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Old 16 March 2009, 08:22 AM
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Ambulance Col. Blake's death -- a surprise?

As most M*A*S*H fans know, after McLean Stevenson announced early in 1975 that he would be leaving the show at the end of the year, the producers wrote his character out of the series by giving Col. Blake enough points to be rotated home in the final episode of the third season ("Abyssinia, Henry"). That episode had a surprise ending, with Radar entering the OR in the very last scene to relay the tragic news that Col. Blake's plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan.

It's something of a legend that the cast of the show did not know what was going to happen in that final scene -- they were simply assembled for one last take at the end of the episode and did not know what coming until Gary Burghoff (Radar) delivered his lines. For example, the IMDb entry for that episode states:

Quote:
In a surprise twist at the end of the episode, the characters learn that Blake's plane was shot down en route to Japan, and everyone aboard died. This was kept a surprise from the cast (with one exception, Alan Alda) until the moment when Gary Burghoff's character ran into the operating room to announce the news. The producers' intent was to capture the cast's genuine shock and surprise, and to remind the audience that war takes friend and foe alike.
However, in The Complete Book of M*A*S*H, Jamie Farr (Klinger) says just the opposite -- that the cast may not have known how the episode was going to end while they were filming it, but when they assembled for the final scene they knew what was coming and had discussed it with director Larry Gelbart in advance:

Quote:
[T]he last episode of the third year ... when we read the [script] page and found out that Henry died, we were all stunned, and Larry [Gelbart] asked for comments and a lot of people had their say. But I didn't say anything because I didn't think they would really care what I had to say. I happened to agree with doing it, but I didn't say a word.

The whole thing about Henry's death was very hush-hush. I had already finished my scenes and was at home waiting for a call about the [end of season] wrap party. Loretta [Swit] was finished also. Then I got a call from the studio asking me to come in for an added scene, and they said Loretta was coming, too. I asked if I needed the pages ahead of time -- if I had to study any lines -- and they said no, not to worry, it was a quick scene in the OR and just to come on in. I said fine. I came down and they called all the regulars into a corner and Larry had a big manila envelope and he pulled out these [script] pages. We couldn't believe what we had read. We blocked it without saying a word so the crew wouldn't know anything until we actually did it.
Another M*A*S*H page on the web supports this second version:

Quote:
With ample time to prepare a "Goodbye Henry" show, it was decided that Henry Blake would be discharged and sent home for the Season Three finale, which aired on Tuesday March 18, 1975. In the final scene of his last episode, "Abyssinia, Henry,"¯ Radar tearfully reports that Henry's plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan, and he was killed. The scene was the last one shot of the entire episode, and the page of script that reveals that development was only given to the cast moments before cameras rolled.
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Old 16 March 2009, 08:54 AM
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There weren't no survivors!

Actually, a classic scene. The way that everyone just stopped for a moment, then went on with the job at hand was great. I couldn't imagine a better way for the scene to play.
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Old 16 March 2009, 12:19 PM
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I can understand why not telling the cast about John Hurt's litle surprise because the reactions are useful, but would not telling the cast about Blake's death engender anything more than a decent actor could produce given time to work on it?

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Old 16 March 2009, 03:54 PM
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While we are at it, I've heard similar claims about the "alien jumping out of John Hurt's belly" scene in Alien. To me, it seems a bit odd, given that the special effects probably needed some plumbing that would be obvious to anyone watching the scene from an angle not visible from the camera. Anyone who knows?
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Old 16 March 2009, 04:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Troberg View Post
While we are at it, I've heard similar claims about the "alien jumping out of John Hurt's belly" scene in Alien. To me, it seems a bit odd, given that the special effects probably needed some plumbing that would be obvious to anyone watching the scene from an angle not visible from the camera. Anyone who knows?

