For decades, award-winning actor and entertainer Alan Alda forged a unique blend of Army experience with an ability to move audiences through words and acting. It’s an approach Alda continues to follow today.
As a boy, Alda suffered from polio, but developed a keen sense of humor, landing comedy jobs during his early years, including Chicago’s legendary Second City troupe. A Fordham ROTC graduate from New York, he became a U.S. Army Reservist during the Korean War, serving as a gunnery officer.
As serendipity would have it, M*A*S*H was also set during the Korean War. The series combined humor and military reality; Alda could draw on his own experience in service, and his showbiz upbringing -- his father was a burlesque-style actor with Vaudeville roots and his mother a former showgirl and Miss New York.
"No matter what part you play, you have to make use of yourself. The idea is not to let it show," Alda said, according to CNN. "That's the best acting there is."
According to CNN, Alda almost didn't take M*A*S*H’s leading role as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce; he was worried that "the show might become nothing more than high jinks at the front," but was subsequently reassured by producers Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart.
It was a decision that paid off big time. Over its eleven seasons, M*A*S*H was a huge winner for CBS. First airing in 1972, the show’s final episode in 1983 was watched by nearly 106 million Americans, setting a record that remained until Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. The show earned numerous Emmy awards, and Alda earned five -- three for acting, one for writing, and one for directing, the only artist to win Emmys in all three categories in the same series. He wrote 20 and directed 32 episodes of M*A*S*H.
In accepting the 40th Anniversary Special Founders Award with the International Emmy Awards, Alda, now 77, paid tribute to the real-life medics, including the Korean War veterans:
"These are the people who really lived through the stories we told decades later - the men and women in those hospital tents who went through the cold of winter and the blood and the pain, the loneliness, and seeing their patients die, some of who were only a couple of years away from being children," Alda said.
Alda has written or directed five feature films, of which the best reviewed was The Seduction of Joe Tynan with Meryl Streep. He also gained critical acclaim in The Four Seasons, and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. On television, he was the longtime host of Scientific American Frontiers on PBS, played Alec Baldwin’s father on 30 Rock, and in the last season of TV's The West Wing, Alda played a moderate Republican running for President.
He has also written two comedic memoirs, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.
Married for 56 years, Alda’s spouse, Arlene is a photographer, clarinetist and writer of children’s books. They are parents of three children.
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Alda#/media/File:Alan_Alda_by_Bridget_Laudien.jpg