McLean Stevenson (born Edgar McLean Stevenson Jr., November 14, 1927—February 15, 1996) was an American Actor. He was best known to TV audiences as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake for three seasons on the TV adaptation of M*A*S*H as well as Michael Nicholson on The Doris Day Show. He was also well known to game show audiences for his frequent appearances as a panelist on Match Game throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Born Edgar McLean Stevenson Jr. in Normal, Illinois. He was the great-grandson of William Stevenson (brother of US Vice President Adlai E. Stevenson) making him a second cousin once removed of two-time presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson II. His sister was actress Ann Whitney and his father, Edgar, was a cardiologist.
Stevenson attended Lake Forest Academy and later enlisted in the United States Navy. After his service, he attended Northwestern University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in theater arts and was a proud and well-liked Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fraternity brother. Afterwards McLean began working a number of different jobs from working at a radio station to playing a clown on a live TV show in Dallas to becoming an assistant director at Northwestern and sold medical supplies and insurance. He also worked as a press secretary for his cousin in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956,forming the "Young Democrats for Stevenson".
In 1961, Stevenson's cousin invited him to some parties, where he met some business luminaries. He then 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. McLean 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 his future M*A*S*H co-star Alan Alda appeared, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He performed occasionally on both shows. He also was a regular on the 1970 Tim Conway Comedy Hour variety show on CBS. During this period, Stevenson also appeared in TV commercials for products such as Winston cigarettes, in which he was shown sprinting around a parking lot of Winston delivery trucks and painting over the product slogan, replacing the "like" in "like a cigarette should" with the grammatically correct "as".
After appearing in a guest-starring role on That Girl with Marlo Thomas, he was cast in The Doris Day Show in 1969, playing magazine editor boss Michael Nicholson until 1971. One year later, a TV adaptation of the 1970 film M*A*S*H (debuting on September 17, 1972 on CBS) came to life. Originally, McLean auditioned for the role of Hawkeye Pierce (which went to Alan Alda) but was convinced to play the role of Lt. Col. Henry Blake instead. Playing 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", which earned Stevenson an Emmy nomination.
The TV adaptation of M*A*S*H quickly became one of the most popular situation comedies running, and was eventually recognized as one of the top sitcoms in television history. Despite the show's success, Stevenson began chafing (as did Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre) at playing second fiddle to the wisecracking Hawkeye (played by Alda), and asked to be released from his contract during the show's third season. The original agreement with the producers of M*A*S*H was that if McLean's new sitcom were to flop, he would be invited back to M*A*S*H. Alan Alda was not happy with McLean's departure from the series, so he had the show's writers reluctantly pen him an exit in the final episode ("Abyssinia, Henry") of the 1974-75 season in which TV viewers saw Lt. Colonel Blake getting discharged and heading home, 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 later admitted 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 making a return to the show.
His M*A*S*H co-star Loretta Swit later shed some light on the subject of why Stevenson left the series at the height of its success. She revealed that Stevenson wanted to be number one and felt pushed down as one of an ensemble of eight and also 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." Although he had played ensemble parts for several years, he has stated that the primary reasons for his departure were systemic problems with 20th Century Fox, especially disregard for simple comforts for crew and cast on location and opportunities that at the time seemed more appealing than staying with the show.
After his departure from M*A*S*H, Stevenson's acting career took a tumble. He starred in a series of sitcoms, none of which lasted more than approximately one season. They included The McLean Stevenson Show from 1976 to 1977, In the Beginning in 1978, Hello, Larry from 1979 to 1980, and Condo in 1983. All four sitcoms were dismissed by TV audiences and lambasted by critics, and all aired while M*A*S*H was still in production. He also appeared in a few guest starring roles on shows including Square One TV, The Love Boat, Diff'rent Strokes (as part of a cross-over with his series Hello, Larry), and The Golden Girls.
McLean appeared as a guest panelist for several weeks on Match Game in 1973, and again in 1978 on the daytime and nighttime weekly syndicated version. In 1981, he became a regular panelist on the daily syndicated version of the series, staying with the show until its cancellation a year later. He has also appeared as a celebrity panelist on Super Password, Hollywood Squares, and competed in a "Funny Men vs Funny Women" special on Family Feud (with Ray Combs) alongside his former M*A*S*H co-star Jamie Farr.
On February 15, 1996, while in a Los Angeles hospital, Stevenson was recovering from bladder cancer surgery and later suffered a fatal heart attack and died. He was survived by his wife Ginny and daughters Lindsey and Jennifer, and son Jeff MacGregor (both from previous marriages). Jeff hosted The Dating Game for two years in the 80s. He is interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
McLean passed away one day before Roger Bowen, who portrayed Lt. Colonel Henry Blake in the 1970 movie M*A*S*H.