early-80's action figure. That is, he looks about as close to Alan Alda as you could reasonably expect for a 1982 toy. I'm fine with that. I prefer the simpler, non-2000 points of articulation figures of yesteryear to today's offerings. If I were 20 years younger, I'm sure my views would be the complete opposite, and I don't buy modern toys anyway, so take my opinion for what it's worth.
Up close he looks pretty good, but from certain angles he can look fairly Bob Crane-ish. For some, that's a negative, but for others, a plus. I'll leave that momentous decision up to you.
The thing about Hawkeye was that he was fiercely devoted to his patients and cared for those fighting, but he hated the war, had no respect for the army, womanized relentlessly, drank, pulled gags, and generally just manipulated the system to get what he wanted. If my theory that kids used these figures more in tandem with other 3 3/4" lines than on their own is correct, then Hawkeye had the most "playability", if that makes any sense (and it probably doesn't).
There was also an alternate Hawkeye available: a variant popularly known as "Blonde Hawkeye". It's just a regular Hawkeye figure with blonde hair, an otherwise completely flesh-colored face, and a completely green-colored body. This figure was sold with vehicles, and was meant to be a generic soldier. Despite various seller claims on Ebay, HE IS NOT RARE. Some of these blonde variants did end up on regular Hawkeye cards, and while mint-on-the-card examples are more valuable than most other carded M*A*S*H figures, they're still not that rare. So, don't be fooled. Remember what I said? There is no M*A*S*H equivalent of Yak Face.
Hawkeye Figure Fun fact: Doubles nicely as a Gary Kroeger figure, should you ever need action figure representations of Saturday Night Live's cast of 1983.
It's funny because Gary Kroeger once impersonated Alan Alda on SNL. COINCIDENCE?!?!
Captain BJ Hunnicutt
BJ (or "Beej", as Hawkeye often called him) was the guy who replaced Trapper John McIntyre as Hawkeye's best friend and partner in crime. Whereas Trapper was a fellow drinker and womanizer not unlike Hawkeye, BJ, played by Mike Farrell, was a much more down-to-earth, happily married man (Trapper was also married, but he had no problem "being romantic" while in Korea). Of course, Beej still drank and generally goofed around, he was no stick-in-the-mud, but he wasn't just Trapper Part II, either.
You never had a Trapper John figure (NO, that old Commando Force figure is NOT the same guy!)
One of the cool things about M*A*S*H was that when a character left, they were replaced by someone somewhat comparable, but also quite different. The most amazing thing about that was that it always worked, the new character always fit like a glove, at least in my eyes. That doesn't necessarily mean I liked the new character more than the previous one (though in this case, I like Trapper and Beej equally).
Here's the deal with BJ. He joined the series at the start of season four, and for his first few seasons on the show, he was clean-shaven. At the start of season seven, he grew a mustache, and while I'm sure the two aren't connected, he became noticeably whinier. I mean, it's understandable, he's away from his wife and young daughter and everything, so who wouldn't complain? But, it just seems to me that before the 'stache, he was much more easygoing. Released near the end of the series, this figure is of the mustached-variety of BJ, to my constant chagrin.
Scientific proof on the BJ whining phenomenon:
It's a really good likeness of Mike Farrell, maybe the best of the line, but I'm tempted to buy another figure and file off the damn mustache. See, that's why this line needed the 80,000 variations enjoyed by Star Wars figures!
BJ Figure Fun Fact: Mike Farrell once did a commercial for Schmidt Beer. Apparently they still make it, although there don't seem to be any dealers in Northeast Ohio. So, if you can get your paws on a can of Schmidt, drink hearty with one hand while holding BJ in your other, for a fitting, if weird, tribute. If you can't find Schmidt, grab yourself a Schlitz for a hilarious case of irony.
In The Big Mouth bottle!
Colonel Sherman T. Potter
Remember that polar opposites thing I mentioned above? Col. Potter is a good example of it. The guy he replaced, Col. Henry Blake, was more or less a goof-off of a commanding officer. When it came to Hawkeye and Trapper, they were pals, but they could also easily manipulate him; He was more of a buddy than a person in charge. Col Potter, played by the late Harry Morgan, was a career army man. He was much more no-nonsense than Blake, and when he gave an order, he expected it to be followed. That said, he also became friends with those he was in charge of, and he was generally much more respected than Blake. Blake was buddy-buddy, but Potter was more of a father-figure.
