Alan Alda autobiographies: life lessons and surprises everywhere!

MASH sign

One of the signs from M*A*S*H. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Steven Williamson.

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.



Filed under Writing

15 responses to “Alan Alda autobiographies: life lessons and surprises everywhere!

  1. Always liked him. I wonder if it’s on audible and he reads it himself? I’m very partial to celeb autobiographies read by the real guy. It changes the experience.

  2. How interesting. Knew he was on the science show as host, but not the rest. His dad/experiences in burlesque shows did color his acting style now that you mentioned that.
    (but stuffed dog..shivers)
    Thanks for the reviews – will check them out

    • Did you ever see the episode where Robert Alda (the dad), Alan Alda and Anthony Alda (Alan’s half-brother) are in the same scene? It’s the episode called “Lend A Hand”. Robert plays a bossy surgeon called Borelli and he and Hawkeye have to work together after they’re told off by Anthony Alda, who plays a medic in that episode. Family togetherness at its best!

  3. M*A*S*H created some of television’s most memorable — and well-“drawn” — characters. I would love to know how much alike Hawkeye and Mr. Alda really are. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Mash was a such a landmark in people’s thinking…and such brilliant entertainment too. I’ve watched all the re-runs!
    I think the one that hurt the most was Winchester’s orchestra who he’d come to love, and then on their release, their truck was blown up…I’ll never forget the look on Winchester’s face when he heard the news…

  5. Catholic University, here in DC claims him as an alumnus and former player in Hartke Theater productions, so he must have some formal training in acting in his resume. Dianne


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