M*A*S*H ran for 11 seasons. That’s a long time to be working with the same people, on the same sets, playing the same characters. While it certainly made a family out of the cast, it could also get a little boring over the years.
The cast found their own ways to keep themselves entertained over long days of shooting. One of those ways was what the cast called the “World Championship Surgical Clamping Contest”.
In a 1979 Chicago Sun-Times article, David Ogden Stiers, who came on the cast as Winchester in season six explained how he was introduced to the sport when he was new and nervous on set. “They (the other actors) could have made it very difficult for me. They could have had me for lunch the first day. And believe me, I was a puddle that day; I had no knees. I couldn’t function.”
“But they were very supporting,” Stiers said. “They let you know very quickly that you are a valuable person, and you are going to be taken very seriously as a human being and an actor. And after you are very secure, they pull out all the stops and start throwing vegtables at you.”
For Stiers, it wasn’t a vegetable at all, but something much more on-hand on set. “…we were in the operating room, and I was supposed to turn into a close-up, say a line and turn back to the patient. And just as I turned into a camera and was drawing a breath to say the line, a big piece of surgical gauze hit me right between the eyes. ‘God,’ I said to myself, ‘I’m so bad they are throwing stuff at me.'”
At that point, he spotted Harry Morgan, who was another mid-show cast as Potter, “standing back with that demented and gleeful look in his maligned little eyes, and I said my line and turned back, and as I did, I realized that someone had clamped me to the patient. I was trying to exit, and I was pulling some poor [actor] across the set behind me.”
Stiers adapted fast though, and for a while he even held the record for the World Championship Surgical Clamping Contest. “I had seven of them on Loretta Swit… she didn’t know until she walked out of the scene and heard ‘tink, tink, tink’ from the sway.”
He bemoaned losing his record when “Harry got an assistant nurse with eight of them. Now I have to find someone who is insensate in the derriere and hang nine on them — or better still, do it on Harry.”