|Oliver Harmon "Spearchucker" Jones|
Former professional football player and actor Timothy Brown played "Spearchucker" Jones in the first five episodes of the M*A*S*H CBS-TV series in 1972.
|Rank:||Captain (O-3), U.S. Army Reserve|
|Job/Role in Unit:||Surgeon at the 4077th M*A*S*H|
|Home:||Same as birthplace|
|Birthplace:||Chicago, Illinois, U.S.|
|First appeared in:||"Pilot (TV series episode)" (Season 1)|
|Last appeared in:||"Germ Warfare" (Season 1)|
|Appeared on/or in:||M*A*S*H (TV series) / MASH (film)|
|Played by:||Fred Williamson, film. Timothy Brown, television series|
Oliver Harmon "Spearchucker" Jones was a surgeon who appears in the MASH novel by Richard Hooker, the MASH movie and also in the M*A*S*H television series. He was portrayed by Fred Williamson in the movie and by Timothy Brown , who also played the part of corpsman Corporal Judson in the film.
In the television series Spearchucker appears in six episodes during the early part of Season 1 of the series and was one of the original Swampmen, along with Trapper, Hawkeye, and Frank Burns, but the character was dropped from the series after 6 appearances.
Spearchucker in the MASH novelEdit
In the MASH novel, the Spearchucker character appears in Chapter 12. Here his full name is given as Oliver Wendell "Spearchucker" Jones. To deal with boredom, Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke Forrest discuss putting together a football team. Hawkeye suggests bringing Spearchucker into the team.
Hawkeye had roomed with Spearchucker at the 72nd Evac Hospital and had found out that besides being a neurosurgeon, Spearchucker had played football during medical school to earn some extra money and had been signed up by the Philadelphia Eagles. However very few people knew about this.
So they persuade Henry to request for a neurosurgeon, specifically Spearchucker, for the 4077th as a ringer for their football team. Spearchucker helps prepare the team and eventually plays a key role in strategizing their victory over the 72nd Evac hospital.
In the book, just like in the movie, Spearchucker reveals that the nickname "Spearchucker", ordinarily a racial slur, referred in this case to his javelin-throwing prowess.
Spearchucker in the MASH movieEdit
In the MASH movie, Spearchucker's full name becomes Oliver Harmon Jones. The original screenplay lists his backstory much as it was given in the novel. However in the movie dialogue, this is covered much more briefly, and he is described as playing for the 49ers not the Eagles. His role in the football game is the same as described in the book.
The film also depicts Spearchucker as a particularly skilled neurosurgeon and this, together with the experience of playing football together, helps Duke Forrest overcome his racial prejudices and the two become friends at the end, shaking hands when it is time for Duke to go back stateside.
Spearchucker in the M*A*S*H TV seriesEdit
Timothy Brown, who portrayed Spearchucker in the TV series, had actually been a professional football player. Perhaps there had been an intention to pursue the football theme in the M*A*S*H episodes, but in the end, not much is made of this. Spearchucker is only seen playing football once, with Radar, Boone, and a few others at the beginning of the Pilot episode. He later attends the raffle party with Ginger (he's the one in the Samurai helmet).
In Chief Surgeon Who, we are reminded that he is a neurosurgeon when he tells Hawkeye in the O.R.: "outside of the skull, I'm dead". Hawkeye gives him advice on how to deal with a pancreatic injury which contradicts Franks, much to Frank's annoyance. Later, when General Barker is searching the camp for Henry, he stumbles into a tent when Spearchucker is playing strip dominoes with Ginger (though this scene tends to be omitted from most syndicated airings).
In The Moose, Spearchucker has his most significant role. Here he helps Hawkeye and Trapper "demoosify" Young Hi and teach her independence and self-confidence. He tells her that when she meets people, she must not look down. She must look them in the eye and not back off. We are all the same, he says to her. Young Hi looks up and says he is not the same as her - because he needs a shave!
Spearchucker also gets a lot of screentime, if not a lot of lines, in Henry Please Come Home. He is seen in the O.R. with everyone else at the beginning of the episode; later, he is there faking the calisthenics with Hawkeye and Trapper after Frank has taken command of the 4077th. Later, he is in the Swamp with Hawkeye and Trapper trying to stop Frank from confiscating the still. He then joins the gathering of MASH personnel in the mess tent to discuss how to get rid of Frank. During this meeting, Hawkeye suggests that the solution is to bring back Henry. Spearchucker agrees, saying "He was one of us."
