Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce is the Chief Surgeon of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit. His nickname, "Hawkeye," comes from a character in the novel The Last of the Mohicans. He is portrayed by Donald Sutherland in the motion picture and by Alan Alda in the television show.
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.) Hawkeye 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 Medical Corps and called to serve at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M*A*S*H) 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 claimed was "the only book my old man ever read.", as well as in the TV episode, "A Full Rich Day".
In "Where There's a Will, There's a War", 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 (whom 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.
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 becoming a major instead of a captain, and also combined with the novel's Major Hobson, the zealously religious officer that Pierce and bunkmate Duke Forrest 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 episode, 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 them that he was married, although it was revealed at the end of the episode that he was lying. In a third season episode a nurse claims that Hawkeye is married. Hawkeye asks her who told her that, to which she replies, that he was the one to have originally made the claim. In 4/22, Hawkeye does admit to having had a de facto common law relationship (before the Korean War) with a nurse.
Richard Hooker, who wrote the book on which the film and show were based, notes that Hawkeye is far more liberal politically in the TV show than in his books (in one of the latter, Hawkeye recalls "kicking the bejesus out of lefties just to stay in practice").
In the original novel, Hawkeye deploys the epithet "finest kind" so frequently that the phrase becomes a leitmotif of evocative but unspecified meaning; throughout the film, he produces a distinctive whistle (which is refrained by Radar O'Reilly at the film's end). The whistle does not find its way into the television program. But Hawkeye does occasionally use the phrase "finest kind", describing, for example, the unit's homemade gin. In Season 4's, "Dear Peggy", the term refers to Hawkeye himself. And in "The Interview", the phrase describes the staff of the 4077th.
The television version of Hawkeye proved to be a somewhat different character. While his professional and social lives were 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, sometimes to the point of trying to force his own sense of moral superiority onto others. 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.
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 M*A*S*H unit’s medical activity as well as the dramatic center of the series itself. In the series he is named Chief Surgeon while in the movie and novel, Trapper John is named Chief Surgeon. 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 Trapper (Wayne Rogers) could be seen playing football in several episodes, and later Mike Farrell's B.J. could be seen lifting himself up by his arms from a metal pole post, thus suggesting this Hawkeye's friends were more physically durable than him. Alda's Pierce seemed to resemble Groucho Marx, with his quick wit and “madcap” antics, sometimes even affecting a Groucho-like schtick.
Hawkeye's marital status was also different on television from what it had been in the books. In general, Gelbart tried to make the series less deliberately offensive for audiences than the film while nevertheless retaining some of its anarchic spirit. In the TV series, he is described as lecherous, and can be seen getting close with many of the nursing staff. In one episode Hawkeye does admit to a de facto common law relationship with a nurse for a year after he graduated from medical school. Also, in early episodes, Hawkeye tells his father, Daniel Pierce, in a letter to say hello to his mother and sister, and in another episode his sister sends him a sweater she had knitted; however, in later episodes, he says he is an only child and his mother died when he was ten years old. There are also references, in the Season 1 episodes “Dear Dad” and “Ceasefire”, to Pierce's father living in Vermont, and in the Season 4 episode “The Late Captain Pierce” Hawkeye tells B.J. that they merely have "a summer cottage" in Crabapple Cove, 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, B.J. addresses him over the telephone as "Mr. Pierce". In addition, when Hawkeye is writing to his father in one episode, he explains medical terms he would not have to explain to a doctor.
Also in a bit of "turn-about-is-fair-play", Hawkeye was twice placed in command of the 4077th, the first of which he afterwards remarked how truly difficult the burden of command was for Blake, Potter and even Burns, to which Margaret Houlihan replied, "If only Frank Burns could see you now." The third time Col. Potter left, however, Hawkeye seemed reluctant about taking the reins and relinquished control to Major Winchester.
