There’s a shocking scene in a MAS*H eighth season episode full of shocking scenes called “Dreams,” where Margaret Houlihan appears in a wedding gown covered in blood.
It’s a dream sequence, but by the show’s eighth season, Margaret Houlihan actor Loretta Swit said the audience was ready to see how the traumatic experiences the cast had at camp was seeping into their subconscious.
“For Margaret, to be in her wedding dress and it’s covered with blood and all of these soldiers are passing by her, it’s just totally believable,” Swit told the Television Academy.
Alan Alda wrote the episode much earlier than the episode was shot and aired — because it was ahead of its time in the series production in more ways than one.
Earlier in the series, Swit said that audiences wouldn’t have understood the true weight of these heavy dreams, and according to MAS*H executive producer Burt Metcalfe, early edicts from the network forbid the show to depict characters with their clothes soaked in blood like Margaret’s wedding dress.
“Don’t show too much blood,” Metcalfe told the Television Academy was how the network saw the show succeeding.
In actuality, the more popular MAS*H became, the bloodier it became, as the network allowed the show to get away with more and more gore.
MAS*H medical consultant Walter Dishell told the Television Academy that the network giving this sort of permission didn’t make the show sensational. It made the show more realistic.
“In the early years, the network really didn’t want much blood on the clothing or on the sponges,” Dishell said.
But “they definitely made it a lot more bloody,” and Dishell said soon the actors would goof off backstage by dipping their hands in blood and soaking their gloves to make them appear as shocking as possible.
MASH actor Alan Alda wrote in his book The Last Days of MASH that the decision to use more blood on the show actually caused an unforeseen problem when the actors needed to dip their gloves in the fake stuff.
“In the early years, the blood was okay,” Alda wrote. “It had a nice color, and it ran well. Then the company stopped manufacturing it, and the only theatrical blood you could buy was made with a base of Karo syrup. It would probably have been all right on waffles, but it stuck to rubber gloves like glue.”
No longer a laughing matter, the sticky gloves became such an issue for the cast that the show tried and failed to invent their own fake blood.
“We tried making formulas, even mixing shampoo with red watercolor, but all that did was turn pink and foam all over us,” Alda said.
Unsuccessful in their attempts to come up with a better fake blood solution, the cast had to use the Karo syrup, which Alda wrote in his 2007 memoir Things I Overhead Talking to Myself, had yet another downside.
“It was hard to wash the blood off my underwear when it soaked through my MAS*H fatigues,” Alda wrote.