Alan Alda

Actor


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour interview, Alan Alda describes his M*A*S*H character "Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce," as "… a sharp wit, a little bit of a smart aleck, competitive about his surgery, liked to laugh, could make a little fun of himself, probably liked making fun of other people more, really liked women a lot and had an old fashioned idea about women, hated war and hated people dying if he could do something about it." He recalls being recipient of multiple Emmys during the long run of M*A*S*H , as its star, as well a writer and director. He speaks about his early years that included a serious bout with polio as a child. He acknowledges his improvisational performance background with Second City and Compass in Hyannis Port. He describes his early appearances on television, as a regular on the satirical That Was the Week That Was and the syndicated version of the erudite guess-the-occupation quiz show What's My Line? For M*A*S*H, Alda comments on the series' production, including the creative contributions of writer/creator Larry Gelbart and producer Gene Reynolds, gives his impressions of the ensemble, and discusses memorable episodes. He reveals his feelings about filming the show's last scene, which was both emotional and chaotic due to the extensive media presence. Finally, he talks about hosting the series Scientific American Frontiers, as well as guest-starring on ER, for which he received his 29th Emmy nomination. Michael Rosen conducted the interview on November 17, 2000 in New York, New York.

"Wherever I could get work, I worked…I thought I would be a stage actor. It never occurred to me that I'd have some big success on television."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Alan Alda on his M*A*S*H character, "Hawkeye" Pierce
Alan Alda on winning an Emmy, and how some of your best writing work can come as a surprise
Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet"-- its dramatic significance and Alda's critique of a scene in which he cries on camera
Alan Alda on the last episode and the shooting of the last scene shot of M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on his career: "Wherever I could get work, I worked... I thought I would be a stage actor. It never occurred to me that I'd have some big success on television"
Alan Alda on his fidelity to Larry Gelbart's scripts to the extent that he spoke a typo on M*A*S*H
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his name change, childhood, parents; seeing vaudeville and burlesque acts
On the influence of Vaudeville and burlesque on later television comedy
On his father (actor Robert Alda) and other early influences; performing with his father
On wanting to be a writer and writing his first sketch
On his mother
On early hobbies, wanting to be a writer, first job
On his early interest in making movies and performing and directing
On having polio as a child, developing an interest in reading
On listening to early radio shows with Arthur Godfrey, Jack Benny and their influence on him

Chapter 2

On Phil Silvers, Red Buttons bringing him onstage as a baby
On performing in Summer Stock as a teenager; wanting to be a writer
On enjoying early television; on his interest in magic
On his father performing on experimental television in the 1930s; appearing on television  on the program "Secret File, USA" in Europe with his father in the 1950s; on other early television roles
On appearing on the Phil Silvers show and having trouble memorizing his lines
On being shy, getting to know his fellow actors
On the relationship between the writers and the actors on M*A*S*H, as facilitated by director Gene Reynolds

Chapter 3

On his fidelity to the written word to the extent that he spoke a typo on M*A*S*H
On the M*A*S*H episode "The Interview"
On his improvisational training
On Phil Silvers
On working as a stage actor and learning from theater actors, honing his acting skills, and reflects on his work on the theatrical production of "Pearly Victorious" with Ossie Davis.
On working at Naked City, learning from other actors; tricks of the trade in filming with shorter actors
On the challenges of acting on camera, and on how this sometimes sacrifices the ability of an actor to be spontaneous
On appearing briefly on various television episodes in the 1950s and 1960s

Chapter 4

On appearing on That Was the Week That Was
On TVQ ratings, game shows, how it may have helped him get cast on M*A*S*H
On his knowledge about the Vietnam War, and on reading the script for M*A*S*H
On M*A*S*H going on the air in 1972, and on the social climate of the time; on censorship on the show
On network censorship at the beginning of M*A*S*H's run; on the "virgin" Islands episode

Chapter 5

On his character, "Hawkeye" Pierce, on M*A*S*H
On Gene Reynolds; on becoming interested in directing
On Larry Gelbart and Burt Metcalfe; on members of the cast of M*A*S*H
On working with Harry Morgan, and on his sense of humor
On specific episodes of M*A*S*H
On the M*A*S*H episode "Inga" and doing a handspring on his way down the aisle to accept the Emmy award for that episode

Chapter 6

On the last episode and the shooting of the last scene shot of M*A*S*H
On Scientific American Frontiers
On ER and being his own critic
On how fame has more negatives than positives, in his view
On his proudest achievement, his family
Shows

Dragnet

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Alan Alda on a story Harry Morgan told him about how serious Jack Webb was on the set of Dragnet

