Burt Metcalfe, Producer Known for Long Run on ‘MASH,’ Dies at 87

Burt Metcalfe, the revered TV producer who worked on all 11 seasons of “MASH,” died July 27 in Los Angeles. He was 87.

Metcalfe was an actor turned director-producer who was recruited to work on “MASH” by director Gene Reynolds, who launched the series adaptation of Robert Altman’s 1970 black comedy released by 20th Century Fox. Metcalfe started out as an associate producer and rose to showrunner for the show’s final six seasons. He also directed 31 episodes of the series’ 251 installments.

Reynolds, who was with “MASH” through the 1976-77 season before moving on to the helm of CBS’ “Lou Grant,” died at age 96 in February 2020.

The CBS series adaptation defied low expectations for movie adaptations and became pop culture touchstone of the 1970s and early ’80s. Set during the Korean War, Alan Alda starred as Col. Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, a cynical surgeon with a heart of gold who helped run a mobile emergency medical unit populated with colorful Army characters.

“MASH” was an allegory for the Vietnam War that started when the latter conflict was still playing out every night on the evening news and the strength of the anti-war movement divided the country. By the time “MASH” ended, with a series closer that still holds Nielsen’s record for all-time most watched series finale, Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

“Burt Metcalfe is gone now. We all loved him. If you enjoyed MASH it was in large part because of Burt. he was a producer on every season and ran the show for 7 years,” Alda wrote on Twitter. We were very close. We wrote together, directed together and inspired each other. He was such a good person.”

A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewon, Metcalfe began his career in the 1950s and ’60s as an actor with guest shots on such series as “The Ray Milland Show,” “Whirlybirds,” “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “Death Valley Days” and “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”

He was in the notable 1960 “Twilight Zone” episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” He played a surfer alongside James Darren, Sandra Dee and Cliff Robertson in the 1959 film “Gidget.”

Other 1960s TV credits as an actor include roles on “Perry Mason,” “The Outer Limits,” “The Fugitive” and “12 O’Clock High.” He had a series regular role on another movie-to-TV adaptation, “Father of the Bride,” which ran on CBS in the 1961-62 season.

(Pictured: “MASH” stars Alan Alda, Mike Farrell and Loretta Swit flank writer-producer Burt Metcalfe, second from right, at the TV Land Awards in 2009)

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