Alan Alda is looking back on one of the most emotional scenes that occurred on “M*A*S*H”‘s 11-season run.
In honour of the show’s 50th anniversary on Sept. 17- exactly 50 years since the first episode premiered on Sept. 17, 1972- Alda reflected on an unexpected scene that “shocked the audience,” telling The New York Times it was when Colonel Henry Blake suddenly died. The character was portrayed by late actor McLean Stevenson.
“[Co-creator Larry Gelbart] showed me the scene. I think [it was] the morning of the shoot. I knew, but nobody else knew. He wanted to get everybody’s first-time reactions,” Alda, 86, recalled. “And it really affected [co-star] Gary Burghoff on camera. I think everybody was grateful for the shock.”
The episode, titled “Abyssinia, Henry” concluded with Burghoff’s character Radar telling the team that Col. Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan. It aired on March 18, 1975.
“It shocked the audience, too. I had a letter from a man who complained that he had to console his 10-year-old son, who was sobbing. But it was one of the ways for the adults in the audience to realize that another aspect of war is that things happen that you don’t expect,” Alda said.
“M*A*S*H” was adapted from the 1970 film of the same name. The sitcom aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. Set during the Korean War, the show centred on a medical team of doctors and support staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, South Korea.
Aside from the show’s “really good writing, acting and directing,” Alda noted that “the element that really sinks in with an audience is that, as frivolous as some of the stories are, underneath it is an awareness that real people lived through these experiences, and that we tried to respect what they went through.
“I think that seeps into the unconscious of the audience,” he added.
In 2018, the actor revealed he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A year later he told People that his diagnosis “helped [him] understand a little better that everybody has something they’re coping with.”