Frankly, I just don't think the figure is a good likeness at all. Im not sure how well my picture shows it, but he looks less like Col. Potter and more like some country bumpkin; Potter may have loved Zane Grey novels and horses, but he was no bumpkin. More generous types may go as far as to say he looks like Orville Redenbacher.
Col. Potter Figure Fun Fact: Hopefully you can find an appropriate Joe Friday, because this is as close as you're going to get to a Bill Gannon.
Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan
Margaret, played by Loretta Swit, was the head nurse, and was with series start-to-finish. Her character was the one that perhaps changed the most over the course of the show. Originally a nemesis to Hawkeye and most of the other main characters, she was also Frank Burns' not-so-secret lover, and a strict follower of army discipline. She eventually dumped Frank, got married (and later divorced), and generally became much more tolerable and friendlier. Which is a good thing, because while it fit the character, the Hot Lips of the earlier years is just a bit too shrill and obnoxious.
I guess it's a passable likeness of Loretta Swit, but it's on the lower-end of the M*A*S*H-figure spectrum. Thankfully they didn't mold her hair into the un-1950's 'do she was sporting at one point in the series.
Hot Lips Fun Fact: Gather up Scarlett, Cover Girl and Lady Jaye and give Hot Lips a girl's night out. Just keep them away from Thomas Magnum, lest they be hit on relentlessly!
"That's right ladies, I live in a mansion and drive a Ferrari!"
"Where's my gas money, TM?"
"Not now, TC!"
Major Charles Emerson Winchester III
Played by David Ogden Stiers, Winchester was the Boston Blue Blood that replaced Frank Burns as Hawkeye & BJ's tentmate, with whom they were frequently at odds. Here's the thing with me and the replacements: In the case of Col. Blake or Col. Potter, it's a draw. Between Trapper or BJ, it's also a draw. But, when it comes to Frank Burns or Winchester, I definitely prefer Frank. Yeah, he was an unlikable cretin and a terrible doctor, but he was also, in my opinion, much funnier, and the way Hawkeye & Trapper/BJ tormented him was a riot. When Frank left, the plotlines lost a lot of the solid comic stability Burns brought to the series. In general, when Winchester joined in season six, that's when the show took a more dramatic turn, though it had been edging that way for awhile (there was always a dramatic edge to the series, it just became more prevalent as time went on). Basically, I like him fine, but I just don't find the Winchester character quite as entertaining as Frank Burns.
Of course, I've heard some people say they think the show actually became funnier after Frank left, and if that's their perception, hey, alright. I don't see it though. Not because M*A*S*H wasn't or couldn't be funny afterwards, it was when that's what the writers were going for, but the series was consistently more dramatic from then on. M*A*S*H wasn't as funny because it wasn't trying to be as funny.
Frank Burns: The choice of...some.
That's one of the great aspects of M*A*S*H, though. If you're in the mood for a black comedy, head for the earlier seasons. In a more dramatic mood? Try the later half of the series. A lesser show may not have survived, but the change in tone really helped keep M*A*S*H fresh. There's a M*A*S*H for every mood!
But, I digress. Unlike Frank, Winchester was an excellent doctor, and although frequently the antagonist, he was also considered a friend (eventually). He was certainly a much deeper character with some semblance of humanity, and there were more than a few memorable dramatic moments with him.
The figure's resemblance to David Ogden Stiers isn't bad, though at first I wanted to say he bore a stronger resemblance to Kelsey Grammer during the last few seasons of Frasier. He can also double nicely for James Taylor. But, the more I think about it, the more I think this figure resembles Robert Duvall as Frank Burns in the movie version of, say it with me, M*A*S*H! COINCIDENCE?!?!
Robert Duvall: Has his own action figure, doesn't even know it.
Winchester Fun Fact: Winchester is quite adept at piloting the Millennium Falcon.
Father John Patrick Francis Mulcahy
Like Hawkeye and Hot Lips, Fr. Mulcahy was on the show start-to-finish. However, he was played by a different actor in the pilot. Following that, he was played by William Christopher until the end. Initially little more than a minor character, Fr. Mulcahy grew in prominence over the course of several seasons until he was a major member of the cast. He was the camp's Catholic Chaplain, although few people ever attended his services. Despite the very 'worldly' nature of most everyone else, he was generally well-respected.
