(Joshua Gilmore-Staff Writer)
In July, Nowhere California launched the first edition of “The Greatest Scene Ever.. This Week” and in a reverse of any truth in labeling laws, it’s time for the next installment. Before we continue, let us remind you about the reason behind this article.
“The Greatest Scene Ever.. This Week” gives the Nowhere California faction and our followers a chance to take a long, hard look at a specific scene of interest from the world of pop culture. The scenes in question will be selected for their importance and will be deconstructed in that special Nowhere California way, but there will be some random times where the scene will speak for itself and we’ll add our own commentary into that mix.
The first installment of this article took us to the familiar surroundings of the movie theater, but I will be taking a trip to the couch and the small screen. This scene comes from the iconic television series M*A*S*H, this series was based on the movie from 1970 (which was based on the book written by Richard Hooker) and the series ran for 11 seasons.
I’ll save you from the history lesson on M*A*S*H, since this show predates most of you, but I would highly recommend checking out this series as a whole. If you take that trip, enter with an open mind and realize that some of this shows aspects are clearly out of date, but the creativity and positives outweigh the negatives and this moment from “Abyssinia, Henry” will show why.
The original air date for this episode was March 18,1975 (Season 3 Episode 24) and saw the closing to the story of Lt. Col. Henry Blake (played by McLean Stevenson) Blake was discharged from the ARMY and everyone at the 4077 prepare to say their goodbyes, but the story doesn’t end there and it doesn’t end happily.
At this time, this scene was groundbreaking and shocking to the television viewers. M*A*S*H was exposing people to the side of a war no one could imagine and this series had just killed off a major character. Normally, a character would leave and their story would end there, but the creative minds wanted to take it to a new level.
As stated above, this series predates many of the readers of this site and predates the internet, so there have been varying takes on how this scene unfolded before the cameras rolled and the truth is better then fiction on this one, as a long standing myth had been debunked in recent years.
The urban legend was that none of the actors knew about this closing scene, they were called to set and reacted to the announcement of Radar for the first time. Personally, I ran with this information and recently learned the truth.
The first part of this information came from the pages of “The Complete Book Of M*A*S*H” and from the man that portrayed Cpl. Maxwell Q. Klinger, Jamie Farr.
Farr says in the book, “The last episode of the third year … when we read the script page and found out that Henry died, we were all stunned, and Larry Gelbart asked for comments and a lot of people had their say. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think they would really care what I had to say. I happened to agree with doing it, but I didn’t say a word.
The whole thing about Henry’s death was very hush-hush. I had already finished my scenes and was at home waiting for a call about the end of season wrap party. Loretta Swit was finished also. Then I got a call from the studio asking me to come in for an added scene, and they said Loretta was coming, too. I asked if I needed the pages ahead of time, if I had to study any lines, and they said no, not to worry, it was a quick scene in the OR and just to come on in. I said fine. I came down and they called all the regulars into a corner and Larry had a big manila envelope and he pulled out these pages. We couldn’t believe what we had read. We blocked it without saying a word so the crew wouldn’t know anything until we actually did it.”
This story was confirmed by the series creator, Larry Gelbart. Gelbart confirmed the story in his book “Laughing Matters” He discusses the casts reactions to Blake’s finale and how the production unfolded.
“Having Henry die was not a show-business decision; we were not punishing an actor for leaving the series. We were trying to make his departure one that would be apt, as well as memorable,” Gelbart made this comment when some people thought the character’s death was revenge toward Stevenson’s departure.
The history of television will have multiple iconic moments and the death of Henry Blake still hits the right emotional buttons. M*A*S*H is part of the foundation that modern television is built on, but this show could not happen today and that is a good thing. M*A*S*H was a moment in time and the moments where the world learns the fate of Henry Blake will not be forgotten. In the creative world, this was a game changer and this scene opened the door on taking a risk, when your audience would least expect it.