Alan Alda

January 28, 2020

Made His Mark On M.A.S.H.

This actor has been nominated for Emmy Awards 34 times and won 6, the majority for his role as the irreverent realist Hawkeye Pierce in the TV Series M.A.S.H. January 28 marks his 84rd birthday.


A few of M*A*S*H’s original cast members: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, and Loretta Swit

Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo, aka Alan Alda ,was, for the 11 years M.A.S.H. was on CBS, one of the most popular and recognizable actors of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Although the series was based on a 1970 movie of the same name which starred Donald Sutherland in the Hawkeye role, Alda embraced the persona and made it his own during the TV shows run. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Between long sessions of treating wounded patients, he (Hawkeye) is found making wisecracks, drinking heavily, carousing, womanizing, and pulling pranks on the people around him, especially Frank Burns and “Hot Lips” Houlihan. Although just one of an ensemble of characters in author Richard Hooker’s MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, in the television series Hawkeye became the center of the M*A*S*H unit’s medical activity. In the television series, he becomes the Chief Surgeon of the unit early in the first season.”

Unlike the notorious skirt chaser Hawkeye Pierce, Alda was married in 1957 to Arlene Weiss. Their nearly 63 year marriage produced three daughters and eight grandchildren. In the TV series, Hawkeye never marries but has an unending string of relationships with nurses and enticing female visitors to the 4077th.

One interesting tidbit I learned about Alda – and one which may have contributed to his being able to play his M.A.S.H. role convincingly – is that he spent six months in Korea as part of the US Army Reserve in 1957. The Korean hostilities were long since over, but his experiences in the ROTC followed by a year in the army likely provided him a true understanding as to the ways of military life.

During the M.A.S.H. years, in addition to his role as Hawkeye, Alda gradually became one of the show’s writers, producers, and creative consultants. In all, he either wrote/co-wrote and/or directed 36 of  M.A.S.H.’s episodes. He is also the only actor from the series to appear in all 256 episodes.

Alda, according to firsthand accounts, was not easy to work with. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“For the first three seasons, Alda and his co-stars Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson worked well together, but later, tensions increased, particularly as Alda’s role grew in popularity. Rogers and Stevenson both left the show at the end of the third season. At the beginning of the fourth season, Alda and the producers decided to find a replacement actor to play the surrogate parent role formerly taken by Colonel Blake. They eventually found veteran actor and fan of the series, Harry Morgan, who starred as Colonel Sherman T. Potter, becoming another of the show’s protagonists. Mike Farrell was also introduced as Hawkeye’s new roommate BJ Hunnicutt.

In his 1981 autobiography, Jackie Cooper (who directed several early episodes) wrote that Alda concealed a lot of hostility beneath the surface, and that the two of them barely spoke to each other by the time Cooper’s directing of M*A*S*H ended.”

After M.A.S.H., Alda went on to act in a variety of projects which included the TV series West Wing, a number of Broadway plays, and several movies. Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Alda continues to work and told ExtraTV recently, “”Eighty-three was very nice; I’m trying for 84 now. When I wake up and say, ‘I’m done,’ that will be when I’m already dead.”

M.A.S.H. was, for my family in the 1970’s, one of a handful of ‘must watch TV’ shows. It started as a Sunday night show then moved to Saturday and then Tuesday for its second and third years. Eventually, after back and forth time slots on Friday’s and Tuesday’s, it eventually found its permanent night on Monday.

But none of that mattered to my mother. She loved the show and found it on whatever night it aired.

This 4 minute video is interesting to watch… Alan Alda in his own words reflects on his life and career.

I never really thought much about Alan Alda’s age when M.A.S.H. was popular. In reality he was a contemporary of most of my classmate’s parents, having been born in 1936. Even though my own parents were over a decade older, Alda did such a great job in the role that he became ageless. Part of the reason to tune in each week was to hear his wry and pithy observations on the inconsistencies of human behavior.

It was easy to relate to the character of Hawkeye and see the delicious irony of life – even in a war zone – through his skeptical eyes.

So be sure to raise a toast to Alan Alda and cheer his positive attitude  which, in spite of life’s hurdles, continues to inspire.

A couple of links:

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