The M*A*S*H casting director hatched this scheme to make sure McLean Stevenson got on the show

Plus: Mike Farrell was almost cast in M*A*S*H's pilot.

The M*A*S*H cast has long been revered as one of TV's most memorable ensembles. However, according to casting director Eddie Foy III – who notably cast the show's pilot – M*A*S*H never would've been as big as it was without that perfect cast. In fact, he confessed that at first, the TV show didn't even come close to the charm the movie had on the big screen. Foy told the Archive of American Television about his initial doubts trying to find the right folks to make up the 4077th:

"I never really thought the pilot had what the picture had, so we started getting some very good actors in, and all of a sudden, the pilot came alive because of the cast.”

Eventually standing among that original cast was McLean Stevenson, the actor who played Henry Blake, the easygoing commander of Hawkeye's unit who could often be found in a bucket hat covered in fishing barbs. But unlike others on the cast, Foy revealed that Stevenson didn't have a typical audition to land what would become his best-known role. In fact, it took quite a lot of finagling for the casting director to get the actor considered.

Foy said Stevenson's casting went down like this: The casting director really wanted Stevenson to join M*A*S*H, so he said he hatched a scheme to make sure to get him involved in the show. Foy said, "I remember McLean Stevenson, I got McLean to do [the show]. In fact, we snuck him in on a picture called Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, where he played an eccentric minister, and we showed it to Gene Reynolds. He said, ‘I love the guy.’ And we did it purposely to get him onto M*A*S*H."

So rather than calling in Stevenson to audition, Foy went to the trouble to cast him in something else, just to prove he'd be a good fit on M*A*S*H.

And of course, Foy's scheme worked, and Stevenson joined Loretta Swit, Alan Alda, Gary Burghoff, Jamie Farr and the rest of the crew in that pilot episode, and it's all thanks to a teeny tiny part as a minister in a TV movie that married off Desi Arnaz Jr. to Christopher Norris.

M*A*S*H fans likely know that name, too. Norris has her own connection to M*A*S*H beyond being married by Stevenson in that 1971 TV movie. Norris later joined the cast of the M*A*S*H spin-off Trapper John, M.D., playing a nurse named Gloria "Ripples" Brancusi. We can't help but wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones served as her audition for that show, too?

Curiously enough, Foy revealed in his interview that there was one other person he wanted to get involved with M*A*S*H right from the pilot: an actor you might be familiar with named Mike Farrell. For the pilot, Farrell didn't make the cut, but we all know that he would eventually make it into M*A*S*H's ranks to become one of Hawkeye's greatest friends, B.J. Hunnicutt. Foy said, "Interestingly enough, I had always wanted Mike Farrell from the get-go for M*A*S*H." It's likely that Foy's suggestion of Farrell early on influenced the decision to introduce the M*A*S*H actor once Wayne Rogers left the show.

Can you imagine what M*A*S*H would've looked like with Farrell in it, right from the start? What about absent McLean Stevenson? It just goes to show that the M*A*S*H TV show owes a lot to the diligent casting of Eddie Foy III.

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26 Comments

MRT0303 11 months ago
I luv ❤️ M*A*S*H
I'm of the MASH generation and watch it continuously 😍
Wiseguy70005 11 months ago
I can't believe the producers didn't first try to get Roger Bowen for the role of Henry Blake. Since he played the part in the movie (like Radar and General Hammond), having him play the part in the series would be a bonus. But I've never heard if they did one way or the other. Unfortunately Bowen was busy with another series (Arnie, starring Herschel Bernardi) so wasn't available. History would have been changed if he had because he probably would have stayed with the series until the end and there would have been no Col. Potter character.
Wiseguy70005 11 months ago
Legally, Trapper John, MD was a spinoff of the movie MASH not the TV series M*A*S*H.
WGH 11 months ago
Never liked Mike Farrell or his character. Show stopped being funny when Wayne Rogers left.
FMS_Y2K WGH 11 months ago
True! Once Alan Alda became "the man", so to speak, it became more preachy than funny. And MeTV needs to keep showing this every damned day at 7 PM ET. Replace it with another show. Every episode has probably aired 112 times by now and change is a good thing. Mike Farrell insisting on keeping his moustache, which was not appropriate for soldiers in the Korean conflict, would have been a good reason to tell him to get lost, in my opinion.
RobbieinTokyo WGH 11 months ago
With the exception of the who can smell the worst episode and one of my favorites, the practical joker episode. I love when Sidney Freedman was on the show. His line, "YOU! You're the practical joker!" when he comes out and sees BJ hosing water into Frank's air raid foxhole. BJ replies, "It certainly looks that way."
Andybandit 11 months ago
Everytime I watch MASH when Henry passed away. It is so sad. I am getting sick of the extra hour of MASH. It is getting old. I don't watch it unless it is an episode I like.
Runeshaper 11 months ago
Eddie Foy III sounds like he hit the nail on the head!
Jacqueline05478 60 months ago
I read the book "Mr & Mrs Bo Jo Jones" many times when I was younger. I have looked for the movie to be on TV over the years to no avail. I looked into buying it once, way back in the 80's but it was about $20. No way was I going to spend that on a movie I've never seen. Call me cheap.
jomo Jacqueline05478 56 months ago
It's on youtube
Pacificsun 60 months ago
I liked the character of "Henry Blake" much more that Harry Morgan. Both (Blake) and Stevenson had an element of being unpredictable about themselves. Blake was always on a different wavelength, usually a beat behind the moment! It was very interesting kind of acting job. Morgan (on the other hand) was too predictable. He'd always react in the same way to a situation. Heavy handed, not especially clever or inspired. (It was rumored that Morgan had a bit a temper in private life).

