Elliott Gould as Capt. “Trapper John” McIntyre, irreverent U.S. Army chest surgeon
Korea, Summer 1951
Release Date: January 25, 1970
Director: Robert Altman
Before there was Magnum, there was M*A*S*H, in which Elliott Gould set the “Gould standard” for effectively pairing a prolific mustache with an Aloha shirt. Robert Altman’s film was based on the then-recently published MASH: A Novel of Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker, which would in turn be adapted into a long-running TV series that would last almost four times as long as the Korean War itself.
While maverick Army doctor “Hawkeye” Pierce was arguably the central figure (and increasingly the show’s moral fiber, under Alan Alda’s creative direction), I was also fond of his cinematic sidekick, Captain “Trapper John” McIntyre as portrayed by Elliott Gould, born 82 years ago today on August 29, 1938.
Trapper is the latest of a trio of new surgeons shaking up life at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, alongside the irreverent Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and good ol’ boy Duke Forrest (Tom Skeritt), who wouldn’t make it to the TV series. Captain McIntyre is called to camp after Hawkeye and Duke express the need for “an A-1 chest cutter,” and he wastes no time in establishing his caddish credentials among his hard-drinking, womanizing cohorts by decorating his cot with a pinup girl print—dwarfing photos of his family—and joining his colleagues for a PBR before producing his own jar of olives that would take the Swampmen’s signature martinis to the next level.
If this guy knew the clowns who were operating on him, I think he’d faint.
Trapper earns some leeway for his antics by swiftly proving his considerable abilities in the operating room, and he is even named chief surgeon over the objections of the “regular Army” zealots Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman), the latter soon to be redubbed “Hot Lips” after her passionate and public tryst with the former. After Major Burns is led away in a straitjacket, the latest casualty of Hawkeye waging psychological warfare, Hot Lips proves to be a tougher nut to crack… until the Swampmen recruit a few of her fellow nurses for a racy gambit to publicly (or pubic-ly) settle a bet regarding whether or not she’s a natural blonde. (The humiliation seemingly serves as a hazing initiation for Hot Lips, who shifts her romantic attentions from the absent Major Burns to the extremely present Captain Forrest, actively cheerleads our protagonists during the climactic football game, and joins them in the poker game to follow.)
But to take a few steps back… following the shower incident, Trapper and Hawkeye are hitting golf balls from their makeshift driving range on the compound helipad—a scene that would be recycled for the opening vignette of the TV series—when they’re disrupted by a chopper landing. (“I wish they wouldn’t land these things here when we’re playing golf!” Trapper exclaims.) We learn that the frazzled lieutenant in the helicopter was indeed looking for his own A-1 chest cutter, personally selected by a Boston congressman to make haste for Japan to operate on his boy. One look at the fortunate son’s tests tells Trapper and Hawkeye that the young man’s injuries are far from life-threatening, but Trapper still enlists his buddy to join him as an assistant. After all…
How many times do you get to go to Japan with your golf clubs?
What’d He Wear?
The TV series would establish a favorite aloha shirt among all of its principal leads, though it’s solely Elliott Gould’s Trapper John who we observe embracing the spirit of the Hawaiian islands in the movie.
After arriving at the 4077th MASH that winter, Trapper waits until it’s seasonally appropriate to debut his floral duds, evolving his off-duty style from parkas and turtlenecks to a red floral shirt that he introduces worn open over his Army-issued undershirt and fatigue pants when overseeing the group’s prank on Hot Lips.
Trapper’s base layer is a khaki sleeveless undershirt, reflecting the olive drab cotton “A-shirt” tank tops that the U.S. Army had adopted and issued during World War II. Though ribbed A-shirts were authorized to wear via private purchase (per 90th IDPG), Trapper appears to wear the standard issue non-ribbed tank top with narrow shoulder straps where the armholes and neckband meet. Undershirts like these are still available from WWII surplus or reproduction shops like WWII Impressions.
Hawkeye and Trapper lounge in their undershirts while enjoying a day at the “beach”, reclining with beers on blankets at a chopper crash site. Perhaps anticipating a dip in the murky water near their feet, Trapper wears a pair of classically cut high-waisted swim trunks patterned in a green, bronze, and teal paisley print.
While neither Hawkeye nor Trapper were ones for sporting much of their Army regulation dress, Trapper—like their TV counterparts—wears the rich olive green 8.5-ounce cotton combat trousers that were introduced in 1952 as part of the OG-107 Cotton Sateen Utility Uniform and would be a familiar item in U.S. Army attire through the 1980s, when it was superseded by the camouflage BDUs. This November 1952 introductory date makes it possible that our front-line MASH docs could be clad in OG-107 fatigues, though it’s more realistic that they would be wearing the green herringbone twill (HBT) combat uniform introduced during World War II and issued through the Korean War.
