Found! McLean Stevenson in a Raft on Cher in 1975

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For at least 15 years, M*A*S*H fans have wondered about the existence of a bit of TV footage in which McLean Stevenson sat on a raft and shouted “I’m okay! I’m okay!” Supposedly, it aired at the start of an episode of The Carol Burnett Show the day after “Abyssinia, Henry” was originally broadcast back in May March 1975. Or so one version of the story goes. Other versions claim it was an episode of Tony Orlando & Dawn or The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

I looked into the rumor back in June 2011 and was only able to determine that if it was The Carol Burnett Show it couldn’t have aired the day after “Abyssinia, Henry” because The Carol Burnett Show was seen on Saturdays while M*A*S*H aired on Tuesdays during the 1974-1975 season. Truthfully, I wasn’t convinced it ever really happened.

Well, it did. Only not on The Carol Burnett Show and definitely not the day after “Abyssinia, Henry” aired. See for yourself:

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So when did this footage air? During the Sunday, May 4th, 1975 episode of Cher’s CBS variety show, which was called Cher. McLean Stevenson was the special guest that week. In addition to his brief raft appearance, he was also in two full sketches.

(After I wrote about McLean Stevenson and The Carol Burnett Show, a number of people left comments saying they remembered the footage, including two who claimed it was from an episode of Cher. They were right.)

Why do so many people seem to remember seeing something like this on The Carol Burnett Show? I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible McLean Stevenson did something similiar on The Carol Burnett Show. It’s equally likely that someone remembered seeing the raft gag but got confused and thought it was an episode of The Carol Burnett Show and not Cher. Once the misinformation made its way online it spread and eventually was taken as fact.

If you’re curious how I got my hands on this footage, here’s what happened. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from someone saying they had the episode of Cher on DVD. Apparently, the series aired on VH-1 at some point during the 1990s (originally an hour long, the VH-1 episodes are cut down to 30 minutes). He offered to send me a copy. I eagerly accepted but was torn. On the one hand, I was excited to finally see the footage. On the other hand, it seemed too good to be true. Could this really be it?

At first, after watching the episode in question, I couldn’t find the footage of McLean Stevenson on a raft. He was definitely in the episode, part of a bizarre sketch involving mice. I took a closer look and there it was. The timing was perfect. The 41st anniversary of “Abyssinia, Henry” was only days away. What better time to post the video and finally confirm once and for all that it really happened?

Let’s all say a big thank you to the M*A*S*H and Cher fan who provided the DVD.

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26 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Abyssinia, Henry”

  1. This episode was certainly not spoiled for us who are abroad. In my country M*A*S*H was broadcasted first time in the middle of 1990s and I was literally jaw-dropped when Radar makes his announcement. Until then M*A*S*H had been seen as a lighthearted comedy about a couple of womanising doctors and their incompetent officers, war was something depicted like “5 o’clock Charlie” aiming prowess and this episode really turned the tables around. Really, really great episode.

  2. When I saw this episode for the first time, I was floored… and I had only been watching M*A*S*H for a short time: I started when Hallmark Channel went back to the pilot in its rotation of 4-episodes a day reruns, and kept watching all the way through. Henry had become one of my favorite characters of the original cast, because he was so funny, especially in those scenes when he was drunk (from this episode, the conversation about which tree is the toidy, and which tree is for which number cracks me up)… him going home was bittersweet enough, but to learn that he was killed, I was not prepared for that, and I got rather choked up. I ended up taping this episode.

    One thing that gets me though is that today’s viewers don’t even appreciate this episode, at all, in fact, there was a discussion at the IMDb boards talking about, “Stupid” Radar was in this episode for springing the news on everyone while they were still in surgery… THAT WAS THE POINT! Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds both said that was the whole point! That Henry was dead, and there was nothing they could do about it, but they could perhaps save the life of those who are on the tables. Plus, Radar was just as shocked as everyone, do you think he’s going to be able to think straight after learning who was once his father figure was killed?

