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Several real-life MASH nurses who served in the Korean War are said to have been the prototype and inspiration for the character of Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan. Most notable among them is Capt. Ruth Dickson, Chief Nurse of the 8055th MASH. Also mentioned is one "Hotlips Hammerly," said to be a very attractive blonde, of the same disposition, and also from El Paso, Texas. A third name found in some internet resources is Capt. Jane Thurness. All of them were career Army nurses who eventually rose to high rank. Which nurse was the actual prototype is a matter of surmise, and it probably depends on which aspect of the Margaret Houlihan personality one is concerned with.

About Ruth DicksonEdit

While interviewing many Korean War veteran doctors and nurses for a documentary, a Canadian filmaker Min Sook Lee found wide agreement on who the inspiration behind Margaret Houlihan was. Most of her interview subjects pointed to Captain Ruth E. Dickson (a.k.a. Ruth E. Dixon), an attractive nurse known for her firm hand. According to Lee, "Many of the doctors and nurses recalled her and said she was definitely the inspiration for Hot Lips because she was tough, she was a career nurse and she was very flirtatious with the doctors."[1]

Ruth Dickson was Chief Nurse of the 8055th MASH. Richard Hornberger, who wrote the original M*A*S*H novel under the pen name of Richard Hooker also served in the same unit and would most likely have based his characters on people he knew. Colleagues who served with both Hornberger and Dickson agree. Harold Secor, who served in the 8055th MASH with the two, later wrote an online memoir and describes Dickson as a very capable blonde-haired nurse just like Margaret Houlihan. However he notes that she was not anyone's girlfriend. She did not act like the movie or TV series portrayed her and would probably have been embarrassed by it.[2]

Images of Ruth Dickson are rare. One of the only easily available images comes from a 1983 news interview of two 8055th MASH veterans, Dr Dale Drake (an anesthesiologist at the 8055th) and his wife Cathy (an operating nurse). Dale Drake also believes he is the prototype for Ugly John and that another surgeon, Jim Dickson, was the prototype for Trapper. The Drakes are instrumental to the birth of the M*A*S*H story as they had visited Hornberger in 1965, and, after a long night of sharing old stories, encouraged Hornberger to finish his book. Hornberger later sent them copies of his book with inscriptions.[3]

Unfortunately, aside from these personal accounts, very little else is known about Ruth Dickson. In 1955, she was awarded the Associate Royal Red Cross by the British government. The decoration, comparable to the American Distinguished Service Cross, was awarded to her for her service to British Commonwealth Forces in Korea while she served as Chief Nurse of the 8055th MASH.[4]

About "Hotlips" Hammerly"Edit

About Jane ThurnessEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Cassandra Szklarski, "Film separates MASH fact, fiction," winnipegfreepress.com, October 10, 2010 (1:00 AM), URL.
  2. Korean War Educator, "Memoirs of Harold Secor," koreanwar-educator.org, accessed 23 August, 2015 URL. Secor also thinks he and some of his bunkmates might have been the source for Hawkeye and B.J. In his unit was also a "Radar" type person as well as person who "dressed as fancy as he could", just like Klinger.
  3. John Penn, "Real M.A.S.H. unit members look back at war," The Deseret News, February 24, 1983 URL at Google News
  4. Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps, eds. Carolyn M. Feller and Constance J. Moore (Washington, D.C., U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1995), 27. downloadable at this URL.

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