M*A*S*H

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Alan Alda on the process of learning lines with the ensemble cast of M*A*S*H and the importance of laughter with fellow actors
Alan Alda on the relationship between the writers and the actors on M*A*S*H, as facilitated by director Gene Reynolds
Alan Alda on his fidelity to Larry Gelbart's script to the extent that he spoke a typo on M*A*S*H: "Larry wrote it, so I said it"
Alan Alda on the way improvisation was incorporated into the classic M*A*S*H episode "The Interview"
Alan Alda on the approach of making a comedy show about war in developing M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on the way Larry Gelbart got around the censors to use the word "virgin" in an episode of M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on the research done on M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on the network's objection to the sight of a jock strap on an episode of M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on his M*A*S*H character, "Hawkeye" Pierce
Alan Alda on getting shots just as the sun set while directing M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on his impressions of M*A*S*H producer Gene Reynolds
Alan Alda on M*A*S*H show creator/writer Larry Gelbart
Alan Alda on the philosophy behind adding new characters to M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on M*A*S*H executive producer Burt Metcalfe
Alan Alda on working out a scene with Wayne Rogers on M*A*S*H, after shooting for the satisfaction of getting it right
Alan Alda on Loretta Swit's contribution to making her M*A*S*H character three-dimensional
Alan Alda on working with Harry Morgan on M*A*S*H, and Morgan's sense of humor
Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet"-- its dramatic significance and Alda's critique of a scene in which he cries on camera
Alan Alda on writing the M*A*S*H episode "Dear Sigmund" and the performance of Allan Arbus as "Major Sidney Freedman"
Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H episode "Inga"
Alan Alda on the content and the shooting of the last scene shot of M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H finale
Alan Alda on how CBS believed in M*A*S*H despite initial low ratings
Alan Alda on why M*A*S*H was a successful television show

M*A*S*H: "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen"

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Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H finale

M*A*S*H: "The Interview"

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Alan Alda on the way improvisation was incorporated into the classic M*A*S*H episode "The Interview"

Naked City

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Alan Alda on working with and being influenced by actor Burgess Meredith with Naked City, and having to accommodate Mr. Meredith's height

Phil Silvers Show, The aka You'll Never Get Rich aka Sergeant Bilko

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Alan Alda on appearing on The Phil Silvers Show very in his early career

Scientific American Frontiers

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Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers
Alan Alda on the approach to the series Scientific American Frontiers, for which he serves as host

Secret File, U.S.A.

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Alan Alda on his father's appearance on Secret File, U.S.A.

That Was the Week that Was

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Alan Alda on appearing on That Was the Week That Was and rehearsing with David Frost through a closed door minutes before they went live
Alan Alda on how the format of That Was the Week That Was compares to the British version

Tonight

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Alan Alda on his adoration for comedian Steve Allen and recollects the spontaneity of the "Man in the Street" routines on Steve Allen's Tonight

Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The

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Alan Alda on the network's objection to his showing a clip from his movie "The Four Seasons" on The Tonight Show
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

View Topic
Alan Alda on about Standards & Practices' objection to the use the word "virgin" in an episode of M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on the "family hour" concept of the 1970s
Alan Alda on the network's objection to the sight of a jock strap on an episode of M*A*S*H

Characters & Catchphrases

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Alan Alda on his M*A*S*H character, "Hawkeye" Pierce

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Alan Alda on his adoration for the early radio comedians and talk show hosts such as Arthur Godfrey and Steve Allen
Alan Alda on how the burlesque comics and vaudeville influenced him at an early age
Alan Alda on his father, Robert Alda's, early TV parts
Alan Alda on working with and being influenced by actor Burgess Meredith with Naked City
Alan Alda on writing the M*A*S*H episode "Dear Sigmund"
Alan Alda on the craft of writing

Diversity in Television

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Alan Alda on Loretta Swit's contribution to making her M*A*S*H character three-dimensional

Emmy Awards

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Alan Alda on doing a handspring down the aisle to accept the Emmy for writing

Fame and Celebrity

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Alan Alda on the downsides of fame

Historic Events and Social Change

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Alan Alda on the connection between the Korean War setting of M*A*S*H and the then-contemporary conflict in Vietnam
Alan Alda on Loretta Swit's contribution to making her M*A*S*H character three-dimensional

Korean War

View Topic
Alan Alda on the connection between the Korean War setting of M*A*S*H and the then-contemporary conflict in Vietnam

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet"-- its dramatic significance and Alda's critique of a scene in which he cries on camera

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Alan Alda on his adoration for the early radio comedians and talk show hosts such as Arthur Godfrey and Steve Allen
Alan Alda on how the burlesque comics and vaudeville influenced him at an early age
Alan Alda on his father, Robert Alda's, early TV parts
Alan Alda on working with and being influenced by actor Burgess Meredith with Naked City
Alan Alda on writing the M*A*S*H episode "Dear Sigmund"
Alan Alda on the craft of writing

Pop Culture

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Alan Alda on his M*A*S*H character, "Hawkeye" Pierce
Alan Alda on the downsides of fame

