The classic TV show “MASH” was a hit among viewers. Although thought of as one of the best shows ever, like with any show, actors and their characters exit the show eventually. “MASH” actor McLean Stevenson (Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake) exited the show at the end of season 3, but his fate was a secret to the cast.
The comedy/drama series lasted 11 seasons from 1972-1983. The name stood for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and took place during the Korean War.
Stevenson’s Col. Blake was a beloved character on the show, and when it was time for him to leave, the creators had to figure out how to best send him off. According to meTV, “a plot was created to write him out of the show, one that was a surprise to most of the cast.”
For the majority of Blake’s final episode, it looked as though he would receive a happy ending. The military discharged the character, and he had the ability to see his family again. However, the writers decided to go a different route for his actual ending.
“MASH was not about everybody having a good time, MASH was not about happy endings, and we decided that his character could, not should, but could die,” show co-creator Larry Gelbart said. He took part in a TV interview in 1998 about the character’s ending.
“M*A*S*H” Cast Reacted to Surprise Col. Blake Ending
In order to keep Blake’s impending doom a secret, the crew filmed every scene up until his death.
“When they brought the episode in, we detached that page, and did not distribute it,” Gelbart said in the interview.
The creators of “M*A*S*H” even fooled the cast into thinking that Col. Blake a happy ending and a happy life. The only cast member who knew was Alan Alba, who portrayed Pierce. However, that didn’t last long. Gelbart shared their reasoning for keeping the death secret — they didn’t want the actors to be “influenced by that information.” He stated that if they had filmed the whole episode with the actors knowing that Blake was going to die, it would not have been the same performance that was aired. He added that the actors couldn’t help it, because they would be reacting as a human and as Stevenson’s co-worker. Overall, they opted to keep it a secret until they filmed the scene.
When it was time to shoot the scene, the actors and crew had thought that it was a wrap on the season. However, Gelbart asked to relight the set. The creators then stepped in to inform the cast what the plan was, Gelbart said they were “stunned.”
The cast regathered themselves, went back, and filmed the season finale of with Col. Blake’s death, and the rest was history. The character’s death was as much a surprise to viewers as it was to the actors, but iconic nonetheless.