McLean Stevenson on NBC-TV's "Hello Larry" c. 1980
|Birthname||Edgar McLean Stevenson, Jr.|
|Birthplace||Normal, Illinois, U.S.|
|Actor, Director, Producer, TV personality, Artist|
|Spouse(s):||Carrie Wilkinson |
Ginny Fosdick 1980-1996, his death)
|Episodes appeared in:||70 on M*A*S*H from Seasons 1-4|
|Character played:||Lt. Colonel Henry Blake|
McLean Stevenson (November 14, 1927 – February 15, 1996) (full name Edgar McLean Stevenson, Jr.), born in Normal, Illinois, was an American actor most recognized for his role as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake on the TV series M*A*S*H.
Early life and careerEdit
Stevenson was the great-grandson of William Stevenson, second cousin, once removed, of Presidential Candidate Adlai Stevenson II. He was also the brother of actress Ann Whitney. His father, Edgar, was a cardiologist.
After serving in the U.S. Navy, he attended Northwestern University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in theater arts and was a proud and well-liked Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fraternity brother. Afterwards he worked on a radio station, played a clown on a live TV show in Dallas, became an assistant director at Northwestern, and sold medical supplies and insurance. Afterwards he worked as a press secretary for his cousin in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956. He formed the "Young Democrats for Stevenson".
In 1961, his cousin invited him to some parties, where he met some business luminaries. He followed his cousin's advice to look for a show business career. He auditioned and won a scholarship to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. His teachers included the well-respected Lee Strasberg, Sandy Meisner, David Craig, Lehman Engel, and Sue Seaton.
Stevenson made his professional career debut in The Music Man in 1962 and appeared regularly in Warsaw, Indiana, in summer stock productions. After this he appeared in New York City on stage and television commercials. He also performed on Broadway. However, he began to establish himself as a comedy writer, writing for the seminal That Was The Week That Was, in which Alan Alda appeared, and The Smothers Brothers Comdedy Hour. He performed occasionally on both shows.
After guest-starring on ABC-TV's That Girl with Marlo Thomas, he was cast in CBS's The Doris Day Show in 1969, playing magazine editor boss Michael Nicholson until 1971. Originally, he auditioned for the role of Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, but was convinced to play Henry Blake instead. This role shot him to stardom.
M*A*S*H quickly became one of the most popular sitcoms running, and would eventually become recognized as one of the top sitcoms in television history. Henry Blake was one of the most popular characters in the series, a carefree clod who preferred fishing and golfing to keeping close tabs on the unit under his command. For Stevenson it was the biggest role he ever had. He eventually wrote the episode "The Trial of Henry Blake", and provided the story for another, "The Army-Navy Game". He received one Emmy Award nomination for his writing. M*A*S*H also helped Stevenson in other ways. He and Alan Alda shared a medical book during the early seasons to maintain accuracy in their operating room performances. One day, Stevenson happened by a car accident with a bleeding victim on the side of the road and, drawing upon his research for the show, he was able to keep the victim alive until an ambulance arrived.
However, after three seasons Stevenson began chafing (as did Wayne Rogers) at the fact he was playing second fiddle to the wisecracking Hawkeye (Alan Alda), and asked to be let out of his contract during the show's third season. The writers reluctantly accomplished this transition in the final episode of Season 3, in which Henry Blake was discharged, only to board a plane that was shot down over the Sea Of Japan, killing everyone on board (a part that was added after the scripts were distributed as to engender genuine emotion from the actors as they were genuinely unaware of that part of the storyline).
Stevenson appeared as a guest panelists many times on Match Game's daytime version, (when it was still aired daily on CBS) in 1973 and again in 1978 on the daytime and nighttime syndicated version. In 1981, (Match Game's syndicated version) Stevenson became a regular panelists, host Gene Rayburn humorously described Stevenson as someone "responsible for the demise of several television shows" just before handing Stevenson Match Game hosting duties for a day. Stevenson remained a panelist until the show was cancelled in 1982.
After his departure from M*A*S*H, Stevenson's acting career began to sink. Stevenson starred in a series of NBC-TV sitcoms that he hoped would bring him the comic leading-man status to which he aspired. None of these efforts met with much success. They included The McLean Stevenson Show, In the Beginning, Hello, Larry, and Condo. All four sitcoms were dismissed by audiences and critics alike as sorry wastes of Stevenson's abilities, and all but one lasted no more than a single season (Hello, Larry lasted a season and a half).
Stevenson also guest-starred in shows such as The Golden Girls, Square One TV, The Love Boat, Diff'rent Strokes, Match Game (where he served as a regular panelist), Hollywood Squares, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. His screen credits include the Walt Disney Pictures movie The Cat from Outer Space as a friend of Dr. Frank Wilson (played by Ken Berry). He also was a co-host of the CBS daytime talk show America, which lasted 16 weeks between September 16, 1985 and January 2, 1986.
Stevenson was recovering from surgery in a Los Angeles hospital on February 15, 1996, when he unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest and died. It was three months after his 68th birthday. In a strange twist of fate, Stevenson was the first cast member from M*A*S*H to leave the series, as well as the first to pass away. M*A*S*H writer Larry Gelbart later said that Stevenson had left too soon twice in one lifetime. Coincidentally, Roger Bowen, who had played Henry Blake in the MASH feature film, also died of cardiac arrest the day after Stevenson’s passing.
Stevenson is interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. He left behind his wife Ginny, daughter Lindsey and son Jeff MacGregor (from a previous marriage).
Shortly before his passing, Stevenson admitted that he regretted leaving M*A*S*H when he did.
- ↑ Stevenson sings in a Ford Motor Company TV commercial entitled "Ford Has Changed" courtesy of YouTube. The 20 second spot starts at the 31:18 minute mark of the 60 minute compilation. He's in the rear of the singing quartet, first on the left.
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