Obviously the cast knew what was going to happen to a degree, but the crew kept some of the details of the scene to themselves. The violence and blood splattering were all news to the cast by all accounts
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Old 16 March 2009, 06:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Troberg View Post
While we are at it, I've heard similar claims about the "alien jumping out of John Hurt's belly" scene in Alien. To me, it seems a bit odd, given that the special effects probably needed some plumbing that would be obvious to anyone watching the scene from an angle not visible from the camera. Anyone who knows?
For a one-off scene like that, I'd have thought there'd be too much risk of an unprepared person doing something really unpredictable that would spoil the take anyway... it's surely not a scene they'd want to film twice if they could avoid it, so it seems a bit silly to leave the reactions to chance.
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Old 16 March 2009, 06:24 PM
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There are certain expressions you cannot make deliberately, no matter how good an actor you are.

From IMDB

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The rumor that the cast, except for John Hurt, did not know what would happen during the chestburster scene is partly true. The scene had been explained for them, but they did not know specifics. For instance, Veronica Cartwright did not expect to be sprayed with blood.

Quote:
For the chestburster sequence, John Hurt stuck his head, shoulders and arms through a hole in the mess table, linking up with a mechanical torso that was packed with compressed air (to create the forceful exit of the alien) and lots of animal guts. The rest of the cast were not told that real guts were being used so as to provoke genuine reactions of shock and disgust.
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Old 16 March 2009, 06:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
For a one-off scene like that, I'd have thought there'd be too much risk of an unprepared person doing something really unpredictable that would spoil the take anyway... it's surely not a scene they'd want to film twice if they could avoid it, so it seems a bit silly to leave the reactions to chance.
Perhaps, but if it's a legend, it's one perpetuated by the entire cast and crew on the Alien Quadrilogy boxset.
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Old 17 March 2009, 02:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
However, in The Complete Book of M*A*S*H, Jamie Farr (Klinger) says just the opposite --
This is the same Jamie Farr who tells the doe-knob story?

Credibility might be questionable here.
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Old 17 March 2009, 02:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UEL View Post
This is the same Jamie Farr who tells the doe-knob story? Credibility might be questionable here.
I can't see an ulterior motive for him to relate the events of the filming "Abyssinia, Henry" differently than they really happened, especially since his version is far less dramatic than the legendary one. As well, his version corresponds in all details with the account given by writer/director Larry Gelbart himself in Gelbart's own book.
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Old 17 March 2009, 03:30 AM
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Originally Posted by snopes View Post
I can't see an ulterior motive for him to relate the events of the filming "Abyssinia, Henry" differently than they really happened, especially since his version is far less dramatic than the legendary one. As well, his version corresponds in all details with the account given by writer/director Larry Gelbart himself in Gelbart's own book.
I remember seeing a "Making of M*A*S*H*" type of show where this was discussed. Larry Gelbart said that all the actors thought they were done, then he said to them, "I have one more page for you," and Gary Burghoff said, "I don't want to see it." I guess Burghoff figured out the only possibility for a last-minute surprise. According to that special, the actors knew what was happening when the scene was shot, but not before they had finished filming the rest of the show.

There was another show done for some anniversary where most of the cast got together to discuss the show, and the smae story was told with all of them chiming in about how surprised they were when they saw the last page. They'd filmed the whole story expecting that Henry was going home, which is of course what Gelbart was going for, only to have this last page thrown at them.

They did film the scene in two takes, according to both those shows, which means that even if the first one would have been a shock, the second one wasn't.
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Old 18 March 2009, 03:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Tea View Post
There are certain expressions you cannot make deliberately, no matter how good an actor you are.
Which is why Alan Rickman has that bulging eyed look of "OMFG, I wet myself" when he falls at the end of Die Hard. Granted, he didn't fall off the side of the building, but he did do a good high drop for the scene that scared the crap outta him.
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Old 18 March 2009, 04:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DadOf3 View Post
I remember seeing a "Making of M*A*S*H*" type of show where this was discussed. Larry Gelbart said that all the actors thought they were done, then he said to them, "I have one more page for you," and Gary Burghoff said, "I don't want to see it." I guess Burghoff figured out the only possibility for a last-minute surprise.
According to Gelbart:

Quote:
Gene [Reynolds] and I took the cast aside and I opened a manila envelope that contained the one-page last scene, telling them I had something to show them.

