Donald Sutherland Played Hawkeye in the 'M*A*S*H' Movie Before It Was on TV

Donald Sutherland created a role that Alan Alda made even more well known.


Jun. 21 2024, Published 11:27 a.m. ET

Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye in 'M*A*S*H.'
Source: 20th Century Fox

Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye in the film 'M*A*S*H'

Following the news of his death at the age of 88 on June 20, 2024, many are looking back at the remarkable career of Donald Sutherland, one of the great actors of his generations. Donald starred in a number of iconic movies in the 1970s, and continued to work until just recently.

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One of Donald's most iconic roles was in M*A*S*H, the 1970 war comedy directed by Robert Altman. In fact, Donald originated a character that would go on to be played by another famous actor. Here's what we know about his relationship to M*A*S*H.

Alan Alda as Hawkeye in 'M*A*S*H.'
Source: CBS

Alan Alda as Hawkeye in the TV series 'M*A*S*H'

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Who was Donald Sutherland's character in 'M*A*S*H'?

Robert Altman's M*A*S*H tells the story of a group of soldiers working in a medical unit during the Korean War. Although the movie is set during the Korean War, it is pitched as a black comedy about the folly of the Vietnam War. The movie won an Oscar for its screenplay, and Donald played Hawkeye Pierce, the ensemble comedy's main character and a surgeon in the medical unit.

Hawkeye from '*M*A*S*H' is a hugely famous character.

Donald's performance as Hawkeye became well known in and of itself, but part of the reason the character is so famous is because he had a long life even after the movie was released. M*A*S*H was adapted into a TV series in 1972 with the same general premise, and that series ran for more than a decade and often commanded incredible ratings. Hawkeye remained the central character on the show, and Alan Alda took over from Donald in the part.

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While M*A*S*H could sometimes play a conventional TV comedy, and it had long outlasted the Vietnam War by the time it ended in 1983, the show could occasionally offer the same trenchant observations about the folly of war that the movie had originally brought to light. And, in commanding a massive audience, the show became hugely influential over the cultural conversation more generally.

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Alan Alda once thanked Donald Sutherland for his career.

According to Rolling Stone, Donald claimed that Alan once thanked Donald for his entire career. While that may be a bit of an overstatement (Alan is widely regarded as an immensely talented actor), it is true that Donald originated the role that would go on to make Alan one of the world's most well-known actors.

Of course, one of the remarkable things about Donald's decades-long career is that he played so many iconic roles in so many important movies that it becomes almost impossible to count them all. M*A*S*H was just the beginning of his stardom, which included Don't Look Now, Ordinary People, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and dozens of other important roles throughout the 1970s.

To a younger generation, Donald may be best known for his work as President Snow in the Hunger Games franchise, work that he found to be just as important as some of his earlier roles. Donald was simply everywhere, and he also helped to deliver Alan Alda to us on top of all that.

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