Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the lead fictional character in the M*A*S*H novels, film, and television series. The character was played by Donald Sutherland in the film and Alan Alda on television.
About Captian PierceEdit
Born and raised in Crabapple Cove, Maine, Hawkeye is (according to the TV series) the son of Dr. Daniel Pierce. According to the novels, his father is “Big Benjy” Pierce, a lobster fisherman. He attended Androscoggin College, where he played football and intercepted a Hail Mary pass thrown by Dartmouth quarterback John McIntyre. After his medical residency in Boston, Hawkeye is drafted into the U. S. Army and called to serve at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War. Between long, intense sessions of treating critically wounded patients, he makes the best of his life in an isolated Army camp with heavy drinking, carousing, and pulling pranks on the people around him, especially the unpleasantly stiff and callous Major Frank Burns and Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan.
The novel established that Pierce’s nickname of “Hawkeye” was given to him by his father. It comes from the novel The Last of the Mohicans, which Pierce, in Hooker's book, claimed was "The only book my old man ever read."
In an episode of the TV series in which Hawkeye believed himself to be in mortal danger due to heavy enemy shelling, he made out a will and left Colonel Sherman T. Potter (who Hawkeye stated was like a father) the edition of The Last of the Mohicans that his father had given him. “It was his favorite book,” Hawkeye wrote in the will, implying that he had read more books.
Changes In CharacterEdit
Although the Robert Altman film followed Hooker’s book somewhat in structure, much of the dialogue was improvised and thus departed even from Ring Lardner, Jr.’s screenplay. The screenplay itself departed from the book in a number of details (e.g. Frank Burns became a major instead of a captain, and was identified with Major Hobson, the zealously religious officer that Pierce and bunkmate Trapper John McIntyre got removed from their tent and, subsequently, the camp), but on the whole, the main characters and mood were left intact.
Perhaps the biggest change in Hawkeye’s characterization from the book, to the big screen and finally to the small screen comes in his marital status. The Hawkeye of the book is married to Evelyn Pierce with children (according to the sequels) and faithful while in Korea (as far as the reader is concerned). He offers several doctors love advice, "Jeeter" Carroll for example, extolling the virtues of extramarital sex but never partaking himself. The film version of Hawkeye is still married, but gives himself more moral leeway, arguing that he is far from home, no one is ever going to know, and it will reduce stress for both involved.
Finally, the film’s Hawkeye was transformed into the womanizing and single Hawkeye of the TV series. In the pilot, however, Hawkeye told Lieutenant Dish that he was engaged and in a later first-season episode he broke up with several women, when he believed the war had ended, by telling him that he was married, although it was revealed at the end of the episode that he was lying.
Richard Hooker, who wrote the book on which the show (and the film version) was based, noted that Hawkeye was far more liberal in the TV show (in one of the sequel books, Hawkeye facetiously makes reference to "kicking the bejesus out of lefties just to stay in shape").
Hawkeye In TelevisionEdit
The television version of Hawkeye proved to be a somewhat different character: While his professional and social life was much the same, he also gradually evolved into a man of conscience trying to maintain some humanity and decency in the insane world into which he has been thrust. This was to a large extent due to actor Alan Alda’s influence, as he infused the character with some of his political ideals and morals. Some fans regretted the change in Hawkeye, feeling that he eventually became too self-righteous and sanctimonious for his own good and the good of the show, and profess that Hawkeye worked better as a sardonic goofball.
Developed for television by Larry Gelbart, the series departed in some respects radically from the film and book. The character of Duke Forrest was dropped altogether, and Hawkeye became the center of the MASH unit’s medical activity as well as the dramatic center of the series itself. In the book and the film, the Chief Surgeon had been “Trapper” John McIntyre; in the series, Pierce had that honor. In the book and the film, Hawkeye had played football in college (Androscoggin College, based on Hornberger’s alma mater Bowdoin College); in the series, Alda’s Hawkeye was hardly the football-champ type and even seemed proud of it and reveled in it, while his cohort Wayne Rogers’ Trapper looked sturdy enough to have played football. He seemed to resemble Groucho Marx, with his quick wit and “madcap” antics, sometimes even affecting a Groucho-like schtick.