Television Industry

View Topic
Alan Alda on about Standards & Practices' objection to the use the word "virgin" in an episode of M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on the "family hour" concept of the 1970s
Alan Alda on the network's objection to the sight of a jock strap on an episode of M*A*S*H

Vietnam War

View Topic
Alan Alda on the connection between the Korean War setting of M*A*S*H and the then-contemporary conflict in Vietnam

War

View Topic
Alan Alda on the connection between the Korean War setting of M*A*S*H and the then-contemporary conflict in Vietnam

We Cried

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Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet"-- its dramatic significance and Alda's critique of a scene in which he cries on camera

Women

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Alan Alda on Loretta Swit's contribution to making her M*A*S*H character three-dimensional
Professions

Actor

View Profession
Alan Alda on his methodology for memorizing lines
Alan Alda on the importance of the relationship between the writers and the actors on M*A*S*H, as facilitated by director Gene Reynolds
Alan Alda on the role of improvisational training in his acting work, and specifically the work done at Second City
Alan Alda on the uncomfortable things actors must do to accommodate the camera
Alan Alda on working out a scene with Wayne Rogers on M*A*S*H, after shooting for the satisfaction of getting it right
Alan Alda on the M*A*S*H episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet"-- its dramatic significance and Alda's critique of a scene in which he cries on camera

Performers

View Profession
Alan Alda on his methodology for memorizing lines
Alan Alda on the importance of the relationship between the writers and the actors on M*A*S*H, as facilitated by director Gene Reynolds
Alan Alda on the role of improvisational training in his acting work, and specifically the work done at Second City
Alan Alda on the uncomfortable things actors must do to accommodate the camera
Alan Alda on working out a scene with Wayne Rogers on M*A*S*H, after shooting for the satisfaction of getting it right
Alan Alda on winning an Emmy, and how some of your best writing work can come as a surprise

Writers

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Alan Alda on writing the M*A*S*H episode "Dear Sigmund"
Genres

Comedy Series

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Alan Alda on seeing early vaudeville acts and the comedy of George Burns and Gracie Allen, and how it relates to later television comedy.
Alan Alda on his love for comedians Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Steve Allen
Alan Alda on the importance of laughter with his fellow actors on M*A*S*H, and in life
Alan Alda on learning from other performers and actors by standing in the wings, literally, to see the tricks behind their craft
Alan Alda on playing "Hawkeye Pierce" on M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on playing "Hawkeye Pierce" on M*A*S*H

Game Shows

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Alan Alda on how his TVQ rating from game show appearances may have helped him get cast on M*A*S*H

News and Documentary

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Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers
People

Bud Abbott

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Alan Alda on watching early burlesque acts like Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First" routine, and performing at a very young age on the stage with his father, a vaudevillian

Steve Allen

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Alan Alda on his adoration for comedian Steve Allen and recollects the spontaneity of the "Man in the Street" routines on Steve Allen's Tonight

Gracie Allen

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Alan Alda on seeing early vaudeville acts and the comedy of George Burns and Gracie Allen, and how it relates to later television comedy.

Allan Arbus

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Alan Alda on writing the M*A*S*H episode "Dear Sigmund" and the performance of Allan Arbus as "Major Sidney Freedman"

George Burns

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Alan Alda on seeing early vaudeville acts and the comedy of George Burns and Gracie Allen, and how it relates to later television comedy.

Lou Costello

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Alan Alda on watching early burlesque acts like Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First" routine, and performing at a very young age on the stage with his father, a vaudevillian

Ossie Davis

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Alan Alda on working with Ossie Davis in "Pearly Victorious" and how impressed he was with the actor

Larry Gelbart

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Alan Alda on his fidelity to Larry Gelbart's script to the extent that he spoke a typo on M*A*S*H
Alan Alda on M*A*S*H show creator/writer Larry Gelbart

Buster Keaton

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Alan Alda on watching from the wings Buster Keaton perform on stage

Burgess Meredith

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Alan Alda on working with and being influenced by actor Burgess Meredith with Naked City, and having to accommodate Mr. Meredith's height

Burt Metcalfe

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Alan Alda on M*A*S*H executive producer Burt Metcalfe

Harry Morgan

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Alan Alda on working with Harry Morgan on M*A*S*H, and Morgan's sense of humor

Gene Reynolds

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Alan Alda on the relationship between the writers and the actors on M*A*S*H, as facilitated by director Gene Reynolds
Alan Alda on M*A*S*H producer Gene Reynolds

Wayne Rogers

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Alan Alda on working out a scene with Wayne Rogers on M*A*S*H after shooting for the satisfaction of getting it right

Phil Silvers

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Alan Alda on Phil Silvers as a unique comedian who created a distinct character

Loretta Swit

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Alan Alda on Loretta Swit's contribution to making her M*A*S*H character three-dimensional

Jack Webb

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Alan Alda on a story Harry Morgan told him about how serious Jack Webb was on the set of Dragnet

All Interviews

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