M*A*S*H Memorabilia Marches On

Auction Highlights - M*A*S*H Memorabilia Marches On

M*A*S*H Goes to Auction: Hawkeye's Combat Boots and Dog Tags Benefitting The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science Signature® Auction

Having celebrated more than 50 years in television history, the ground-breaking hit show M*A*S*H is still enjoyed by millions of viewers all over the world today. With so many fans old and new across the globe, any memorabilia from the show that comes up for auction is sure to draw a big crowd.

Heritage Auctions in Dallas Texas hosted a special online auction on July 28, 2023 to showcase two beloved mementos from the hit TV show belonging to actor Alan Alda, who starred in the lead role as Capt. Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce.

These two remaining pieces of wardrobe, a pair of combat boots and two dog tags, the last remnants of his tour of duty are the only souvenirs he kept from the show. They mean so much to Alda, he only parted with them to help fund what has become his greatest passion for the past 14 years: the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

"Hawkeye's boots and dog tags are not only entertainment memorabilia from a beloved series, but the cherished keepsakes of a national treasure," says Heritage's Chief Strategy Officer Joshua Benesh. "And before that, they were the personal artifacts of real soldiers. They now take on a new life as a source of fundraising for a noble cause in which a noble man has invested so much of his time and resources, and we are honored to be even a small part of such a grand gesture."

Alan Alda and Hawkeye’s Wardrobe

Alan Alda made his debut as Hawkeye Pierce in the summer 1972 at the age of 36, when he stepped into the role of Hawkeye, head surgeon at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. For the next 11 years, he would show up on set and put on the same pair of scuffed-up combat boots and two dog tags made of nickel and copper that the costumers had handed him on his first day. They became part of his character.

"Putting on the boots and lacing up the boots, I was literally stepping into somebody's shoes," the 87-year-old Alda says now. "That feel of the leather on my foot, the comfort of being in those shoes, did something ..." Alda pauses. "I don't know. It's a mysterious thing, but it makes you feel more at home in the character."

So, what kind of character was Captain Hawkeye Pierce?

The Many Incarnations of Capt. Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce

Hawkeye is one of three fictional army surgeons from the 1968 novel, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors written by Richard Hooker (a former military surgeon whose real name is H. Richard Hornberger).

The novel was rewritten and turned into a screenplay by writer Ring Lardner Jr. for a film entitled M*A*SH Gives A Damn in 1970, directed by Robert Altman and starring Donald Sutherland as Capt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce.

Inspired by the film, producer Larry Gelbart created an original spin-off TV series that first aired on September 17, 1972 on CBS, with Alan Alda taking over the reins as Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce, army surgeon at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, stationed in Uijeongbu, South Korea, during the Korean War (1950–53), just three miles from the Korean frontline.

The show ran for 11 years, 251 episodes, finally coming to a close in 1983.

All 12 characters in the TV series had a detailed and often-referenced backstory, including Pierce who hailed from Crabapple Cove, Maine, the son of Benji Sr., a medical doctor in his own right. In the novel, Hawkeye is married with two children, but in the TV series, he is very much a bachelor and ladies’ man.

It is no secret that Hawkeye enjoys a drink or two and has little respect for authority of the rigid rules of military life. He is often seen wearing his bathrobe, always in his dog tags and scuffed boots. He never polished his boots or wore any of the medals and decorations he had earned during his service to the army.

He is a dedicated surgeon, spending long hours in the operating theatre, making wisecracks and pulling pranks on his fellow medical colleagues, in particular Frank Burns and "Hot Lips" Houlihan.

Alda said of Pierce, "Some people think Hawkeye was very liberal. But he was also a traditional conservative. I mean, he wanted nothing more than to have people leave him alone so he could enjoy his martini, you know? Government should get out of his liquor cabinet".

The Story Behind Hawkeye’s Combat Boots and Dog Tags

Many of the props and indeed the wardrobe accessories and costumes worn in the show were authentic articles of clothing that had survived the war. The two dog tags were imprinted with the names, Hersie Davenport, a Black soldier from the South and Morriss D. Levine, a Jewish man from New York. Until recently, Alda knew nothing about the two men whose names are on those dog tags; he says:

"Every day for 11 years, putting them on over my head and wearing them, I had a very close connection with them. I always wondered what their lives were like. Were they alive, or were they dead? How had they served? They were real people to me, even though I didn't know anything about them other than their names. But to this day, I remember the names very well, and that's why it meant a lot to me."

Alda felt this same connection with the previously-worn pair of combat boots, though they were more anonymous. Who knows who wore those boots and how many miles they had marched and how many battles they had fought. The only name inside these boots was ‘HAWKEYE’ written in black marker.

Every day, throughout 251 episodes as Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, the heartbreaker and lifesaver stationed three miles from the Korean front, Alda slipped on those boots. Every day, he put those dog tags over his head. And every day, he thought about the men who had worn them before him.

Video of Alan Alda Interview:

Auction Results

M*A*S*H Goes to Auction: Hawkeye's Combat Boots and Dog Tags Benefitting The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science Signature® Auction

These sole remaining M*A*S*H mementos were featured in a single-lot online auction at Heritage Auctions on July 28, 2023. The precious artefacts raised $125,000 for the center, far exceeding the reserve bid of $40,000. Heritage will also donate all of its proceeds to the center.

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