As noted above, Hawkeye had been married in the book and the film. Near the beginning of the series, he claimed to be married, though this was a ploy on his part to get out of marrying a nurse he had been involved with. Presumably this alteration rendered his romantic dalliances (chiefly with nurses) more morally acceptable in the eyes of Gelbart and the other series officials. (In general, Gelbart tried to make the series less deliberately offensive and more “politically correct” than the film while nevertheless retaining some of its anarchic spirit.) Also, in early episodes, Hawkeye tells his father (Daniel) in a letter to say hello to his mother and sister, but in later episodes, he is an only child and his mother died when he was young. There is also a reference in the episode “Dear Dad,” where he wrote a letter to his father, that their home is in Vermont and also in the Season 1 episode “Ceasefire,” but all other references, including in the book and film, are to Hawkeye being from Maine. Most episodes refer to the senior Pierce as a physician, but in at least one episode, BJ addresses him over the telephone as “Mr. Pierce.”
Also in a bit of turn about is fair play, Hawkeye was twice placed in command of the 4077th, the first of which he learned how truly difficult the burden of command was for Lt. Col. Blake, Col. Potter and even Maj. Burns to which Maj. Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan replied "if only Frank Burns could see you now." The third time Col. Potter left however command was given to Major Winchester.
After The WarEdit
At the end of the television series, Hawkeye was the second-to-last to leave the dismantled camp with the announced goal of returning to his hometown of Crabapple Cove, Maine, to be a local doctor who has the time to get to know his patients instead of the endless flow of casualties he faced in his term of service.
In Hooker’s two sequels to M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, M*A*S*H Goes to Maine and M*A*S*H Mania, Hawkeye returns to live in Crabapple Cove, near to the town of Spruce Harbour, Maine. Having left the Army, Hawkeye is established to be working for the Veterans Administration. In May 1954 he is laid off. At this point, Hawkeye doesn’t have much money in the bank, is 31 years old, and has three children: Billy, Stephen and Karen.
The day he’s released, Trapper John comes to visit and sets Hawkeye’s future in motion. Trapper John, a Lieutenant in the medical organization of Maxie Neville in New York City arranges for further thoracic training for Hawkeye, first in the East Orange VA Hospital in New Jersey, then at St Lombard’s in Manhattan from July 1954. After two years Hawkeye breezes through the Thoracic Boards. At the end of his training in June 1956, two Spruce Harbour locals, Jocko Allcock (the man who was responsible for Hawkeye being fired by the VA) and “Wooden Leg” Willcox (the local fish magnate) come to visit Hawkeye to set him up in practice—by betting favorably on the outcome of his operations.
The first operation with Trapper John’s assistance (upon Pasquale Merlino) is a success, and thanks to his superior training Hawkeye becomes the local surgeon. As time goes by, Hawkeye is given more patients by the local general practitioner of note, “Doggy” Moore; goes into private practice with ex-Spitfire pilot Tony Holcombe and plots the eventual reuniting of the Swamp Gang. By 1959 Hawkeye has lured Duke Forrest, Trapper John and Spearchucker Jones into his net, and thanks to the proceeds of the “Allcock-Willcox” syndicate, a new “Finestkind Fishmarket and Clinic” is set up along with the new Spruce Harbor General Hospital.
In the twenty-year period described in Hooker’s two sequel novels, Hawkeye becomes notably more conservative politically (he supported Republican “Crazy Horse” Weinstein for governor of Maine and railed against people with “Recall Ford” bumper stickers), but remains as playful and humorous as ever. His golf game improves to an eight handicap depending on the time of year. He donates heavily to various causes, such as to needy children, to the re-education of a local clamdigger, and spends an inordinate amount of time caring for his patients.