'I don't want to see it!' Gary Burghoff exploded. 'I know you! You've got pictures of dead babies in there!'
Sounds like Burghoff suspected a prank, not the actual ending.

Gelbart also states in his book that "having Henry die was a show-business decision; we were not trying to punish an actor for leaving the series."
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Old 18 March 2009, 08:36 PM
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I'm confused. Farr says at first that they knew Henry would die, but then he says that none of them could believe what had been read when it was time to shoot his "death scene."
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Old 18 March 2009, 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by MisterGrey View Post
I'm confused. Farr says at first that they knew Henry would die, but then he says that none of them could believe what had been read when it was time to shoot his "death scene."
He's not telling the story chronologically. He's saying, in effect: "We had no idea that Col. Blake was going to die until they showed us the last page of the script just before we shot the scene. When we saw that script, we were shocked that the producers would actually kill off his character."
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Old 18 March 2009, 08:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
He's not telling the story chronologically. He's saying, in effect: "We had no idea that Col. Blake was going to die until they showed us the last page of the script just before we shot the scene. When we saw that script, we were shocked that the producers would actually kill off his character."
You are right, except he is telling the story chronologically (ETA- I see, the first paragraph from Farr does not come before the second chronologically.) Farr says that they got the script just before (maybe a few minutes, whatever) the scene was shot, rather than well in advance. Got script- were shocked- went and set up scene.

For Mr. Grey: It was still a surprise in that sense, but the legend that is not true is that none of the cast except Burgoff knew at all until Radar said "There were no survivors," so that the live reaction was caught on film. That part is (apparently) not true.
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Old 18 March 2009, 09:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr. Dave View Post
You are right, except he is telling the story chronologically.
No, he isn't. He starts out talking about his reaction after having been shown the last page of the script, then he describes the circumstances that got him back to the studio where he was first shown the last page of the script.
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Old 18 March 2009, 09:06 PM
Dr. Dave Dr. Dave is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
No, he isn't. He starts out talking about his reaction after having been shown the last page of the script, then he describes the circumstances that got him back to the studio where he was first shown the last page of the script.
Yep. Nevermind me. Sorry. I thought Mr. Grey was confused about the second paragraph altogether, not the first then second.
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Old 18 March 2009, 09:30 PM
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Fright

Here's another "actor surprise" story, from Saturday Night Fever, per IMDB.

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When they shot the first bridge scene, director John Badham kept secret from Donna Pescow the fact that when 'the guys "fell off" the bridge they actually landed on a platform a few feet below. Badham and the other actors didn't tell her about the platform because they wanted a genuine look of horror and anger on Annette's face when Tony, Double-J and Joey appeared to fall off. Therefore Donna's reaction to them falling, and her facial expressions turning from horror and shock to outright anger, were real, and her next line, "YOU F-----S!", was not scripted.
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Old 18 March 2009, 10:05 PM
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How much of these types of stories are apocryhpal and how much are truly true though? I mean, if one watches the special edition Jaws dvd, you can hear Roy Scheider tell how, since the shark kept breaking down during filming, no one really saw the shark (the full gravity of the shark that is, not just bits and pieces) and that the now infamous line "you're going to need a bigger boat" was not only totally ad-libbed, but that Scheider's reaction to the shark (prompting the line) was also not acting, but real, since it was his first time genuinely seeing the shark that up close and personal.


Another one: the opening scene of Jaws, with the two kids swimming? The girl who dies is actually the stunt double and she had a harness attached to her where two divers would pull on either end of said harness to simulate the "attack". Her screams are real. She broke a few ribs during filming of that scene and every scream you hear coming out of her mouth is not acting, but real pain. That's on the DVD too, from her own mouth.

Jamie Farr was a known cut-up during filming (per DH's DVD collection).. not that I doubt the veracity of his side of the story, especially since, as snopes pointed out, his is less fanciful than the one most often repeated, but just what would be the divine source for the actual truth in these situations and not just repeated FOAF's stories?
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