Who Is Alan Alda?
Alan Alda made his Broadway debut in 1959 and his film debut in 1963, but it was his role on the television series M*A*S*H (1972–83) that earned him his greatest popularity. Alda earned more than 20 Emmy nominations and won five times for his work on the series, which provided a showcase for his talents as a socially conscious writer, director and performer.
Early Life and Career
Born Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo on January 28, 1936, in New York City, Alda is best known for his role as Hawkeye Pierce on the long-running television series M*A*S*H. He is the son of actor Robert Alda, and his first acting experiences were through his father. Alda first appeared on stage as a baby. But his childhood was more of a drama than a comedy. His mother was mentally unstable, and he suffered a bout of polio as a child.
Alda started performing in a summer stock theater in Pennsylvania when he was 16 years old. While a student at New York's Fordham University, he spent some time studying abroad. There Alda made an appearance with his father on television. In 1959, he made his Broadway debut in Only in America. Alda then appeared in Purlie Victorious (1960) with Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. A few years later, he made his film debut in the film version of Purlie Victorious, which was called Gone Are the Days (1963).
In 1964, Alda received critical acclaim for his starring role in the play Fair Game for Lovers. More Broadway appearances followed over the next few years, in such productions as The Owl and the Pussycat and The Apple Tree. Near the end of the 1960s, Alda landed the starring role in the football comedy Paper Lion (1968), playing writer George Plimpton. He also starred in the drama Jenny (1970) with Marlo Thomas.
Alda's film credits include California Suite (1978), The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), The Four Seasons (1981), Sweet Liberty (1986), A New Life (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) and The Aviator (2004).
Debuting in 1972, the television series M*A*S*H went on to become one of the most popular situation comedies in TV history. Alda played the sarcastic, but tender-hearted surgeon Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce, better known as "Hawkeye." Set during the Korea War, the series followed the misadventures of the staff of an army surgical unit.
Lasting for more than a decade, M*A*S*H gave Alda the opportunity to explore his full range of artistic talents. Not only did he act on the show, but he directed and wrote several episodes. Alda earned many honors for his work on M*A*S*H, including more than 20 Emmy Award nominations. He took home television's most coveted prize in several categories over the years, including for outstanding lead actor, outstanding directing and outstanding writing.
While on M*A*S*H, Alda found time to pursue other projects. He returned to the big screen with such films as Neil Simon's California Suite (1978) with Jane Fonda and Maggie Smith. Alda wrote and starred in the political drama The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) with Meryl Streep. Alda also worked in front of and behind the camera for the dramatic comedy The Four Seasons (1981) with Carol Burnett. In addition to performing his lead role, he wrote the film's screenplay and served as its director.
After M*A*S*H ended in 1983, Alda focused mainly on his film career. He appeared in the comedies Sweet Liberty (1986) and A New Life (1988), which he also wrote and directed. In addition to his own projects, Alda enjoyed several opportunities to work with director Woody Allen on such films as Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).
TV & Theatre Roles, Book Projects
On the small screen, Alda signed on to host the TV series Scientific American Frontiers in 1993. He served as the program's host until 2005. In 2004, Alda joined the cast of the television political drama series The West Wing. He played in the role of a Republican Senator named Arnold Vinick, for which he won an Emmy for best supporting actor in 2006.
Outside of the small screen, Alda made time for Broadway. In 2005, he played Shelly Levene in David Mamet's revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, for which he was nominated for a Tony. Already an accomplished screenwriter, Alda published his first memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned, that same year. He had a small role in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio that same year. In 2007, Alda released his second autobiographical work Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. More recently, Alda has appeared on the popular TV comedy 30 Rock, The Big C and The Blacklist.
In 2015, Alda was nominated for an Emmy for his guest-starring role as Alan Fitch in The Blacklist. That year he also appeared in Steven Spielberg's Cold War drama Bridge of Spies.
Personal Life and Parkinson's Diagnosis
Alda married his wife Arlene in 1957. The couple has three daughters together: Eve, Elizabeth and Beatrice.
In a July 2018, interview on CBS This Morning, Alda revealed that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in early 2015. The 82-year-old actor said the degenerative disease had barely slowed him down, noting that he continues to perform as well as regularly play tennis and take boxing lessons.
"I'm not angry because it's a challenge," he said. "You know you've got to cross the street. There are cars coming. How do you get across the street? You don't just sit on the pavement and say, 'Well, I guess I'll never cross the street again.' You find a way to do it."
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