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.
After serving in the 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 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 Comedy Hour. He performed occasionally on both shows.
After guest-starring on That Girl with Marlo Thomas, he was cast in 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. He eventually wrote the episode "The Trial of Henry Blake," and provided the story for another, "The Army-Navy Game." He received an Emmy nomination for his writing.
Stevenson found his greatest success on M*A*S*H. The series quickly became one of the most popular situation comedies running, and would eventually become recognized as one of the top sitcoms in television history. Despite the show's success, Stevenson began chafing (as did Wayne Rogers) at playing second fiddle to the wisecracking Hawkeye (played by Alan Alda), and asked to be released from his contract during the show's third season. The show's writers reluctantly penned him an exit in the final episode of the 1974-75 season, in which Colonel Blake was discharged, only to board a plane that was shot down over the Sea of Japan, killing everyone on board (a development added after scripts were distributed so the show's actors would display genuine emotion as if they had been truly unaware of that part of the storyline). Stevenson would later admit that leaving M*A*S*H was a mistake, and he was also upset by the fact that his character's death prevented him from returning to the show. In an interview, Loretta Swit shed some light on the subject of why McLean left the series at the height of its success. She said Stevenson wanted to be number one and felt pushed down as one of an ensemble of eight. Swit said that before Stevenson left the series he told her, " I know I will not be in anything as good as this show, but I have to leave and be number one."
After his departure from M*A*S*H, Stevenson's acting career began to decline. He starred in a series of 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 lambasted by critics 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 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 Disney 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 3, 1986.
Shortly before his death, Stevenson admitted that he regretted leaving M*A*S*H when he did.