The OG-107 trouser design follows the layout introduced with the updated 1947 pattern of the HBT pants, which replaced the HBT’s familiar flapped “cargo pockets” on the front with higher patch pockets that had slanted open side entry while retaining the two back pockets that each close with a single-button flap. In addition, the OG-107 pants have a button fly and belt loops (without the HBT’s additional side adjusters), which Trapper typically wears sans belt. You can read more about the history of the OG-107 uniform, and specifically the trousers’ role in American culture outside of its military purpose, in this Heddels article by Charles McFarlane.
The straight-legged OG-107 trousers were designed to be worn tucked into boot tops, but Trapper doesn’t bother with that and wears his pants’ plain-hemmed bottoms over the shafts of his black leather lace-up combat boots. Trapper’s preference for black boots is yet another anachronism as the U.S. Army hadn’t even adopted black leather combat boots until 1958, five years after the Korean War ended, and accelerated their adoption by even dying earlier stocks of the previously issued M-1948 russet brown leather boots.
The “Boots, Service, Combat, Russet M1948” and their black leather successors were reportedly optimal for both garrison wear with their smooth, polished grain leather uppers and for long marches with the Goodyear-welt construction, diamond-treaded soles, and the ankle support provided by eleven lace eyelets up the calf. These black combat boots were further modified in 1962 with the elimination of the cap-toe and a height decrease from 10.5″ to 8.5”, which also reduced the lace eyelets from eleven to nine. This model was nicknamed the “McNamara boot” as a nod to the cost-cutting Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson from 1961 to 1968. Gould appears to be wearing these “McNamara boots” which Alan Alda would also wear as Hawkeye across the eleven seasons of the TV show to follow.
Neither the movie nor subsequent series ever made much of an attempt to conceal the fact that they were made in the 1970s, keeping the characters’ hair and uniforms more contemporary to the Vietnam era without making a concerned effort to match regulations during the Korean War… though I’ve heard it suggested that this was intentional to keep the Vietnam subtext topical for audiences.
One prominent wardrobe item does ring of historic significance is Trapper’s red-and-beige aloha shirt. A stricter commanding officer than the pushover Henry Blake may have frowned upon how frequently his chief surgeon opted for his cheery civilian attire, though Trapper’s floral shirt reflects an off-duty favorite of Army personnel from the era. (And it’s while wearing this shirt that Trapper facetiously harangues the harried chopper pilot who arrived to spirit him away to Japan: “button up your shirt, for crying out loud, you’re in a military army!”)
These festive Hawaiian shirts had emerged as a favorite among servicemen stationed in the Pacific during World War II, as famously depicted among the like of Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity (1953), which was released just more than a week after the Korean War had officially ended.
Patterned in a large-scaled coral red and beige floral all-over print, Trapper’s short-sleeved shirt is cut and styled in the aloha tradition with camp collar, elbow-length sleeves, and straight hem. The shirt buttons up a plain “French placket” front with a loop extending from the left side of the neck indicating a small button under the right side of the collar to close at the neck should the wearer so desire. The shirt also has two patch pockets over the chest.
Trapper frequently wears gold-framed aviator sunglasses with a reinforced brow bar that had been innovated with the development of the Ray-Ban Outdoorsman in 1939, shortly after Bausch & Lomb had officially launched its Ray-Ban line of eyewear. The prominent frontal brow bar and rounded ear hooks found on the Outdoorsman were also incorporated into the design of the AN6531 specs adopted by the U.S. government for its Army and Navy pilots during World War II.
More than 80 years after the frame’s inception, the RB3030 Outdoorsman remains a popular choice from the brand’s catalog (via Amazon or Ray-Ban) though lower-priced versions abound from brands like military outfitter Rothco.
Somewhere between Korea and Japan, Trapper loses the two braided hemp bracelets worn around his right wrist, a laidback, beachy affectation surely not in accordance with Army regulations!
As much as Trapper John may eschew the trappings of his Army associations, his wristwatch appears to be one of the hand-wound A-17 pilot’s watches issued to U.S. military personnel in the early 1950s, an update of the World War II-era A-11 field watch, manufactured by major American brands like Bulova and Waltham, all standardized to follow the MIL-W-6433 spec design of a 32mm case (typically in chromium-plated brass as steel was reserved for more essential war materiel), black dial with radium-added numerical hour markers, an outer ring of 5-minute increments, and an inner track of white markers numbered 13 to 24 to aid in telling military time, all on a olive drab canvas strap. (Thank you to my friend Aldous Choi, who pointed out that the busier dial of Trapper’s timepiece suggested an A-17 rather than the earlier A-11.)
