MAS*H was both a brilliant and acclaimed movie and television series. That’s rare. The beauty of having the 4077th portrayed on both the big screen and small screen is that viewers can see different takes on their favorite characters. Well, not Radar. Gary Burghoff played Radar in the film and in the show.
Take Col. Henry Blake, for example. McLean Stevenson is best known for the role on TV, but Roger Bowen originate the role in the Robert Altman flick. There are some similarities — both like to fish and are somewhat bumbling — but some key differences. One survives the Korean War, we are to understand. That movie iteration also happens to wear glasses and act a little more lascivious around the nurses. Stevenson’s version talked a lot more about his wife. And, famously, he died at the end of season three after his plane is shot down over the Sea of Japan.
For Bowen, playing Blake was arguably his biggest role. Later, he had a recurring role on The Brian Keith Show (1973–74) and, in the Eighties, coincidentally appeared on House Calls, a medical sitcom starring Wayne Rogers of MAS*H.
When Bowen died on 1996, his obituary explained that the man “always considered himself a writer who only moonlighted as an actor.” He wrote 11 novels.
On February 24, 1996, The Los Angeles Times reported, “Bowen… died of a heart attack Feb. 16 while vacationing in Florida. He died a week after the heart attack death of McLean Stevenson.”
The paper was understandably a bit confused. They merely had to check their old issues from the prior week to remember that Stevenson passed away on February 15.
“Mr. Stevenson died Thursday [February 15] in a Los Angeles area hospital of a heart attack,” his obit read.
Eerily, Stevenson and Bowen passed away from heart attacks, hours from each other, on opposite ends of the country.
The death of Stevenson led the Bowen family to not immediately announce the death of their beloved Roger. The Bowens sat on the news and held back making it public for a week, to not cause confusion in the media. They feared that readers would mistake the two actors for one another.
On another odd note, the newspapers at the time stated that Stevenson had been 66 years old upon his death. He was, according to today’s records, 68.
There are other interesting parallels between the two. In the spring of 1983, both men starred in new sitcoms that aired at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. Stevenson headlined the doomed Condo on Thursdays, while Bowen was the lead in At Ease on Fridays, a sort of Sgt. Bilko knock-off.
Both sitcoms were canceled in June of 1983. They aired their final episodes one day apart from each other.