Richard Hornberger, whose book “MASH” about his experiences as a surgeon during the Korean War was turned into a hit movie and a successful TV series, died of leukemia Nov. 4 in a hospital in Portland, Maine. He was 73.
It took 12 years for his book to be published in 1968 under the pen name Richard Hooker, which he said came from his golf game.
The irreverent, wise-cracking doctor Capt. Hawkeye Pierce in “MASH” was modeled after himself, he said. They were both surgeons with a passion for Maine and golf, and they served with a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, which gave the book its name.
But in an interview last year with the Peddie News, the student newspaper of his prep school in New Jersey, Hornberger said he couldn’t understand why the Robert Altman-directed film and the TV series were assailed for anti-war themes during the Vietnam War.
“I intended no messages in the book. I am a conservative Republican. I don’t hold with this anti-war nonsense,” he said.
Although Hornberger sold the movie rights to “MASH” to 20th Century Fox, he later told Peddie School officials he could have made much more money from the series — one of the most successful of all time — if he had negotiated a better deal. “If I had a percentage deal, I would have made millions,” Hornberger was quoted in school records as saying.
He said he was pleased with the movie, although he did not like the long hair of its star, Donald Sutherland. Of the TV series, he told school officials: “I was less than enthralled about it.”
He later wrote a sequel, “MASH Goes to Maine,” incorporating the same characters — Hawkeye, Trapper John, Hot Lips Houlihan and Radar O’Reilly.
Hornberger, who spent most of his life as a doctor in Maine, grew up at Peddie, where his father was a teacher for 35 years, and gave the original manuscript of “MASH” to the school.
He is survived by his wife, Priscilla; two sons; two daughters; and three grandchildren.