M*A*S*H

‘M*A*S*H’: Why Show Producer Larry Gelbart Kept Henry Blake’s Death a Secret

While the classic TV show “MAS*H” definitely delivered some laughs, it also contained some pretty emotional scenes and moments.

Larry Gelbart produced the show along with Gene Reynolds and many others. Back in 2012, Gelbart sat down for an interview to talk about a particularly emotional episode.

During the “MAS*H” Season 3 finale, “Abyssinia, Henry,” the unit prepares to send off Lt. Colonel Henry Blake for discharge. But his plane gets shot down on the way back to the U.S., shocking fans and cast members alike.

“We wanted it essentially to be a goodbye episode, with people sharing their feelings. So big tension, no big storyline. And we said we wanted him to die at the end,” Gelbart explained. “We swore [everybody] to secrecy. The only people who knew about it were Burt Metcalfe, Gene [Reynolds], and I. And the writers.

Gelbart even took the time to detach the final page of the script before disturbing it to the “MAS*H” actors. He waited until every single other scene had been filmed before breaking the news to them. But why the need for secrecy?

“Our primary reason was to keep the actors from being influenced by that information,” Gelbart revealed. “If they started to film the show knowing that Henry was a dead man by the end of the episode, their performances would’ve been quite different. It would’ve colored their performances.”

He added, “Good as they are, you can’t help it. Because they would’ve been dealing with their emotions as people, as coworkers of McLean Stevenson. It was an effect we desired not to have.”

Here’s How the ‘M*A*S*H’ Cast Reacted to News of Henry’s Death

Once the cast finished filming the rest of the scenes, “M*A*S*H” producer Larry Gelbart asked the crew to light up the operating room one more time. Gene Reynolds and Gelbart took the cast aside and pulled out a manilla episode containing the final page of the script.

“I gave them each a copy, and they looked at it and they were really… it’s not often in your life that you see people stunned,” Gelbart shared. “They really could not believe what was on the page.”

And how did the cast respond once they realized what they had to do?

“Larry Linville said, ‘F****** brilliant,’” Gelbart revealed. “And Gary Burghoff looked at McLean and said, ‘You’ll probably win the Emmy for this, you son of a b****.’ McLean didn’t say anything. It really threw them.”

And if you watch the scene, you can see how real the emotion is for everyone. When Radar (Gary Burghoff) comes in to deliver the message, you can tell he’s holding back tears in his voice. And as soon as he leaves the room, you know he gives in to them. Likewise, as the camera pans over the rest of the operators, some openly weep while others sniffle and try to hold back the tears. That’s how the episode ends.

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