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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Jacqueline05478 4 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.
Pacificsun 4 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!!
cperrynaples 4 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?
I cheated and looked. Never heard of it. In The Beginning.
You must have used the famous Brooks/Marsh book! Always confirm my posts with it!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 4 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?
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CaptainDunsel 4 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 4 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.
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