Fact or myth: Is a M*A*S*H nurse really reading 'Jaws' in an episode?
Does Ken Levine's insider detail have bite?
All these years later, we are still discovering new details in M*A*S*H. Recently, we were listening to Hollywood and Levine, the podcast of Ken Levine, the screenwriter behind brilliant M*A*S*H stories like "Good-Bye, Radar," while digging through his blog.
We came upon a fascinating little tidbit in the letter section of a 2010 post.
"Can you recall any unintended anachronistic blunders on the show?" a fan asked.
"Oh, there have been plenty. In the first M*A*S*H [David Isaacs and I] wrote — 'Out of Sight/Out of Mind' — the tag takes place in the nurses' tent. Look closely," Levine responded. "One of the nurses is reading JAWS."
Wait, what? A nurse in the Korean War (1950–53) reading a shark novel first published in 1974? Now that would be something. We had to see for ourselves.
The scene, the closing minute of the episode, sees Hawkeye stumbling into the nurses' tent with a bandage around his eyes. He is pretending to be blind. Four nurses lounge in their lodging. Kellye (Kellye Nakahara) fiddles with her hair. Lt. Bigelow (Enid Kent) perches on a bunk in the upper left of the frame. Nurse Able (Judy Farrell, wife of star Mike Farrell) wraps a towel around her head. Lt. Gage (Bobbie Mitchell) lies in bed, kicking her feet in the air and reading a paperback.
That must be it — Gage is the only one holding a book. Is it indeed the Peter Benchley bestseller that spawned Steven Spielberg's summer blockbuster?
Sorry, this is a false great white sighting. Lt. Gage is not reading Jaws. Take a look at the book in her hand.
Now, the teal blob on white with the red text? That somewhat resembled the color scheme of Jaws marketing. However, that is the back cover of the book. Gage's yellowed paperback sports a dark cover with a yellow title — a title that happens to be three words.
Compare that to the Jaws novel covers from around that time. Remember, the episode aired in 1976.
We can see how someone might mistake the iconic middle cover with the back of Gage's book, especially on the television sets of the Seventies and Eighties.
However, in HD, well… that's not a shark. It is three words: The Red C…? Our best guess was The Red Carnation by Elio Vittorini, an Italian novel popular in the early 1950s. Still, the title is not clear.
Maybe it is more of a case of "Out of Focus, Out of Mind"?
That does not let M*A*S*H entirely off the hook. The landmark sitcom still made mistakes and let anachronisms slide. Radar repeatedly read comic books published in the 1960s. Radar also does a John Wayne impression, quoting a movie from 1963. A Sixties pinball machine sits in the officers' club.
But Gage, at least, is not reading about a deep-sea terror. This myth is busted.