“MAS*H” star Alan Alda was able to have his father, an actor himself, take part in an episode. But he did more than just show up.
Robert Alda, who won a Tony Award in 1950 for “Guys and Dolls,” was a big Broadway star. He also established himself as a film star, too. But he’d never worked closely with his son Alan until “MAS*H” came along.
When it came time to put together “Lend a Hand,” which is from the show’s eighth season, Robert Alda had an idea. He did make an appearance in the third season as Officer Anthony Borelli, who served in World Wars I and II. Borelli’s expertise was in field medicine.
M*A*S*H’ Star First Thought Father’s Idea WAs Really Awful
Alan Alda talks about the process for writing this episode in an interview with SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. By the way, Alda’s half-brother Antony makes an appearance as a medic too. It’s a family affair, Alda style, in this “M*A*S*H” episode.
“So when I told him [Robert Alda] the idea of the show I was doing, writing for the three of us, he said, ‘Yeah, I got a great idea,’” Alan Alda said. “‘They go up to an aid station and they’re bombed and you lose the use of one arm and I lose the use of the other arm. And we have to operate on a guy.’”
Alan Alda said his father’s idea leaves both with a free arm. He first thought it was “the worst idea I ever heard.” Then he thought, “Give the guy a break. Maybe it is a good idea because it sounds corny.”
Alda Recalls ‘Extraordinary’ Father-And-Son Moment On Show
He wrote it into the script and shot the “M*A*S*H” episode, according to a MeTV article. For Alan Alda, what remains prevalent about “Lend a Hand” is what he calls “extraordinary”: the father-and-son moment.
“I had accepted his idea, which was already a father-son moment,” Alan Alda said. “And then we were actually two hands on two different bodies acting as one. And that was me and my father, and I’d always had a slight competitive relationship with him.”
He told Carteris about being 10 years old, years before “M*A*S*H” came around, and helping his dad learn his lines.
“And I’d say a line, read a line, and he’d say a line,” Alan Alda said. “And I’d say a line, then he’d say a line. Then there was this long pause and he’d say, ‘What?’ And I’d say, ‘No, no, it’s alright.’”
Robert Alda died on May 3, 1986, at 72 years old. His work, though, both in film, on stage, and with his son Alan remains worthy of recognition.
“M*A*S*H” ran for 11 seasons on CBS. Alan Alda was more than an actor on the show. He worked on scripts and helped keep the show moving forward as a creative leader.