You can read more about the history, design, and legacy of the A-17 and other American military watches at Worn and Wound.
A few production stills and behind-the-scenes shots show Trapper wearing his olive drab field jacket over his Aloha shirt with fatigue pants and boots, though this overall look unfortunately never makes it to the finished film.
While most of Trapper’s G.I. wear is too modern for the movie’s timeframe, his field jacket actually pre-dates the Korean War as he wears the M-1943 field jacket in “olive drab no. 7” (OD7) cotton sateen, modified from its M-1941 pattern predecessor by a longer length, hitting the upper thighs, and a drawstring waist that splits the two chest pockets and the two hip pockets, all closed with covered-button flaps. This iconic jacket also has shoulder straps (epaulettes), pointed single-button cuffs, and a covered six-button front fly with an additional button that closes over the neck.
Due in part to their practicality, field jackets have transcended their military origins to become popular among civilians, with both the M-1943 and the more current M-1965 in frequent demand. Countless designers, fashion houses, and retailers have crafted their own approach to this venerable military outerwear, but the best-wearing examples prove to be original mil-spec or surplus jackets followed by relatively accurate reproductions such as these M43 jackets offered by Amazon, At the Front., and WWII Impressions.
What to Imbibe
“I don’t drink,” the pious Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) had groaned to his new bunkmates, sending The Swamp into distress as Hawkeye absorbed the news after a full day of surgery: “Jesus Christ, I think he means it.”
The later arrival Trapper John proves to be a far more fitting companion and drinking buddy for Hawkeye and Duke, all too happy to swill gin and Pabst New Ribbon with his fellow cutters. Trapper’s working through a can of the latter when Hawkeye offers the first test of Swampmanship: “Are you a beer drinker, sir, or would you like to share a martini with me?” To this, the taciturn surgeon responds with more enthusiasm that we’d seen from him yet:
Martini, that’d be- I’d love a martini.
“I think you’ll find these accommodating… they’re quite dry,” explains Hawkeye as Ho-Jon hands Trapper his gin.
“Don’t you use olives?” Trapper asks.
“Olives? Where the hell you think you are, man?” responds Duke. Though Hawkeye explains that certain concessions must be made, given the war and all, Trapper John instantly wins the hearts—and livers—of his astounded new roommates by pulling a jar of olives from his parka and dropping one into his coupe.
How to Get the Look
MASH‘s Hawkeye Pierce may have been the central character of the book, series, and movie, though—at least in the latter—it was always Elliott Gould as Trapper John that resonated most with me, trolling around the 4077th with his anachronistic sideburns and horseshoe mustache, clad in red floral-print aloha shirt and G.I. fatigues.
- Coral red-and-beige floral short-sleeved aloha shirt with camp/loop collar, two chest pockets, plain front, and straight hem
- Olive green cotton sateen OG-107 flat front pants with belt loops, button fly, patch side pockets, button-down flapped back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Khaki cotton sleeveless tank top
- Black leather plain-toe combat “McNamara boots” with nine eyelets
- Gold-framed aviator sunglasses with reinforced brow bar, similar to the Ray-Ban Outdoorsman
- Chromium-plated brass “-17 military field watch with black 24-hour dial and olive drab canvas strap
- Double braided hemp bracelets
Do Yourself a Favor and…
This may be a more niche interest, but I’ve discovered—thanks to Reddit and other web forums—that I’m not the only M*A*S*H fan interested in tracking down some of the Japanese versions of contemporary songs like “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “Happy Days Are Here Again”, “The Japanese Sandman”, and “My Blue Heaven” that play over the 4077th’s loudspeakers to entertain the troops.
While those actual recordings still seem to elude us a half-century later, there does exist a 1930s-era version of the latter titled “Watashi no aozora” as recorded by Utako Matsushima that reflects the spirit, if not the exact tempo, of what Hawkeye and Trapper would have been hearing strained through the screened-in walls of the Swamp:
Look, mother, I want to go to work in one hour. We are the pros from Dover, and we figure to crack this kid’s chest and get out to the golf course before it gets dark, so you go find the gas-passer and you have him pre-medicate this patient, then bring me the latest pictures on him; the ones we saw must be 48 hours old by now. Then call the kitchen and have them rustle us up some lunch—ham and eggs will all right, steak would be even better—and then give me at least one nurse who knows how to work in close without getting her tits in my way.