MAS*H star Alan Alda is a strong supporter of women. He used his fame in the 1970s to help push for the Equal Rights Amendment. He even appeared on the cover of Ms magazine.
Normally, you’d assume a self-identified “proud feminist” like Alda would have a strong relationship with his mother. But her mental illness prevented that.
Alda opened up about his mother, Joan Browne, a former Miss New York, during a 2019 interview with SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. The group selected Alda, who played Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce on MAS*H, for its lifetime achievement award. Given that Alda won Emmys for acting, writing and directing, he definitely was worthy of such an honor.
“I had a difficult relationship with my mother because she was a schizophrenic and paranoid and thought I was trying to kill her all the time,” the MAS*H star told Carteris. “So it was a difficult time.”
He also said “my mother did love me and gave me confidence. She told me I could do anything. And I actually believed her.”
His mother was right about her son. About two decades after MAS*H finished its phenomenal run, Alda wrote a memoir called Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. In the book, he opened up about his family and mentioned that his mother didn’t first try to kill his father until he was six.
“She thought people were trying to kill her,” Alda told ABC’s 20/20. “She thought I was trying to kill her. (And) she thought I was trying to kill her very often.
In His Memoir, M*A*S*H Star Said He, At Times, Hated His Mother
In the book, the M*A*S*H star wrote that he resented his mother because he felt like he had no mother. “I didn’t just resent her, I hated her for it.”
But the Aldas never publicly spoke about his mother’s mental illness. They dealt with it in private. Alda said it’s important for families to admit these feelings, no matter how uncomfortable.
“In those days, you didn’t even talk about it,” Alda told 20/20. “It was a shame, a dishonor to the family to have any kind of mental illness in the family.”
But here’s how he used the experience to better himself as a person and in his career as an actor, writer and director. Without his mother, Alda probably never would have been the perfect, wise-cracking Hawkeye or given us the M*A*S*H we loved.
“In order to survive, I had to watch very carefully what was happening,” with his mother, Alda told 20/20. “What was that look in her eye? Was she telling me about something that was really taking place. Or was this a psychotic fantasy?”
“It made me super aware of what was going on around me,’ Alda said. “And I think eventually that was helpful to me as an actor and as a writer, because even when I’m on the stage, I’m focused on the other person,” he said.