Not even the cast members and crew saw this shocking “M*A*S*H” moment coming. The scriptwriters kept the cast in the dark, to avoid the episode’s dramatic turn.
That moment of course was the death of Henry Blake. When actor McLean Stevenson wanted off the show, creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds opted to kill off the character. Only, they didn’t tell any of the cast members ahead of time. Well, they did tell star Alan Alda. But none of the other “M*A*S*H” cast, not even Stevenson, knew about the end of episode twist involving Blake.
Gelbart explained that they weren’t trying to pull a joke on the cast or intentionally keep them in the dark. But the creators didn’t want the cast’s performances to be influenced by the twist. They opted to film the rest of the episode before letting the cast in on the big secret. To make sure no one found out, the “M*A*S*H” creators even ripped out the last pages of the script.
“The reason we kept it a secret, the primary reason, is to keep our actors from being influenced by that information,” Gelbart said. “If they started filming the show knowing Henry was a dead man by the end of the episode, their performances would have been quite different. It would have colored their performances.”
‘M*A*S*H’ Cast Learn of Henry Blake’s Death
Most of Blake’s farewell episode played like a character going home. Blake was finally leaving Korea, headed back to the United States. But during the final moments of the episode, the characters learn that Blake’s plan was shot down off the coast of Japan. The character perished in the aircraft crash.
The cast was just as stunned as their characters to learn of how “M*A*S*H” planned to write off the fan-favorite. Gelbart took the cast aside and showed them the last page of the script. They were under the assumption that the episode had wrapped. But Gelbart revealed they had one last scene to film.
“It’s not often in your life that you see people stunned,” Gelbart said. “And they really could not believe what was on the page.”
Several cast members believed the move would earn the show an Emmy and congratulated the creators on the boldness of the action. For his part, Stevenson felt devastated by the news and remained silent. After watching the final scene filmed, the actor returned to his trailer and cried. He ultimately decided to skip the wrap party, believing the creators ruined the festive mood.
But Gelbart said the decision wasn’t personal. They were making a show about war. And in war, people die and don’t return home. The moment ended up being one of the most memorable of the show for its devastating nature.