In I Hate a Mystery, Spearchucker starts the episode playing poker with Hawkeye and Trapper. Later, following the spate of thefts, he is among the MASH personnel who are summoned by Hawkeye to the mess tent for an Agatha Christie-style gathering of suspects. Hawkeye pins possible motives for the crimes on various people, including Spearchucker's poker losses, and Jones exclaims "The man is a fruitcake".
The last appearance of Spearchucker as broadcast is in Germ Warfare where he helps the North Korean P.O.W. settle into Hawkeye's cot in the Swamp after Frank wants him out of Post-Op. Later, when the doctors suspect that Frank may have hepatitis, he helps to trick Frank into drinking plenty of beer to get a urine sample from him.
The dropping of the Spearchucker character from the TV seriesEdit
After 6 appearances, the character of Spearchucker was dropped from the series. This fueled much speculation among fans about the reasons behind the move. One reason offered was that the TV show producers felt that they wouldn't be able to write enough meaningful episodes for Spearchucker if they were concentrating on Hawkeye and Trapper, and there is some support for this, if one were to look at the fairly thin roles given to Spearchucker in his various appearances. There was also the thought that there were too many characters being introduced, and this would have diluted the interest of viewers - the same reason was also offered for the dropping of characters like Lieutenant Dish and possibly Knocko McCarthy.
Another reason offered by some accounts was that, as the show became more popular, the network would eventually have had to drop the character anyway, as they couldn't afford to have a recurring character with a nickname that was a racial slur and highly offensive to some viewers, regardless of how the name came about. There is also some support for this, as the network was known to have objected to the use of the nickname "Dago Red" for the chaplain in the pilot episode.
A third explanation had to do with the producers having heard or having found out that, in reality, the United States Army had no African-American surgeons in the Korean Conflict - at least, none which were stationed to a MASH unit.
The only authoritative sources which settle the question one way or another come from a series of postings made by Larry Gelbart to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup in the mid-1990s. In 10/1/96, Gelbart (writing with the id "Elsig") wrote in response to a question about Spearchucker's removal, saying that "There were no black surgeons attached to MASH units in Korea." Again in 7/12/98, in response to a similar question, "Elsig" wrote: "Extensive research indiated (sic) there were no black surgeons in MASH units in Korea. We were not interested in empty tokenism. We also had to cut down on the number of characters in the series for budgetary reasons."
The truth about black surgeons in Korean War MASH unitsEdit
As it turns out, the producers were mistaken, but it took a long time for the facts to emerge. Research in recent years have shown that there were at least two black surgeons in MASH units during the Korean War.
In 2012, Wilson et al, in an article for the Journal of the National Medical Association, recounted the career of Alvin Vincent Blount, Jr., who not only served as a surgeon in the 8225th MASH during the Korean War, but for a time, was the Chief of Surgery in the unit. The same article mentioned that the dropping of the Spearchucker Jones character by M*A*S*H was "an attempt to maintain historical accuracy based on a long-held view" which led to the participation of black surgeons in the Korean War being misrepresented and inaccurately chronicled in popular culture.
At some date after 2002, The Korean War Educator website also published an online memoir by Harold Secor of Wharton, Texas, a surgeon who served in the 8055th MASH during the Korean War. Among his tentmates, Secor mentions a Captain Miles, a black surgeon from Virginia. Secor says of him, "I told Captain Miles that if I ever needed surgery, I wanted him to do it. He was one of my friends and he was accepted as a good surgeon with no prejudice." Among the photos in his online memoir is a gathering of MASH doctors which includes Captain Miles.
It must be noted, however, that at the time M*A*S*H was being written, research into the specifics of the Korean War was extremely difficult. The broad strokes of history might have been written, but many of the personal accounts which might have shed some light on details, such as who was in which unit, had yet to be written. Nor was there any Internet to help them along. Everything written had to be hunted down, perhaps in obscure archives, and laboriously read. Such facts as we know about Doctors Blount and Miles emerged only 50 years after the war and 30 years after M*A*S*H was produced.
- ↑ Ed Solomonson & Mark O'Neil, TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book (Albany, GA.: BearManor Media, 2009), 81.
- ↑ Elsig (Larry S. Gelbart), "Spearchucker and Ugly John," alt.tv.mash, October 1, 1996, URL
- ↑ Elsig (Larry S. Gelbart), "Spearchucker & Klinger," alt.tv.mash, July 12, 1998,URL
- ↑ Kenneth L. Wilson, et al. The Forgotten MASH Surgeon: The Story of Alvin Vincent Blount Jr, MD. Journal of the National Medical Association 104.0 (2012): 221–223. URL
- ↑ Korean War Educator, "Memoirs of Harold Secor," koreanwar-educator.org, accessed 14 July 2015 URL