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Henry Blake

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.

Character

Lieutenant Colonel Blake was the happy-go-lucky, easygoing commanding officer of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. He was beloved for his down-to-earth, laid-back manner by many under his command, notably Captains Benjamin Franklin Pierce and John Francis Xavier McIntyre (along with his fondness for drinking), and scorned for it by those who preferred strict military discipline, such as Majors Frank Burns and Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan. Henry was essentially a nice person and a capable doctor but not a very forceful or competent commanding officer. Fortunately, his subordinate, company clerk Corporal Radar O'Reilly could almost always anticipate his wishes and turn them into efficient military orders.

CO

Blake always put himself forward as a friend first and a commanding officer second when it came to his post at the 4077th, although on the rare occasion when he was boxed into a corner, he uncomfortably but firmly reminded his subordinates who was in charge. In one of many letters to his father, Hawkeye described Henry as “a good doctor and a pretty good Joe,” but likened Henry’s command style to having Daffy Duck as captain of the RMS Titanic.

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.

Family

Back in Illinois, Henry had a wife, Lorraine (called Mildred more than once) and three children; two daughters Molly and Jane (whom he refers to as 'Janie' in a telephone call to his wife in the last episode of Season 3) and his third child (born while Henry was in Korea) a son named Andrew. At least twice Henry mentioned having a pet dog and twice remarked of having a pet cat. Henry cared deeply for his family, even though he had a tendency to fraternize with the nurses like Hawkeye and Trapper did. One constant source of frustration was that his wife was always sending Henry her bills and check books so that he could balance things long distance. According to Henry, his wife, a former “Succotash Queen” at Illinois-Normal, was a terrific cook and made a great chocolate cake. On one occasion, he got a letter from his wife saying he was allowed to cheat on her, but he interpreted this as a way of saying she cheated on him. A phone call to his wife confirmed that she was attracted to someone, which really hurt him. However, although Blake loves his wife, he himself had an ongoing affair with a nurse (Lt. Leslie Scorch, played by Linda Meiklejohn) during the first season.

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.

Radar O'Reilly

His strongest bond in Korea was to the young Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly, for whom Blake was something of a father figure. The character of O’Reilly on M*A*S*H was that of the naïve, fresh-faced, yet extraordinarilly competent, farmboy from Iowa, vulnerable to the horrors of war, and Blake was like the father he never had, providing guidance, comfort, and support to the young corporal. In return, Radar, more or less, kept the unit running like a well oiled machine, his nearly magical skills for getting everything done counter-balancing Henry’s occasional silliness.

Departure

When McLean Stevenson left the show at the end of the third season, his character was scripted to be discharged and sent home. In the final scene of his last episode, it was reported that Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan and that he had been killed.

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!"

After Departure

When Stevenson left M*A*S*H and the character of Henry Blake was written out of the story, he was replaced by Harry Morgan as Colonel Sherman T. Potter in the position of commanding officer of the 4077th MASH. By contrast, Potter was a career soldier who was a consummate professional in both the command and medical fields, although easygoing, fun-loving and compassionate enough to earn the deep respect of his staff.

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.

Decorations

Several times throughout the series, the awards that LTC Blake had earned during his service in the army could be seen on his service ("class A") uniform. He had earned the following:

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.

Quotes

  • (In response to being called or addressed by another character) "Yo-oh?"
  • (General Hammond to Henry Blake) "Get your MPs Henry." (Henry looking at Pierce and McIntyre) (Hammond) "On the double!" (Pierce) "Henry." constantly snapping his fingers, as Henry finally goes.
  • (Hawkeye) "Hey where's he going we're all set!" (Pierce and McIntyre handcuffed) "Forget it, he was too impressed to have you arrested."
  • "I never claimed to be a junior General MacArthur. Look, I'm a doctor. All I try to do is patch kids up and run a hospital."
  • "Frank, the one thing that will get you nowhere with me is impersonating my wife."
  • "I've got command giving me a hard time and a mess tent full of Greeks waiting for their Easter dinner that is on its way to Iowa to become Radar's little brother."
  • (See's Radar and Trapper boxing in the mess tent) "I'll write his wife."
  • (To Frank and Margaret) "You two have gone over my head so many times, I've got Athlete's Scalp"
  • (Comforting Hawkeye after the death of a friend) "If I had all the answers I'd be at the Mayo Clinic. Does this place look like the Mayo Clinic? Look, all I know is what they taught me in command school; and that is that there are certain rules in a war: Rule Number 1 is that young men die. And Rule Number 2 is that doctors can't change Rule Number 1."
  • (Trapper) "Something the matter with your mouth Henry?", (Blake slurring) "Yeah there's something the matter with my mouth, I got a temporary filling in a tooth that's killing me!"
  • (After the latrine blew up with him in it, he was dazed and in shock) "BOOM!"
  • (After Frank tells Henry he does not wish to be transferred and that he is Henry's forever:) "I've gone to sleep with happier thoughts."
  • "Thar she blows!"
  • "Judas Priest, what now?!"
  • "Klinger, it is my considered opinion that no one is going to believe you're pregnant."
  • "Honey, marriage has nothing to do with sex!"
  • (After kissing Margaret) "All yours, Frank."
  • "Frank, it's after six. You can stop being snotty."
  • (Reviewing Klinger's file) "Father dying last year... Mother dying last year... Mother and father dying... Mother, father and older sister dying... Mother dying and older sister pregnant... Older sister dying and mother pregnant... Younger sister pregnant and older sister dying... Here's an oldie but a goodie... half of the family dying, other half pregnant. Klinger, aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
    Klinger: "Yes sir... I don't deserve to be in the army."
  • "Klinger, its after 12:00. Put on a dress."
  • (Talking on the phone to his son) "I don't care if you're sister did drop an ice cube down your underwear, that's what girls do!"
  • (In reference to General Clayton visiting:) "Do we have enough rye and ginger ale for the general?"
    Radar": "Nobody Does", Blake: "Well then if nobody does then we don't have to, but make sure we do just in case we don't"
  • (On the phone with Regiment, after someone cut up his desk for firewood) " I'm talking to you from deep inside a real big empty."
  • (Henry, Margret, and Frank in meeting) "Say something, will you, Frank? Even a gurgle will help. You keep this up and someone's going to do an autopsy on you."
  • (recurring joke) "What am I signing, Radar?"
  • (Saying goodbye to camp, Klinger wearing a fruit-basket hat) "Klinger, that hat might just get you that Section Eight."
  • (Saying goodbye to Radar) "You behave yourself or I'm going to come back and kick your butt."
  • (Radar examining the inside of Blake's ear) "It looks like a little Nativity scene."

Portrayals

Only two actors have portrayed the character of Henry Blake:

External links

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