M*A*S*H is a show I’ve loved for a long time. I grew up watching its reruns and always admired the talent of the actors, writers and directors in the show. My favorite character was Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce, a complex character with many facets: caring doctor, jokester, witty womanizer, loyal friend, devoted son and rebel against bureaucracy, racism, and snobbery.
I’ve been reading two Alan Alda biographies this week. One is Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Lessons I’ve Learned (the title refers to an unfortunate taxidermist incident involving the Alda family dog) and the second is Things I’ve Overheard While Talking To Myself (wonder if the self answered back?). The first book covers his transition from child to adult and the life lessons he learned along the way. The second book is more life lessons, often in the form of graduation day speeches and other speeches Alan Alda was asked to give.
I highly recommend both books; they’re witty and interesting. They contain some of the expected material — things you learn as a child, a parent and a spouse as well as what it’s like to gradually become famous, work as an actor on M*A*S*H and other projects, and cope with the ups and downs of fame after he became more recognizable. But there are some unexpected surprises too; I learned some fresh and surprising information about him, such as:
- Alda’s mother was a paranoid schizophrenic. Sometimes she was okay, sometimes she wasn’t.
- Alan Alda got some of his earliest theatrical training in burlesque; his father started out in burlesque and later moved to TV and movies.
- He spent a year abroad in Paris.
- Alan Alda almost died during a trip to Chile. After that experience, he developed an even greater appreciation of life and what it had to teach him.
- He’s a writer and director, plus he hosted the PBS show “Scientific American Frontiers” for many years.
Like the rest of us, Alan Alda hasn’t always had the easiest life, but the books show that he appreciates what he has and isn’t spoiled by his Hollywood fame. I get the impression of an intellectually curious, smart and talented man with a deep appreciation for life. His wife, three daughters and seven grandchildren (a couple of them are actors) keep him grounded, it seems. I’m glad, for his sake.
So if you’re having a yen for a couple of good autobiographies, I say read both of these books. Reading about Alan Alda’s life experiences and what he has to say regarding what those experiences taught him is well worth your time.