    Another thing that needs to be mentioned too is the urban legends that surround this episode, and were even touched on in a documentary series about TV sitcom scandals: was Henry Blake’s death really about showing the harsh realities of war, or, was it a plot cooked up by Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and CBS to get rid of Mac Stevenson once and for all, because he was such a meddler on the set? They spoke with Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, and Gary Burghoff, and Gary mentioned that Mac always stood up and voiced complaints about improper and insufferable working conditions while other actors were too afraid to speak up themselves, and that having his own show was never the reason behind his leaving; however, Loretta painted a different picture, saying that Mac told her, point-blank, one day that, “I can’t be number three, I have to be number one”, and that most of his motive behind leave was indeed so he could star in his own shows (I have also read from different sources that Mac really wanted the role of Hawkeye, but was given Henry instead).

    To touch on what was mentioned in the review, I kind of believe that Henry’s line of, “Lorraine and the kids are going to die” was foreshadowing, but then again, someone on another forum once mentioned that the fact that Henry’s skeleton was in every shot in his office, particularly when he was on the phone, was meant to be foreshadowing as well. As for what Radar said after Henry threatened to come back and kick his butt, I always assumed he was saying, “Yes sir.”

    1. I too have always thought Radar said, “Yes, sir.” And I thought the point of it not being audible was that he was so choked up at that moment that the words wouldn’t come out. (And now thinking about it, I wonder if that was part of the direction to “Radar”, or whether Burghoff was truly choked up shooting the scene and that’s just how it happened.)

  3. A landmark episode if there ever was one; I never get tired of watching it. Even though I know what the outcome is going to be, that doesn’t make it any easier to take. Rather, knowing the inevitable conclusion just makes everything that precedes it all the more powerful (and gut-wrenching, because you KNOW what’s about to happen). The final scene in OR never fails to knock me out, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it at this point.

    Obviously, the whole ‘going home’ plot line and it’s conclusion overshadows everything else in this episode, but there are some funny moments. Drunk Radar cracking up at the “toity tree” always gets me, as does Hawkeye’s “Leave him alone, he’s eating!” line when Henry is making the “num num” noises to his kid on the the phone.

    A definite ‘top ten’ episode for me.

  4. I agree with all the comments thus far about the impact of this episode. I think it works better for me than any other “war is a terrible thing” episode of M*A*S*H.

    I feel this episode brings home the harsh reality of war and the tragic loss of life without being the leftist-preachy “all war is always bad” that comes across in so many episodes. War is a terrible, horrible thing that should be avoided when possible, but it is sometimes a necessary thing. Any culture that forgets that is doomed to fail.

      1. Because freedom is never free. Just remembered that all the of members of the military that died in whatever military conflict gave up their today for your tomorrow. Thank a veteran when you see one and remember what they did.

  5. I remember back when this episode first aired I purposely didn’t read or listen to anything about it so I would be totally surprised by it. But then, I told my sister I was doing that so she purposely told me about the ending, (she had read it in the newspaper) I was REALLY mad at her, but it still came as a shock when Radar walked in and said that line.
    And all these years later that scene still saddens me no matter how many times I see it.

    1. Just watched this ep for the upteenth time (saw it when it originally aired, as I can personally attest that this was a show you just DID NOT MISS). As for the impact of that scene even knowing what was coming, even after all these years, I started getting choked up when Henry kissed Margaret, since I knew that was only comic relief to prep the audience for the ending. My eyes started to get watery when Henry hugged Radar, and the tears came when Radar walked into the OR. And that’s after 40 years of knowing how the episode ended.

      1. More than the final scene, I feel it in my throat when Col. Blake, already in the helicopter, looks and sees Radar holding his salute while trying to keep from crying. I think everybody’s had that experience of trying to stifle tears, and it gets me every time. This scene is also reminiscent of John John saluting JFK’s casket, also a poignant moment.

  6. I can never understand why, but my father always laughs out loud at that scene where Radar walks into the OR and says that line.

  7. I remember when I first saw the episode how truly stunned I was at the end and that the next day in my office everybody who had seen it was commenting on it .And even now when I watch the episode on either TV or my DVD set it still affects me at the end even now because even though by now I know whats going to happen its still an unforgetable moment and I have the same reaction that I had from when I saw it the first time which is one of total shock again ! And I guess thats what it so remarkable that an episode youve seen so many times still effects you each time that you see it I guess thats what makes a classic !

