ALDA, ALAN

U.S. Actor

Alan Alda is a television and film star best known for his work in the long running CBS television series M*A*S*H. He has been well honored for that role, having garnered twenty-eight Emmy nominations, two Writer's Guild Awards, three Director's Guild Awards, six Golden Globes from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and seven People's Choice Awards. Alda is the only person to have been honored by the Television Academy as top performer, writer and director.

The son of actor Robert Alda, he traveled with his father on the vaudeville circuit, and began performing in summer stock theatre as a teenager. During his junior year at Fordham University, Alda studied in Europe where he performed on the stage in Rome and on television in Amsterdam with his father. After college he acted at the Cleveland Playhouse on a Ford Foundation grant. Upon returning to New York. Alda worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and on television. He later acquired improvisational training with Second City and Compass in Hyannisport, and that background in political and social satire led to his work as a regular on television's That Was The Week That Was.

Alda found fame on M*A*S*H where his depiction of sensitive surgeon Hawkeye Pierce won him five Emmy Awards. Set in the Korean War of the 1950s, and broadcast in part during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, M*A*S*H won acclaim for its broad and irreverent humor, its ability to effectively combine drama with comedy, and its overall liberal humanist stance. In adapting the show from the 1970 Robert Altman film, producer and director Gene Reynolds and writer Larry Gelbart used distinctive telefilm aesthetics and a complex narrative structure that set the show apart from the proscenium style series that dominated television in the 1960s. The show's influence was broad--traceable perhaps most directly in the large number of multi-character "dramedies" (such as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere) in the 1980s whose narratives also centered around a tightly knit workplace group who became like family to one another.

Alda, who also wrote and directed many episodes of the show, has become indelibly associated with M*A*S*H,. which continues to be well watched as one of the most successful comedies in syndication. His "sensitive male" persona, derived in large part from his characterization on M*A*S*H, has lingered into the 1990s and continues to be sustained by public awareness of his efforts on behalf of women's rights. An ardent feminist, Alda campaigned extensively for ten years for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and in 1976, was appointed by President Ford to serve on the National Commission for the Observance of International Women's Year. Alda's status as a feminist led a writer in The Boston Globe to dub him "the quintessential Honorary Woman: a feminist icon." Despite such associations, Alda's most acclaimed recent performance was his portrayal of a conniving producer in the 1989 Woody Allen film Crimes and Misdemeanors. Alda won the D.W. Griffith Award, the New York Film Critics Award, and was nominated for a British Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film. Perhaps Alda seeks to alter, or at least add other dimensions to his "character type" following this success. He has more recently continued this exploration of a "darker side" with his portrayal of a driven corporate executive in the HBO original production, White Mile.

The more familiar, inquisitive, humorous Alda is currently host of the series Scientific American Frontiers on the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service.

-Diane M. Negra

 

 


Alan Alda
Photo courtesy of Alan Alda

ALAN ALDA. Born in New York City, U.S., 28 January 1936. Graduated from Fordham University, Bronx, New York, 1956; studied acting at the Cleveland Playhouse, Ohio on Ford Foundation Grant, 1956-59. Married Arlene Weiss, 1957; children: Eve, Elizabeth, and Beatrice. Appeared in off-broadway productions and television guest roles throughout 1960s; worked with improvisational groups, Second City, Chicago, Illinois, and Compass, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts; appeared in movies, 1960s and 1970s; began role as "Hawkeye" Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H, 1972; also wrote and directed episodes of the series; actor writer, and director of films since 1983. Presidential appointee, National Commission for the Observance of International Women's Year, 1976; co-chair, National Equal Rights Amendment Countdown Campaign, 1982; trustee, Museum of Television and Radio, 1985; and Rockefeller Foundation, 1989. Member: American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, and Actors Equity Association. Recipient: five Emmy Awards; five Golden Globe Awards; Humanitas Award for Writing; D.W. Griffith Award; New York Film Critics Award; seven People's Choice Awards.

TELEVISION SERIES

1964-65 That Was the Week That Was
1972-83 M*A*S*H

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES


1972 Playmates
1972 The Glass House
1973 Isn't It Shocking?
1974 6 Rms Riv Vu
1977 Kill Me If You Can
1984 The Four Seasons
1993 And the Band Played On
1994 White Mile

FILMS

Gone Are the Days, 1963; Paper Lion, 1968; Jenny, 1969; The Extraordinary Seaman, 1969; The Moonshine War, 1970; Catch-22, 1970; The Mephisto Waltz, 1971; To Kill a Clown, 1972; Same Time, Next Year, 1978; California Suite, 1978; The Seduction of Joe Tynan (also writer), 1979; The Four Seasons (also director and writer), 1981; Sweet Liberty (also director and writer), 1986; A New Life (also director and writer), 1988; Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989; Betsy's Wedding (also director and writer), 1990; Whispers in the Dark, 1992; Manhattan Murder Mystery, 1993; Canadian Bacon, 1994; Flirting With Disaster, 1995.

FURTHER READING

Alda, Arlene. The Last Days of M*A*S*H: Photographs and Notes (with commentary by Alan Alda). Verona, New Jersey: Unicorn, 1983.

Bennetts, Leslie. "Alda Stars in M*A*S*H Seminar." The New York Times, 18 October 1986.

Clauss, Jed. M*A*S*H, The First Five Years, 1973-77: A Show by Show Arrangement. Mattituck, New York: Aeonian, 1977.

Kalter, Suzy. The Complete Book of M*A*S*H. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1984.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. "Hawkeye Turns Mean, Sensitively." The New York Times, 19 May 1994.

O'Connor, John J. "Hawkeye and Company in a M*A*S*H Salute." The New York Times, 25 November 1991.

Reiss, David S. M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV's Most Popular Show. Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill, 1983.

Schatz, Thomas. "St. Elsewhere and the Evolution of the Ensemble Series." In, Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television the Critical View. New York: Oxford, 1976; 4th edition, 1987.

Straut, Raymond. Alan Alda: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's, 1983.

 

See also M*A*S*H