The sculpting does a decent job of resembling the actor, and really, how many Priest action figures are there? Fr. Mulcahy is pretty much it. Friar Tuck (yeah, they made one) is close, but no cigar. Kids must have been quite thrilled to have a clergyman to administer the Last Rites, should one of their G.I. Joes become mortally wounded.
Fr. Mulcahy Fun Fact: George Lucas wants us to believe otherwise, but we all know Han shot first. Being that as it is, Fr. Mulcahy is more than happy to hear Han's confession.
"A sin? The Holiday Special wasn't THAT bad!"
Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger
Ah, Klinger. Jamie Farr's Corporal (later Sergeant) Klinger was introduced to the show during the first season, and stayed until the end. Klinger's shtick was that he was constantly bucking for a Section 8. That is, a psycho discharge. Dressing in women's clothing was his usual means of trying to obtain said discharge. When Radar left the series, Klinger took over as company clerk and dropped the cross-dressing, but he never really lost the whole Get-Out-Of-Korea thing.
The regular Klinger figure is fine for what it is. It's not especially interesting, probably wasn't on many "Gotta Have It!!" lists. The sculpt is passable, but doesn't resemble Jamie Farr as much as I assume Jamie Farr would like.
Klinger Fun Fact: Boy, I don't know. Wasn't Jamie Farr in The Curse II? Re-enact a scene from that. Haven't seen it? That's okay, no one else has, either.
None of that matters though. Know why? Remember, 9 out of 10 people will buy Hawkeye, but for that 10th person, there's...
Klinger In Drag!
This is as close as the M*A*S*H line gets to Star Wars' long, long list of variations, unless you count Blonde Hawkeye, which I really don't. I mean, yeah, it IS a variation, but it's just a repainted stock Hawkeye. This though, this is something special. Klinger had dropped the cross-dressing thing a few seasons' prior, but since it was his most well-known trait, it's understandable that they'd incorporate it. Or, maybe it isn't. Seriously, what executive thought it would be a good idea to make this a kid's toy? It's just so weird.
"Hey Jimmy, check out this rad Snake Eyes figure I got for Christmas! What'd you get?"
"I got...Klinger in drag."
I'm not complaining, mind you. It's such an oddball choice for a figure, that it has no other option than to be completely awesome. I don't know who at Tri-Star thought kids would want to play with a hairy guy in bloomers, but God bless 'em for making it happen.
Ironically, this is a better likeness of Jamie Farr than the regular Klinger figure!
Hawkeye may be choice for the casual buyer, but for the 12 people seriously collecting M*A*S*H action figures, this is probably the most sought after. Naturally, it also goes for more money, especially carded. But there is no M*A*S*H equivalent of Yak Face. So, you wanna play with a middle-aged man in women's clothing? Have at it!
Klinger In Drag Fun Fact: Have you looked at the guy? This sumbitch is his own fun fact!
"Who's that hottie in the pink? She a friend of yours?"
So, there you have it, all of the M*A*S*H action figures. The good, the bad, and the cross-dressing. If nothing else, it's certainly an interesting line. I'd like to think that somewhere, somehow, some kid is playing with them, but I know the chances of that are almost nil. They were probably around for less time than AfterMASH. There's another missed opportunity, AfterMASH figs. We could have had Fr. Mulcahy in full Priest attire, and Mildred Potter, and, and...aw hell, even I can't work up excitement for fake AfterMASH action figures.
You never had this figure.
Oddly enough, talking about these reminds me of my long-standing angst at the fact no one ever made Family Matters action figures, despite freakin' Dinosaurs having their own line. And no, that stupid Urkel doll doesn't count. After all, there was probably just as much play potential as M*A*S*H figures. Maybe more, what with all of Urkel's idiotic inventions and whatnot. Plus, I want a figure that doubles as someone that can both fight Shredder and coach Little Mac, dammit!
C'mon, you know you want an action figure of THIS.
Alright, the conversation has turned to Reginald VelJohnson, as it so often does. That's my cue to wrap it up. So, in summation: M*A*S*H action figures, get on Ebay and buy some ASAP. Tell 'em Bilfy sent you. You'll be a better person for it.