Colonel Henry Braymore Blake is a 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 more famously, in the M*A*S*H television series, played by McLean Stevenson.
About Colonel Blake[edit | edit source]
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. His almost surrogate son Radar O'Reilly could read his mind like it was a book. Despite his skill as a Surgeon, he is also a chronic alcoholic: in one episode when his pride and joy, a 100-year-old antique desk was stolen by Hawkeye and Trapper to trade for desperately needed medical supplies, Henry's only concern at first is not his missing desk, but that someone had broken into his liquor cabinet. Another time when he was drunk (a running gag in the series when pressure got too much for him as a commanding officer) he claims he was sent to Korea when he was at a party with a 30-year career military medical general, who made a remark about a coffee enema; Blake unwisely responded, "with cream and sugar?"
As 4077th MASH Commanding Officer[edit | edit source]
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. Once in a while Henry could get really angry, such as when he had a painful temporary filling and Burns nearly drove him crazy with a transfer request (Major Fred C. Dobbs)
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 they 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 ineffective, 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 also claimed Houlihan had such tight control over her nurses that she was a "Herman Goering in drag."
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.” He said something similar to Hawkeye and Trapper when explaining that he had not, in fact, signed a dishonorable discharge for a soldier who was homosexual: "Frank said he'd go over my head. I said go. He's done it so many times I've got footprints on my 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 (Jamie Farr) 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 Klinger's various false reasons Klinger had given him for discharge regarding the apparently poor state of Klinger's family. 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 resulted in getting him killed, when he constantly refused to let a distraught helicopter pilot go on leave to see his wife and the nearly unbalanced pilot almost killed Blake four times.Cowboy (TV series episode)
Family life/Personal [edit | edit source]
Back in Illinois, Henry had a wife, Lorraine (called "Mildred" throughout Season 1) and three children; two daughters Jane and Molly, and a son Andrew, who was born shortly after he left. 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-although Henry is incompetent as a home accountant. According to Henry, his wife, a former “Succotash Queen” at Illinois-Normal, was a terrific cook and made a great chocolate cake. Two negative comments he makes about her is that when he left, she had a fistful of credit cards and she acted like Frank Burns in drag. She was also pigeontoed and is 35 years old with $3,500 worth of bridgework (on which Henry still owes $1,500) (Hot Lips and Empty Arms). She was seen in a color home movie sent to Henry showing his daughter's birthday party. [Henry claims that she resembles Frank Burns is quite untrue; she actually is a rather presentable looking person in the home movie]. 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 (Life With Father) the person his wife was attracted to was an Orthodontist! However, although Blake claims to love his wife, he himself had an ongoing affair with a nurse (Lt. Leslie Scorch, played by Linda Meiklejohn) during the first season plus affairs with two other MASH 4077 nurses. Although a better surgeon than Frank Burns, Blake was just as hypocritical in his marriage vows as Frank Burns was; indeed Blake also had extramarital affairs - such as having one with an underage girl in 1947 at the Happy Hour motel which was secretly recorded by camera and microphone by US Army Intelligence. and an affair with a "rent-a-girl" in a 1949 AMA convention in Houston (A Smattering of Intelligence). In Henry in Love, Henry almost leaves his wife for a woman half his age - he was 44 and she was 21. In true MASH fantasy fashion Blake doesn't divorce his wife for a younger woman [thanks to Hawkeye, Trapper John and Radar].
Relationship with Radar O'Reilly[edit | edit source]
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 in M*A*S*H was that of the naïve, fresh-faced 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 counterbalancing Henry's occasional silliness.
Henry's Departure/Discharge and Death[edit | edit source]
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.
(Update: This next paragraph was proven by Forbes.com to be false): 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 Cher Show, the opening shot was of McLean Stevenson in a raft, waving his arms, hollering, "I’m OK. I’m OK.." Ironically, during the real Korean War, a non-hostile air crash occurred in the sea of Japan in Sept 1950 and at least one medical personnel, US Air Force Medical Squadron Captain Vera Brown, was killed.
After Henry Blake's death[edit | edit source]
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, but never afraid to put his foot down when things got out of hand.
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.
Several times throughout the series, the awards that Colonel Blake had earned during his service in the army could be seen on his uniform. They are unfortunately not accurately portrayed. He is shown as having earned the following:
- Army Commendation Medal
- Purple Heart
- World War II Victory Medal
- Army of Occupation Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
- Korean Service Medal
- United Nations Service Medal
The National Defense Service Medal was indeed awarded to personnel serving in Korea. However, it was not created as an award until 1954, two years after Henry Blake was killed. The series never mentions how he came to receive a Purple Heart (for wounds in battle) and it is shown as being worn AFTER the Army Commendation Medal, which is incorrect.
Quotes[edit | edit source]
- "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."
- (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."
- (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."
- "Klinger, I know how much you want out of the army but it is my considered opinion that no one is going to believe that 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, it's after 12:00. Put on a dress."
- (Talking on the phone to his son) "I don't care if your 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 ICorps, after someone has used his furniture for firewood) "Hey, I'm sitting in a great big empty here."
- (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."
- (Saying goodbye to camp, Klinger wearing a fruit-basket hat) "Klinger, that outfit 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."
Trivia[edit | edit source]
- Blake claimed in one episode to be the best diagnostician in Bloomington, Illinois.
- He once admitted causing his college football team to lose a championship game after Henry taped the wrong leg of the star running-back. (perhaps tight-end or fullback).
- During the first three seasons, Henry is absent in the episodes "Officer of the Day" and "Alcoholics Unanimous." The explanation in both episodes was he was on R & R.
- When his son is born in "Showtime", he tells Radar that he's becoming a father for the third time. We know he already has two children, but it's unclear if he had two girls or a boy and a girl: in one episode, he mentions his daughters, Jane and Molly; in another, he's on the phone with his family and tells his son Andrew that he's the man of the house while he's away (and to not hit his sister with the dog).
Portrayals[edit | edit source]
Only two actors have portrayed the character of Henry Blake:
Coincidentally, both actors died a day apart, on February 16, 1996, and February 15, 1996 respectively, and of exactly the same cause, a heart attack.