While Hawkeye is decidedly unmilitary and eschews the trappings of the service, he has been known, rarely, to render a salute, on one occasion to Frank Burns in which Hawkeye replied "We all have our bad days, Frank," on one occasion to his imaginary friend Captain Tuttle, on two occasions to Radar, first when Radar got a Purple Heart, the second when he was departing the unit. In the second season, in an episode entitled "The Incubator," Hawkeye throws a legitimate salute to a major who he thinks will be able to provide him with some much needed medical equipment. He also joined the M*A*S*H personnel in a salute to Father Mulcahy following Mulcahy's promotion to Captain. The final time was with B.J. Hunnicutt, as a farewell gesture to Colonel Sherman Potter as he left during the final episode of the series. Although Hawkeye was never shown receiving any kind of citation on the show, it is assumed that he himself would be a recipient of the Purple Heart for once having been wounded. He also in episode 2/23 ("Mail Call") mentions that this was his second war; implying that he had served in World War II. He also only refers to few characters by their actual rank; generally these are people he doesn't think he can afford to anger such as generals or other "regular army" types that require it, and even then, the salute is often mocking. The only person he consistently refers to by rank and with respect is Colonel Potter. The one time Pierce follows Army regulations is 1/17 when after a close friend of his dies after being wounded-Pierce reports a under age soldier to the MPs and Major Houlihan-so the patient can be sent home (ironically Ronny Howard was actually 18).
Hawkeye, along with Trapper and BJ, often clashed with the US and South Korean armies on issues, particularly the draft. Hawkeye, like many in the series, was disgusted with being drafted into the army, and constantly voiced his views to many, including army officials. He would sometimes even go out of his way to undermine the army when it was trying to do something he disagreed with. Some examples are:
- He and BJ once hid a 16 year old draft-dodger from the Korean army. In the end, the boy decided to join the army despite Hawkeye and BJ's protests.
- A colonel was constantly getting his men wounded in a reckless bid to capture a hill. When he came to the 4077th and made it clear he didn't care about the lives of his men, Hawkeye and BJ told Colonel Potter, who reported his actions to I Corps. But even after I Corps ordered him to stop, the colonel was undeterred, deciding to order his men to patrol near the hill to draw enemy fire and use it as an excuse to attack. Hawkeye was so angry he drugged the colonel so he could remove his appendix and get him relieved of his command. Despite a furious protest from BJ, who argued that what Hawkeye was planning on doing was wrong, Hawkeye went through with the operation. Afterward, Hawkeye has to struggle with his concience because, no matter what his reason for doing so, he had ultimately committed an act of mutilation. (This is is in conflict with an earlier episode, in which Hawkeye performs the same unnecessary surgery on Col. Flagg to stop him from stealing the camp's supply of penicillin, for which he shows no regret. )
- A South Korean lieutenant claimed a woman brought into the 4077th was a communist guerilla. Hawkeye and BJ didn't believe this, and became determined to get her to safety when finding out the lieutenant had a reputation for torturing and killing people he interrogated. Even after the woman confirmed she was a communist and tried to murder one of their patients, they still tried to stop the lieutenant. They only backed off after the guards accompanying the lieutenant threatened to shoot them.
In the penultimate episode of season 11, the 4077th staff began assembling a time capsule of mementos from their time in Korea, with Hawkeye putting in four items. The first was a chopper's broken fan belt; its pilot had taken all night to fly a wounded soldier into camp, since the engine kept overheating. Hawkeye said that although no one had noticed the pilot while he was there, it would be nice for someone in the future to know that he had made a difference. The second item was the teddy bear left behind by Radar when he was discharged, to stand for the soldiers who came to Korea as boys and went home as men. The third item was a fishing lure that belonged to Henry Blake, to stand for the soldiers who never made it home. The final item was a dress, to stand for the women the soldiers left behind.
At the end of the television series, Hawkeye was one of the 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 the fictional town of Spruce Harbor, Maine. The fictional town is described as having 30,000 residents, a large fish wharf, a café which is frequented by the protagonists, an international airport, and the Spruce Harbor General Hospital.
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 does not have much money in the bank, is 31 years old, and has three children: Billy, Stephen and Karen.
The day he is 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 needy children and the re-education of a local clamdigger, and spends an inordinate amount of time caring for his patients. He is, however, prone to use racial and homophobic epithets.
Behind the ScenesEdit
Hawkeye Pierce is played by Alan Alda.