Lieutenant Colonel Henry Braymore Blake is a fictional character introduced in the 1968 novel M*A*S*H, written by H. Richard Hornberger under the pen name of Richard Hooker. He was also a character in the 1970 M*A*S*H film, played by Roger Bowen, and most famously, in the M*A*S*H television series, played by McLean Stevenson.
Never professing or pretending to be a great leader of men, even Henry seemed to know that as CO he was in over his head. The combination of paperwork and constant war surgery often left him feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, but Henry soldiered on as best he could. As time passed, however, Henry became more assertive and willing to stand his ground when it involved principle or serious medical matters.
Under Henry’s watch, Hawkeye and Trapper repeatedly got away with pulling practical jokes, romancing the nurses, mocking the military code, and causing trouble, either because Henry looked the other way, or Hawkeye and Trapper managed to manipulate him into seeing things their way. On the rare occasion when Henry actually stood his ground and refused to let Hawkeye and Trapper have their way, the maverick captains would criticize Henry for not being “one of the guys.” When Henry decided to send a lost Korean boy to an orphanage, insisting that the 4077th didn’t have the qualifications to look after the child, and technically he was right, Hawkeye called him a villain, to which Henry actually took offense. In the next episode, though, Hawkeye and Trapper were trying to make sure he was secure as the unit’s leader, when Hot Lips and Frank tried to get Henry court-martialed for giving some medical supplies to Nurse Meg Cratty who used them to treat North Korean civilians. After Hawkeye and Trapper presented evidence that would allow Henry to get off, they refused to drop the charges until Hawkeye threatened to send a letter to Frank's wife telling her about their affair.
Henry did not get along well with Frank and Hot Lips, or rather they did not get along with Henry; they thought he was incompetent and ineffectual, while he thought they were callous and overbearing. Frank and Hot Lips often mocked and criticized Henry for his thorough lack of command skill just as Hawkeye and Trapper would mock and criticize the two majors for their lack of sensitivity. Hot Lips was known to call Henry a “golf-playing figurehead” (because of his fondness for golf) and a “mealy-mouthed, fly-fishing imposter” (based on his trademark fisherman’s hat), to which Hawkeye retorted by saying that Henry was a "genuine mealy-mouthed fly-fisher".
Henry generally let their criticisms roll off his back, but once told Frank, who was letting Hot Lips do all the talking, that if he did not watch his language, Henry would have no choice but to punch Hot Lips right in the mouth. Another time, when Frank was arguing with Trapper, Henry told Frank that if he didn't calm down, he would have no choice but to put it in Frank's records that Frank did not work and play well with others.
Frank and Hot Lips were always going over Henry’s head when they didn’t get their way, filing formal complaints to full colonels or generals. At one point, Henry mocked Hot Lips by saying that she had gone over his head so many times that he had “athlete’s scalp.” But being a genuinely kind-hearted and forgiving person, Henry chose not to file charges against Hot Lips when she got herself so drunk that she could not even pronounce her own name properly. In fact, Henry even ordered Hawkeye and Trapper to sober her up quickly for incoming wounded so that the incident would not show up on her permanent military record. Eerily enough, the drunken Hot Lips told Henry that he looked just like her father before he died, even though her father was actually still alive. Henry merely shrugged and replied, “Yeah, a lot of people have said that.”
Henry was not completely incapable of following military regulation. He continually refused to discharge Corporal Max Klinger for being mentally unstable, despite all the exuberant dresses that Klinger wore and ludicrous schemes Klinger cooked up in order to convince his superiors that he was insane. Henry even had a file full of the various false reasons Klinger had given him for discharge, regarding the apparently poor state of Klinger’s family. One of Henry’s personal favorites was that half of Klinger’s family was dying while the other half was pregnant. One time when Klinger was being particularly obnoxious, Henry threatened Klinger by saying, “Klinger, I’ve never hit a woman before!” Blake's stubbornness almost cost him his life; when he constantly refused to let a distraught heliocopter pilot go on leave to see his wife, the man engineered several attempts to kill Blake and even tried to push him out of a chopper in midair. In "A Smattering of Intelligence", Blake becomes scared when the unstable Colonel Flagg tells Blake he is authorized to kill without his superiors' permission and hints that Blake could be killed by booby-traps.
In the Season 2 episode "Dear Dad... Three", Henry watches a home movie of his daughter's birthday party along with Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar. Lorraine Blake (Kathleen Hughes) appears in the home movie, along with Henry's neighbors, Milt and Sylvia Jaffe.
The script pages with the scene were handed over by the producers, Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, only a few minutes before filming, so none of the cast knew about that development until a few minutes before Gary Burghoff was told to go in and report that Blake had died. Up until then, as far as anyone knew, they were going to get a message that Blake had arrived safely home. This was deliberately planned so that the emotions shown by the actors during that scene would be as real as possible, and it worked well, so much so that one of the actors accidentally dropped a surgical instrument on the floor which made a loud clank (and subsequently required a second take of the shot, even though the first shot was used.)
After the news of Colonel Blake’s death shocked the world, the very next night on The Carol Burnett Show, the opening shot was of McLean Stevenson in a smoking raft, waving his arms, hollering, "I’m OK! I’m OK!"
Blake continued to be mentioned in passing in various episodes throughout the rest of the show's run, notably in "Welcome to Korea", "Change of Command", "Dear Mildred", "Period of Adjustment", "Depressing News", and "As Time Goes By". In the latter episode - which was the final new M*A*S*H episode produced and the next-to-last aired - the doctors decided to bury a time capsule with various artifacts from the camp; among these was a bit of fly fishing bait that had belonged to Henry to symbolize him and all the other men-—soldiers, doctors, sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands—-who never returned home.
In the Richard Hooker novels and Robert Altman film, Henry Blake remained behind in command of the 4077th MASH after Hawkeye and Duke went home. In the novel M*A*S*H Mania (set in the 1970s) it is revealed that Blake stayed in the Army and had attained the rank of Major General.
Strangely absent is a World War II campaign medal. It is possible that he did not enter active service until so late in that war that he did not complete initial Medical Corps officer training until after V-J Day, since the Victory Medal was awarded for any service between the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the end of 1946. Otherwise, even service within the Continental United States would have earned him the American Campaign Medal.
Had he been on active duty prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, as was the case in the film, he would have also earned the American Defense Service Medal.