Wednesday, November 29, 2017

M*A*S*H Goes To Hollywood

I generally haven't bothered reviewing the M*A*S*H novels on this site, because aside from the characters, they really don't have anything to do with the show. If anything, original M*A*S*H author Richard Hooker (aka Richard Hornberger) went out of his way to disparage the show whenever he could (though I'm sure he still cashed the checks).

Anyway, my longtime pal (and new Swamp RatChris Franklin recently gifted me a copy of M*A*S*H Goes To Hollywood when he saw it at an antique store. So I thought I should at least give it a read. Hollywood is the 11th book in the series, "co-written" by Hooker and William Butterworth. I put that in quotes because supposedly after M*A*S*H Goes To Maine (1972), Hooker/Hornberger had no involvement in these books at all. In fact, it's most likely that the series wouldn't have continued at all if not for the TV series, which of course turned the M*A*S*H name into a valuable property.

I'm giving all this back story because, the short of it, I didn't enjoy this book at all. As a diehard M*A*S*H fan, I have a basic curiosity over the fact that I am reading characters called Hawkeye, Trapper John, and Hot Lips, like I've stumbled into an alternate universe. But Hollywood isn't remotely funny, and worse yet, it's smug and believes itself to be hilarious (there's a character called "Don Rhotten", har dee har har), making it painful to get through.

I've often said that even though I fully acknowledge that Robert Altman's M*A*S*H film is brilliant, I find a little unpleasant to watch because I think the characters are so sour and mean, especially compared to the TV versions. The book's characters have even less warmth than the movie ones, so for me there was nothing to, er, hook into. It was basically just a bunch of unfunny jokes for 200 pages, and then it stops.

Still, I appreciate Chris's generosity, and I was happy to have experienced the book for its own sake. Apparently the last M*A*S*H book, 1977's M*A*S*H Mania, ignores all the previous Butterworth books and presents the characters have grown into middle age, which sounds at least a little more interesting than what's on display here.

One last thing: on the book's back cover, the show is explicitly plugged, going so far as to list the then-cast of the show, despite the fact that most of them do not appear in this book.

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