If you think you grew up in a weird world, then move over because “M*A*S*H” star Alan Alda has a story that’s one for the books.
Alda, who gained fame as Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on the CBS sitcom, talked about his formative years in a 2017 interview with the Harvard Business Review.
“We never knew we were in a crazy world,” Alda said. “That was just the world, and people not in it were civilians whom we felt sorry for. That was my naive way of looking at it when I was [a] boy.”
‘M*A*S*H’ Actor’s Life Before Sitcom Was Anything But Normal
His world before “M*A*S*H” was not normal. First off, his father Robert Alda was an actor who kept looking for roles. Second, his mother suffered from mental illness. Finally, Alan Alda got polio when he was seven years old.
“The same thing was true of my mother’s illness and my own,” Alda said. “It was what life was. But one of the most valuable experiences for me growing up was spending hours and hours daydreaming, lying on my back, looking at the clouds, trying to figure things out, or letting fantasies build in my head.”
In the interview, Alda, who would act in, write and direct numerous “M*A*S*H” episodes, remembers reading books that were above his education level.
Alda Finds Comfort In Seeing How Early Life Experiences Led To Acting
“Our living room was lined with books chosen by an interior decorator for their leather bindings,” he said. “They included bound volumes of the ‘Congressional Record,’ which I read avidly, stories about East European dragoons, and love stories — stuff I didn’t understand but could imagine.”
To this day, Alda wasn’t quite sure how all of that connected together. “But these were formative experiences that led in some way to what I do now,” he said.
Alda spent 11 seasons playing “Hawkeye” on the CBS show. His ability to blend different abilities not only in the role of Pierce but work with cast members in front of and behind the camera helped him out.
“M*A*S*H” was a successful show for the network. Show creator Larry Gelbart took Robert Altman’s 1970 movie and adapted it for TV. Besides Alda, other cast members at different times included McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, and Loretta Swit.
His work beyond the TV sitcom includes movies like 1968’s film “Paper Lion,” where Alda portrayed author George Plimpton. It’s based on Plimpton’s book of the same name as he went to tryout for the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Alda directed films like “The Four Seasons,” “Sweet Liberty,” and “Betsy’s Wedding.”
Alda won five Emmy Awards for acting and directing on “M*A*S*H” and one for his work on “The West Wing.”