When the show killed off Blake, my dad (who was an ultimate Fan of the show) actually cried. And I think it's because Blake put so much humanity into the role!!
RedSamRackham Pacificsun 21 months ago
* Killing off Lt. Colonel Blake was so wrong! A Henry Blake back home in Bloomington spinoff would've been way better than Hello Larry.
Wiseguy70005 Pacificsun 11 months ago
You like a character more than an actor?
Wiseguy70005 RedSamRackham 11 months ago
That was the point. The producers didn't like Stevenson leaving possibly killing the show so they made sure he wouldn't get a spinoff from the series.
RobbieinTokyo Pacificsun 11 months ago
Exactly. Henry was great. Lovable and flawed. Potter was too 'regular army' as he put it. Clearly they needed someone besides Frank, which they were castrating, to be the foil against Hawkeye and Co. Having Frank lose Hot lips was a bad idea. They needed to be a united front. Making hot lips nice was a bad move.
cperrynaples 60 months ago
Ironic that this movie got him the role as Henry Blake and not Father Mulcahy! Bonus Question: What later series did Stevenson play a priest?
MrsPhilHarris cperrynaples 60 months ago
I cheated and looked. Never heard of it. In The Beginning.
cperrynaples MrsPhilHarris 60 months ago
You must have used the famous Brooks/Marsh book! Always confirm my posts with it!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 60 months ago
Gheesh, you've just crushed the impression of being a genius at trivia!
What's the Marsh/Brooks book? Would that be Tim Marsh and Earle Brooks?
stephaniestavropoulos 60 months ago
This comment has been removed.
jholton30062 cperrynaples 11 months ago
His character also disguised himself as a priest in the MFTV movie "Shirts/Skins." Anyone remember that? I can, barely...
Jon cperrynaples 11 months ago
Oddly enough, Stevenson appeared in IN THE BEGINNING on CBS between his NBC sitcom roles on THE MCLEAN STEVENSON SHOW and HELLO, LARRY. I thought NBC had him under exclusive contract then.
CaptainDunsel 60 months ago
Jamie Farr as Klinger wasn't in the pilot episode. Klinger didn't appear until the fourth episode. However Farr technicallY *was* there for the pilot, as an uncredited PA announcer, before returning three episodes later in his iconic role.
Pacificsun CaptainDunsel 60 months ago
Jamie Farr was another inspired bit of casting. Farr is only getting his due now because of MeTV and being one of the few remaining characters still alive. He always knew how to play the farce just so far, and then reeled it back in. Of course he was playing that "shtick" during a time when people didn't/couldn't get away with as much non-conformity (self-expression). So he had to point towards comedy, and away from potential insult. He should've gotten more recognition at the time, but am guessing Alda didn't appreciate being upstaged.
Pacificsun, you mentioning Alan Alda not liking to be "upstaged," {I'm not 100% certain, and I wouldn't know where to check, exactly.} I'm reminded as to the reason Wayne Rogers {and I think one other character,} left M*A*S*H, is because AA was said to have had a bit of an ego. I think I also read that his ego got bigger as he was able to wield more power behind the scenes with the other hats he wore: Creative consultant { I think was one of them,} director and writer.
In the original movie and book, Trapper was the chest cutter. At one point, the tv gurus/ writers/ powers that be, gave that to Hawkeye, and Wayne got mad. He felt his character was being decimated and the glory given to Alda.
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