McLean Stevenson: A Talented Actor Who Left His Mark on Television

Above: The handprints of Stevenson in front of Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park McLean Stevenson was an American actor and comedian who made a name for himself in...

McLean Stevenson Above: The handprints of Stevenson in front of Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

McLean Stevenson was an American actor and comedian who made a name for himself in the entertainment industry. From his role as Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake in the iconic television series MAS*H to his appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Match Game, Stevenson's talent and charm captivated audiences across the nation. Let's delve into the life and career of this remarkable actor.

Early Life and Career

McLean Stevenson was born on November 14, 1927, in Normal, Illinois. He was the great-grandson of William Stevenson, brother of US Vice President Adlai E. Stevenson, which made him a second cousin once removed of two-time presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson II. Stevenson's father, Edgar, was a cardiologist, and his mother, Lottie McLean, played a significant role in determining his middle name.

Growing up, Stevenson attended Bloomington High School and Lake Forest Academy. After completing high school, he served in the United States Navy as a hospital corpsman. Following his naval service, Stevenson pursued his passion for theater arts and graduated from Northwestern University. With a bachelor's degree in hand, he embarked on a journey to realize his show business dreams.

Stevenson's first taste of the entertainment industry came through radio and live TV shows. He gained attention as a contestant on the game show Password and continued to make strides in New York City, performing on Broadway and writing for television shows like That Was The Week That Was and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Stevenson's magnetic personality and comedic talent soon caught the eye of audiences and industry insiders alike.

MAS*H: A Career-Defining Role

Stevenson's big break came when he was cast as Lt. Col. Henry Blake on the television series MAS*H. Though he initially auditioned for the role of Hawkeye Pierce, Stevenson was persuaded to take on the character of Lt. Col. Blake instead. This decision turned out to be a stroke of genius.

MAS*H quickly became a cultural phenomenon and one of the most beloved sitcoms of its time. Stevenson's portrayal of Lt. Col. Blake endeared him to audiences around the world. His comedic timing and genuine warmth made his character a fan favorite. Stevenson's contributions to the show went beyond acting, as he even wrote an episode that earned him an Emmy nomination.

However, as the show progressed, Stevenson began to feel overshadowed by the wisecracking Hawkeye character played by Alan Alda. He wanted to be the star and felt confined as part of an ensemble cast. Stevenson made the difficult decision to leave MAS*H during its third season. In the final episode of the 1974-1975 season, titled "Abyssinia, Henry," Lt. Col. Blake was discharged and tragically died when the plane he boarded was shot down over the Sea of Japan.

Post-MAS*H and Later Career

After departing from MASH, Stevenson faced a decline in his acting career. Although he occasionally filled in as a guest host on The Tonight Show, his own attempts at hosting shows like The McLean Stevenson Show and Hello, Larry were met with less success. These shows failed to capture the magic of MASH and were canceled after only one season.

Stevenson continued to make guest appearances on popular shows like The Golden Girls and The Love Boat, but he never quite found a project that matched the caliber of MAS*H. He openly admitted that leaving the hit series was the biggest mistake of his career. Despite the challenges, Stevenson's talent and charisma still shone through in every role.

Remembering McLean Stevenson

McLean Stevenson's acting career may have had its ups and downs, but his impact on television is undeniable. From his hilarious performances on MASH to his charming appearances on game shows like Match Game, Stevenson brought joy to millions of viewers. While he may not have achieved the same level of success after leaving MASH, his contribution to the entertainment industry should never be forgotten.

On February 15, 1996, Stevenson passed away at the age of 68. He left behind a legacy of laughter and unforgettable performances. His ashes are interred in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

McLean Stevenson will always be remembered as a talented actor and comedian whose unique charm left an indelible mark on the world of television.