There are those of us who watch the reruns of MASH, see Henry Blake and feel we’re watching a friend. The McLean Stevenson character Henry Blake seemed to be the type of person you saw in your neighborhood and would talk to while waiting for your car to be serviced or wave at when you drove past. His death on MASH felt more than just a character being written off of a show, it felt personal.
I’m sure we all remember the episode where it happened. Like so many episodes we watched it begin with Radar O’Reilly coming into the operating room and telling Henry Blake he has all the necessary Army service points to be sent home. We are happy for our man Henry and sense he may be off the show for awhile, but we all hope something will happen to keep him. In the next scene we watch him calling home to Bloomington, Illinois to tell him wife and family the war it over for him. It’s difficult not to feel good for the guy.
There is the touching moment during the episode when Henry and Radar are cleaning out the office. Radar shares with Henry Blake how much he meant to him and gives him a present of a Winchester cartridge inscribed with “To Col. Henry Blake, Korea, from Corp. O’Reilly.” Henry Blake takes out a thermometer that’s special because it was his father’s and gives it to Radar.
At Rosie’s Bar and Grill in the evening Trapper John and Hawkeye Pierce hold a going away party. They all share their memories as they begin to feel the effects of the drinks. When Henry Blake leaves for the bathroom they devise a hilarious ceremony for drumming him out of the Army. At the end the three of them give Henry Blacke a new suit of clothes as a going-away present.
The next morning Frank Burns is annoying everyone with his proper military behavior. When Henry Blake emerges from his tent wearing the suit he receives applause from the other people in the unit. After kissing Margaret Houlihan to cheers and whistles of the unit he walks toward the helicopter pad. The other members of the unit start to sing “For he’s a jolly Good Fellow.”
During the final scene Radar comes into the operating room in a state of shock. He struggles to speak as he informs everyone the plane Henry Blake was on had shot down over the sea of Japan. After he swallows Radar says the plane spun in and there were no survivors. As he turns and leaves the people in the operating room struggle wiping away tears and continue to operate.
In the real world Henry Blake was written out because McLean Stevenson felt he was upstaged by Alan Alda’s Hawkeye character. He wanted to be on a show where he was number one. The death of his character disappointed him as he couldn’t even return to do a guest appearance.