Alan Alda has garnered many accolades throughout his long and storied career, including six Emmys and the prestigious SAG Life Achievement Award. Equally as impressive is his decades-long marriage to Arlene Alda.
The M*A*S*H star met his future wife at a mutual friend’s dinner party, where they connected over a rum cake that had accidentally fallen on the floor; they were the only two guests that didn’t hesitate to grab a fork and take a bite of the cake. When their meet-cute went viral on Twitter in August 2021, Alan confirmed the story and shared his own recollection of their first meeting.
“We did eat the rum cake off the floor and were inseparable after that,” he wrote. “But I was captivated by her even earlier in the meal when I heard her at the end of the table laughing at my jokes. She had me at Ha.”
Arlene recalled her memory of the night during an interview with the New York Times in 2015. “He was a kindred spirit who was also funny, so there was this great chemistry,” she told the outlet. “It sure was fun and delightful to be with him that night. Boys from Manhattan didn’t date girls from the Bronx. That was a given. It was too long of a trip. He took me home to the Bronx. Unheard of.”
The pair wed less than a year later on March 15, 1957. They later welcomed three children and are now the proud grandparents of eight grandkids.
Throughout their long marriage, the couple have had their fair share of ups and downs. In 2018, Alan revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years prior — but these challenges have only strengthened their bond.
In 2019, the Same Time, Next Year star told PEOPLE that he was most grateful to have his wife by his side.
“We still experience a kind of puppy love,” he said. “I really have never made plans for the future. My life is more of an improvisation. I just try to make the best of what’s in front of me.”
So who is Alan Alda’s wife? Here’s everything to know about Arlene Alda.
She studied music at Hunter College
Arlene studied at New York City’s Hunter College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa as a music major, according to the New York Times. After receiving the Fullbright scholarship and studying music in Europe, she began her career as a clarinetist in the Houston Symphony. However, she left the music world in 1957 so that she and Alan could start a family.
When asked in 1981 if she had wanted to join the New York Philharmonic before leaving music behind, Arlene played coy. “The Philharmonic’s first clarinetist, Stanley Drucker, is one of my closest friends,” she told the New York Times. “And he’s very good, so it’s a fantasy I know can’t come true.”
She added: “I am so happy at this point in my life, I can’t imagine how I could be any happier. If I were still playing the clarinet, I would never have gotten into photography, which I love.”
She has written several children’s books
Since leaving music, Arlene has enjoyed a successful career as an author. Over the years, she has had nearly 20 books published, 16 of which were children’s books, according to her website. Her list of titles include Lulu’s Piano Lession, Iris Has a Virus, The Book of ZZZs and her highly-regarded novel, Just Kids From the Bronx: Telling It the Way It Was, An Oral History.
In 2015, Arlene made an appearance at her alma mater, where she discussed Just Kids from the Bronx: Telling It the Way It Was, An Oral History. The collection features memories from other Bronx natives, including Al Pacino and Carl Reiner.
She’s a freelance photographer
In addition to her writing, Arlene is a freelance photographer whose work has been featured in Vogue, Good Housekeeping, New York Magazine and more. Alan is very supportive of his wife’s work, even calling her his “favorite photographer” on Twitter.
Arlene combined her two professional passions and published the book On Set: A Personal Story in Photographs and Words in 1981. The book provided a behind-the-scenes look at Alan’s movie, The Four Seasons, and featured snaps and stories from filming. Similarly, her book Last Days of MASH gave readers an inside look at the last week of filming for Alan’s hit show.
Her photography has also been on display in various exhibitions across the country. In June 1981, her photographs were displayed at the Nikon House in N.Y.C. Both Alan and the couple’s daughters attended the exhibition to show their support.
She and Alan share three children
Arlene and Alan share three daughters: Eve, Elizabeth and Beatrice. The couple raised their children in New Jersey and Alan would often fly home from Los Angeles on the weekends to spend more time with them then when he was filming M*A*S*H, as he shared on The Sporkful podcast.
In 2015, Arlene told the New York Times that she and Alan had quite different parenting styles: Her husband was very laid-back when it came to the kids’ routines, while Arlene was a bit tougher.
“I was the drill sergeant, and he liked to play with the kids,” she said. “These were disagreements we had to work out. How important is it for the kids to go to bed on time?”
In a 1975 interview with PEOPLE, Alan discussed the crossovers between his work and his personal life. While creating his sitcom We’ll Get By, he drew inspiration from his family and included some of their real-life stories in the script.
“It’s an attempt to show a family living the way people really do live — and not as they do on television,” he told PEOPLE of the show.
“Once I was watching a tape of the show at home in which there was an argument between mother and daughter,” he recalled. “I turned around and my wife and one of my daughters were having exactly the same argument.”
She and Alan celebrate with pizza whenever Alan lands a new acting job
When Alan landed his first-ever professional acting job — a $10-per-performance gig with a traveling children’s company — he and Arlene celebrated with pizza. The couple told the New York Times in 2015 that they have kept up their wholesome tradition ever since.
She and Alan credit humor for their successful marriage
The couple will mark their 66th wedding anniversary in March 2023, and they have cited their sense of humor as the secret to their long and successful marriage.
“I have a very highfalutin notion about laughter,” Alan told the New York Times in 2015. “I think when you laugh you make yourself momentarily vulnerable. Your defenses are not up, and if you can stay in a playful mood, where you are susceptible to laughter, your chances of being antagonistic with each other are lower.”
She will celebrate her 90th birthday in 2023
Arlene was born on March 12, 1933, and she will soon celebrate her 90th birthday.
Arlene and Alan’s grandson, filmmaker and photographer Jake Alda Coffey, celebrated her 89th birthday with a sweet tribute on Instagram.
“Happy birthday to my grandma!” he wrote alongside several snaps with Arlene. “Although she turns 89 today, she still has 10x more energy than I will ever have.”