‘M*A*S*H’: Why Alan Alda Knew the Fate of Colonel Blake Before Rest of Cast

by Joe Rutland
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“M*A*S*H” put together a powerful scene to kill off Col. Henry Blake. But the story that no cast member really knew about it isn’t quite true.

Would you believe Alan Alda was the only regular cast member to know before they shot the scene? There’s truth in there but also a misnomer. Let’s go over this, Outsiders, a little bit.

An article from Mental Floss indicates Alda, who played Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, knew while others didn’t. That is not completely true. Alan Alda was an actor, writer, and director on “M*A*S*H” and would get sneak peeks at scripts.

But Alan Alda wasn’t the only actor to know that Blake, played by McLean Stevenson, was going to die in a helicopter crash. Before shooting the climactic scene, “M*A*S*H” producer Larry Gelbart passed out three new script pages to all regular cast members.

‘M*A*S*H’ Producer Passed Out Manila Folders With Episode’s Final 3 Script Pages

He directed them to wait until everyone had a manila envelope. When everyone got one, Gelbart told them to open them up. Each “M*A*S*H” regular cast member read what happens: Blake dies.

“After three years of showing faceless bit players and extras portraying dying or dead servicemen, here was an opportunity to have a character die that our audience knew and loved, one whose death would mean something to them,” Gelbart said.

Another point to raise is that Stevenson himself was on the show set, watching how everything happened with Alan Alda and the others.

Burghoff Gets Chance To Bring Episode’s Finish With Powerful Closing Scene

Gary Burghoff, who played Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, had the key elements of that scene. He comes into the operating room as the 4077th surgeons are busy. Radar reaches a point where he’s just standing and having trouble catching his breath.

Alan Alda and other surgeons look up and observe what’s going on with O’Reilly. After a couple of seconds, Burghoff delivers the tragic news about Blake. That kills off the character and Stevenson from the CBS sitcom.

“M*A*S*H” would insert veteran character actor Harry Morgan into that Blake role. Morgan, who played alongside Jack Webb on the classic police show “Dragnet,” became Col. Sherman Potter.

Obviously, one of the most widely believed tales regarding this episode is that the cast didn’t know about how it ends. Now we know, Outsiders, that every one of those regulars knew the finish. Still, that episode remains a special one for fans.

Burghoff, too, would leave “M*A*S*H” a few seasons before the show ended its run. Actor Jamie Farr, who had been playing the Section 8-seeking, dress-wearing Cpl. Max Klinger, took over Radar’s spot. The show would finish up an amazing run with Alan Alda and others in “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”

Outsider.com