For the 1970s, M*A*S*H was ahead of its time. The dramedy showcased the ugliness and reality of war, which was something that networks didn’t care for decades ago.
However, the series had to write lighter episodes during the first years on the air. Earlier in the show, the network forbade a lot of content that it considered unsuitable for most audiences—including scenes with blood.
According to MeTV, the network told executive producer Burt Metcalfe that the only way the show would succeed was if it didn’t “show too much blood.” And even though M*A*S*H was about a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the series couldn’t actually show wounds, injuries, or even sponges covered in blood for quite some time.
“In the early years, the network really didn’t want much blood on the clothing or on the sponges,” medical consultant Walter Dishell said.
However, the series exploded in popularity shortly after it debuted. And slowly but surely, the network began to loosen its reigns on the writers’ and producers’ creativity, which meant the show got a lot bloodier.
The M*A*S*H Actors Loved to Cover Themselves in Fake Blood
The novelty was a lot of fun for the M*A*S*H cast members. Once they had buckets of fake blood on set, they began covering themselves with the liquid so they would look as shocking as possible, which made the on-screen surgeries much more realistic.
However, the vendor stopped making the blood a few years later. And as Alan Alda wrote in his memoir The Last Days of M*A*S*H, the new supply was an absolute nightmare.
“In the early years, the blood was okay,” Alda remembered. “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.”
Before long, the actors were fed up with the red goo. So they took it upon themselves to make 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 wrote.
And despite their many attempts, the actors were unable to find a believable recipe for theater blood. So they had to accept working with the sticky Karo blend.
Alan Alda further wrote about his experiences with the goo in his 2007 memoir Things I Overhead Talking to Myself. And he remembered some embarrassing situations, adding, “it was hard to wash the blood off my underwear when it soaked through my M*A*S*H fatigues.”