Chief Surgeon Who?

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"Chief Surgeon Who?"
M*A*S*H episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 4 (4th overall)
Directed by E.W. Swackhamer
Written by Larry Gelbart
Production code J307
Original air date October 8, 1972
Guest appearance(s)

Sorrell Booke as General Barker
Timothy Brown as Spearchucker
John Orchard as Ugly John
Jamie Farr as Klinger
Jack Riley as Capt. Kaplan
Linda Meiklejohn as Leslie
Bob Gooden as Boone
Odessa Cleveland as Ginger

Episode chronology
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"Requiem for a Lightweight"
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"The Moose"
M*A*S*H (season 1)
List of M*A*S*H episodes

"Chief Surgeon Who?" is the fourth episode of the television series M*A*S*H. It was first broadcast on October 8, 1972 and was repeated twice, on April 15 and July 29, 1973. It was written by Larry Gelbart, who won a Writers Guild Award for it, and directed by E.W. Swackhamer. This episode marks the first appearance of Jamie Farr as Corporal Klinger.[1] In Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America, a sociological examination of M*A*S*H as an illustration of shifting American values in the 1970s and early 1980s, James H. Wittebols cites this episode as an example of the satirizing of hypocritical authority figures.[2]

After complaints about the surgeons' practical jokes during sessions, Col. Blake decides to appoint a chief surgeon. Despite protests from the Majors, he chooses Hawkeye. In retaliation, the Majors bring a General to the camp to inspect Hawkeye's work.


After a long O.R. session, Major Burns complains to Col. Blake that the surgeons respect Hawkeye more than him. In response, Col. Blake appoints Hawkeye as chief surgeon, to consult on all shifts. Burns is furious over the choice, believing that the position should be determined by rank and that, as the highest ranking surgeon (and the unit's second-in-command), he should automatically receive the position. Blake refuses to reconsider, reminding Burns that Hawkeye has two specialty certifications and that he performs better when "the heat's on". An angry Burns promises to bring plenty of heat to his commanding officer, and he and Major Houlihan go over his head to General Bradley Barker in the hopes that he will overrule Blake and name Burns the chief surgeon.

The general arrives just after the entire camp, with the exception of the two majors, have thrown a massive party for Hawkeye, and are now finishing off with sex, drinking, and gambling. Major Burns informs him that a badly wounded patient has been waiting in surgery for half an hour, and Hawkeye is playing poker. When the general confronts Hawkeye, he orders him to perform the surgery. Hawkeye refuses, explaining to Barker that when the patient came into the 4077th, his condition made him too great a risk to operate immediately. Hawkeye also informs the general that he will not perform the operation until the patient is stabilized unless an emergency arises and that Barker is free to take over treatment if he desires.

Furious at Hawkeye's perceived insubordination, Barker storms across the compound looking for Col. Blake. He proceeds to inspect the entire camp and finds disrespect for military authority at every turn, including Corporal Klinger, who is wearing a dress while on guard duty. By the time he finds Blake, Hawkeye has gone to the OR and Barker asks him about the condition of his patient. Hawkeye responds by telling Barker the patient is stable and ready for operation. As Barker observes the surgery, he realizes Hawkeye is more than qualified for his chief surgeon position and that his choice to wait to operate was actually the right decision. For this reason, he drops all the charges he had intended to press. General Barker also advised Col. Blake to give Major Burns "a high colonic and send him on a ten mile hike" as a punishment for Burns and Houlihan calling him to the 4077th and wasting his time. [3][4][5]


  • The main plot of this episode is derived from the midsection of Richard Hooker's original MASH novel and the subsequent film, MASH. In both, however, Trapper is made chief surgeon, instead of Hawkeye.[6][7]
  • The ending of this episode, in which a high-ranking official drop their charges on one of the surgeons based on their skills, is identical to that of the pilot episode and several later ones.
  • In the original script for this episode, Corporal Klinger was written as an effeminate gay man. However, the writers decided that it would be more interesting to have Klinger be heterosexual, but wear dresses in an attempt to gain a Section 8 discharge.[1] He was originally written to appear here only, but the character was so popular with the show's writers and producers that he was brought back, eventually becoming a series regular and a breakout character.


  1. ^ a b Wittebols, James H. (2003). Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 29. ISBN 0-7864-1701-3. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  2. ^ Wittebols, p. 24
  3. ^ "Episode Guide". TV Guide. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  4. ^ "M*A*S*H: Season One (Collector's Edition) (1972)". 
  5. ^ Reiss, David S. (1983). M*A*S*H: the exclusive, inside story of TV's most popular show. 
  6. ^ Wittebols, pp. 161–166
  7. ^ "The Classic Sitcoms Guide: M*A*S*H". Retrieved 2009-05-15. 

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