McLean Stevenson

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McLean Stevenson
McLeanStevensonMG1981.jpg
Stevenson as a regular panelist on Match Game, 1981
Born Edgar McLean Stevenson, Jr.
(1927-11-14)November 14, 1927
Normal, Illinois, U.S.
Died February 15, 1996(1996-02-15) (aged 68)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Occupation Actor
Years active 1962–1993
Spouse(s) Ginny Fosdick (1980-his death); 1 child
Unknown (1969 - 1973; divorced); 1 child
Carrie Williamson (1949-?; divorced); 1 child

Edgar McLean Stevenson, Jr. (November 14, 1927 – February 15, 1996), better known as McLean Stevenson, was an American actor most recognized for his role as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake on the TV series M*A*S*H. He was also recognized for his role as Michael Nicholson on The Doris Day Show.

Early life and career[edit]

Stevenson was born 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. He was also the brother of actress Ann Whitney.[1] His father, Edgar, was a cardiologist.

Stevenson attended Lake Forest Academy and later joined the Navy. After his service, 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 at 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. He also worked as a press secretary for his cousin in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956. He formed the "Young Democrats for Stevenson".[citation needed]

In 1961, Stevenson's 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. He 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[2] 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. He also was a regular on the 1970 Tim Conway Comedy Hour variety show on CBS. During this period, he 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".[citation needed]

M*A*S*H[edit]

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

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 Lt. Col. 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", which earned Stevenson an Emmy nomination. The series 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) 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 Lt. 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 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 returning to the show.

In an interview, M*A*S*H co-star Loretta Swit shed some light on the subject of why Stevenson left the series at the height of its success.[citation needed] 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." 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,[3] and opportunities that at the time seemed more appealing than staying with the show.[4]

Stevenson was later replaced in the series by Harry Morgan, a fan favorite of the show and best friend of McLean's, who guest-starred on one episode of Stevenson's final year, and who played the role of Colonel Sherman Potter for the remainder of the 8 seasons and starred in its short-lived spin-off AfterMASH.[5]

Match Game[edit]

Stevenson 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, Stevenson became a regular panelist on the daily syndicated version of Match Game, staying with the show until its cancellation a year later. Stevenson would make occasional appearances on the subsequent Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour in 1983 and 1984.

Later career[edit]

After his departure from M*A*S*H, Stevenson's acting career began to decline. He starred in a series of sitcoms, none of which lasted more than approximately one season. They included The McLean Stevenson Show (1976–77), In the Beginning (1978), Hello, Larry (1979–80) and Condo (1983). All four sitcoms were dismissed by audiences and lambasted by critics, and all aired while M*A*S*H was still in production. Stevenson guest-starred as Stan Zbornak's brother Ted on the hit sitcom The Golden Girls in 1987, in addition to guest-starring in shows such as Square One TV, The Love Boat, Diff'rent Strokes (as part of a cross-over with his series Hello, Larry), and Hollywood Squares. He filled in for Johnny Carson as guest host of The Tonight Show 58 times.[6] During the 1988–89 television season, Stevenson returned to a supporting TV role in an ensemble, playing Max Kellerman in the short-lived CBS series adaptation of Dirty Dancing.

Stevenson's screen credits include the Disney movie The Cat from Outer Space as a friend of Dr. Frank Wilson (played by Ken Berry) along with his M*A*S*H replacement Harry Morgan. He also was a co-host of the syndicated daytime talk show America, which lasted 16 weeks between September 16, 1985 and January 3, 1986.

Death[edit]

Stevenson was recovering from surgery (he had bladder cancer) in a Los Angeles hospital on February 15, 1996, when he suffered a fatal heart attack.[7][8]

Stevenson is interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife Ginny and daughter Lindsey, daughter Jennifer, and son Jeff MacGregor (both from previous marriages).[9]

Coincidentally, Stevenson died only one day before Roger Bowen, who portrayed the original Colonel Henry Blake in the 1970 movie MASH.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ann Whitney IMDB entry
  2. ^ Stevenson sings in a Ford Motor Company TV commercial entitled "Ford Has Changed". He's in the rear of the singing quartet, first on the left.
  3. ^ Reiss, David S. (1980). M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV's Most Popular Show. Indianapolis / New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. pp. 87–88. ISBN 0-672-52656-5. 
  4. ^ Mac
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earl (2003). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–Present (8th ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 1214. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. 
  7. ^ "'MASH' star McLean Stevenson dies". CNN. 16 February 1996. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  8. ^ Donald Greyfield (17 August 1999). "McLean Stevenson". Find A grave. 
  9. ^ McLean Stevenson - Find a Grave

External links[edit]