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M*A*S*H - the television show - was a military brass colored thread that ran through my life from 4th grade to my first year in the Army. By the final show, I'd gone from a pudgy, short 4th grader forced to wear rubber bands on her braces to an E-3/PFC in the Army. I could run faster and do more sit-ups then most men; take apart and reassemble an M16 in less than a minute; and, of course, shoot well enough to win prizes even at rigged carnival galleries.
On February 28, 1983, the date the final M*A*S*H episode aired, the Presidio I was stationed lost power. Channelling my inner Radar O"Reilly, I scrounged up a 6" black and white TV, collected money for a couple of dozen D batteries, and the entire Company watched it in the standing-room only Common Room.
The 1970 movie "MASH" was based on this book - Richard Hooker's novel "MASH: A Novel about Three Army Doctors" (1968). I'm certain I wouldn't have seen the movie until high school, and then it would have been bowdlerized for network television broadcast. Censored or not, I loved the movie - especially Sally Kellerman as "Hot Lips Houlihan." She was so over the top, she'd rounded the bend and was back to some mysterious manic subtlety.
I remember reading this MASH book the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I thought the book would complement the movie.
Unfortunately, didn't understand half of it. The political and military satire - no problem. But the medical stuff - Hooker is the nom de plume of H. Richard Hornberger, MD (deceased), a genuine US Army surgeon who served in the Korean War. I completely lacked the education to understand the anatomy, medical terms, and surgical procedures he was talking about. The Internet was called Arpamet, and a decade away from even the most basic civilian use. The set of Encyclopedia Britanicas Mom and Dad had bought on a monthly installment plan over 4 years didn't have the detail to explain bowel resections, pulmonary embolisms, and the subtleties of neurosurgery. And the public library - well, let's just say - it's really hard to use a card catalog and the Dewey Decimal System when you don't know what you're looking for.
More than 30 years later, I really enjoyed the book "MASH." The writing and dialog was a bit choppy but I just wish I'd been able to say and do some of the things Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre did when I served. Of course, no one is going to get away with that in an all volunteer Army. Pierce and McIntyre, on the other hand, were drafted from lucrative private practices. And the plot - let's just say it was a huge plot for a relatively short book. The television series put that to good use.
This is classic war fiction, with a healthy dose of sarcasm and humor.
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I can vividly recall the meteoric rise of River Phoenix as a different kind of teen icon. After Stand By Me, there was no one my age who did not at least subconsciously know what River Phoenix was doing and what movies he was appearing in. Unlike others in Hollywood who embodied the 80's zeitgeist of selfishness and excess, River Phoenix was promoting animal rights and making quirky choices (mostly) in his film choices that steered many of his fans to see thought-provoking films that they might never have considered if he had not been in them.
This book provides a pretty complete picture of River Phoenix's family, from their transition between hippie nomads to Children of God cult members to unlikely Hollywood royalty. What was particularly amazing about this was how the unconventional worldview and the naive way they looked at River's acting career was tolerated by Hollywood, illustrating that it may not be as necessary as many stage parents seem to think to sacrifice your child's well being to the gods of fame in order to accomplish stardom. However admirable the Phoenix parents' commitment to their ideals may be, it becomes pretty clear that they unfairly placed the burden of providing for the family on the children and especially on River. You can see the adolescent River coming to terms with hypocrisy in them, as well as chafing (however mildly) under the burden at times.
More than anything, this story really makes me wonder what sort of man and what sort of actor River Phoenix might have been if he had not died. Phoenix was not any more of a drug abuser than his contemporaries, he was just unlucky enough that he never got a chance to make the decision to leave drugs behind. It becomes obvious that this is the main difference between River and other stars like Anthony Kiedis, Johnny Depp, Corey Feldman, etc.: they got lucky and River did not.
I have read some reviews that were negative about the narrator'a performance or the author's inclusion of so many perspectives from famous contemporaries of River. I disagree. I thought that 1) the narrator did a fairly amazing job of mimicking the voices of River's famous contemporaries, which was very entertaining, and 2) it would have been impossible to actually capture the times without including all these famous people River knew and how he affected them.