  8. I’ll never forget when my wife (who at that point had never seen a single episode of “M*A*S*H”, she’s from the Phillipines) and I went through the entire series a few years back…when we got to this episode, and the scene at the end in the O.R., my wife jumped off the couch and just yelled, “What?! What?!!!” She couldn’t believe they could kill off a TV character so brazenly like that, so I had to explain the whole backstory behind it to her, and she understood why they did it.

    And yeah, for all the times I’ve seen this episode, that scene is still a kick in the guts.

    1. First off, my uncle was married to a Fillipino woman previously and is currently married to another Fillipino woman.
      Now, on to my thoughts about this classic farewell to Henry Blake. IMO, he was a decent CO when he wasn’t being climbed over by Frank and Margaret, alias “The Interchangables”. Radar’s OR announcement about Henry’s death was powerful yet gut-wrenching.

  9. I just saw it on a Sundance TV rerun. I was floored! The final scene had been replaced with snippets of Henry’s time at the 4077th. Frankly, I felt cheated. In fact, I had to start searching for “Abyssinia Henry two endings.” It brought me to this site.

    The new ending sucks, having sen the original. 🙁

  10. You know a comdedy show of McLean Stevenson in a rubber raft calling out I’m all right!
    Pity they could make a comedy series 20 years after Korea:
    Hawkeye Pierce is arrested by the US Army –they just found out he isn’t dead {The LAte Captain Pierce] so he eithers goes to Levenworth prison as a deserter ..or he pays off his GI insurance by working gratis at a VA Hospital…while there Hawkeye meet his Col Blake..very much alive..it seems Blake washed up on desert Island paradis of women; booze and no responabilty….until he got rescused….and he has to do the same thing as Hawkeye work gratis……now not only does Pierce have to put up with a Vietnam War surgeon version of himself….but the hospital administrator is none other than Frank Burns {He was a Congressman but even Congress couldnt stand him-so he got shipped back to the VA} Burns has never forgotten or forgiven Hawkeye or Blake for all the nasty tricks they played in him..so he going to make there lives miserable….

  11. The only major quibble I have is how Henry got to go home-they didn’t rotate doctors out based on points, which the Army got rid of after WW2.

    I have never seen an edited version of the ending. Why would that be done? The whole plot of the episode was about Henry not making it home & it was referenced in many episodes afterwards.

  12. I watched it when it originally aired. I think I was 11 or 12. Watched it with my parents. My dad was a fan and had gotten me into it. We were both floored because people just didn’t die on comedies. Over time, I came to understand what the writers were doing at the time, but I couldn’t help but see it as a little dig at Stevenson for bailing.

    Looking back at his departure, even as a kid I wondered what in the heck he was thinking. M*A*S*H was a special show, even to somebody my age. I know he realized it later, but it was not the same after he (and Wayne Rogers) left, but I don’t think they would have lasted 11 seasons without the change.

    BTW, the scene with Henry in a lifeboat yelling he was okay was from Cher’s series that broadcast the Sunday evening after “Abyssinia” aired. He was a guest on that particular show.

  13. Has there ever been any insight or discussion as to why they used “Abyssinia” for the title? I mean, I get that it sounds like “I’ll be seein’ ya”, but the title of this episode is the only instance I can find anywhere of someone substituting it like that. Was its use a short-lived fad around the time of the Korean War or something? Why didn’t they just straight call it “I’ll Be Seein’ Ya, Henry”?

  14. I have noticed that this episode affects my reaction to earlier episodes when I watch them again. The episode where his son is born, the one where they watch film of Henry’s daughter’s birthday, the one where Hawkeye suggests arthritis could be ticket home and Henry talks about staying, as well as others, are given deeper meant by knowing what’s ahead.

  15. I was almost 10 years old when the episode originally aired and watched it with my father . . . we had heard Henry was being killed off (it was leaked in various articles and such, as noted), but didn’t know how it would happen. I remember thinking to myself, “They’re not really going to do it, are they?” – then came the scene with Radar in the operating room. Still gets me to this day every time I watch it.

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