28 March 2014


I first found out about the actor Alan Alda from playing TV Guide crossword puzzles.  "ALDA" makes a perfect entry for crossword puzzle.  It was back in the 80s so eventually, even without regularly watching the TV show M*A*S*H, I found out a little more about Mr. Alda.  Not much really, just that he played the character Hawkeye on the TV show.  Years later I also learned that the TV show lasted many years longer than the war that it portrayed, namely the Korean War.  But that's it, I didn't know anything else about Mr. Alda.

One day at the public library I came across Mr. Alda's book, "Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself".  It sounded like a funny thing, as someone I know often joked that talking to oneself is great, all the questions are appropriate and all the answers are correct.  Unfortunately for the Alda book, I just finished a bio by Carol Burnett.  The Burnett book was full of short humorous chapters whereas the Alda book had many long chapters.  Lots of background stories, mostly having to do with Mr. Alda's initial troubles coming up with the proper commencement speech.  It took me a long time to finish the Alda book and I didn't enjoy it.  Months later, I took another shot at Mr. Alda's books, this time it was "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I've Learned", in audiobook format.  Having the CD player doing the reading helped, not that the stories are not interesting.  I cannot recall much about the "Overheard" book, but I think it's mostly about Mr. Alda's adult life, with many speeches delivered to students etc after he was already famous.  "Stuffed", on the other hand, chronicles his childhood, then his early days going into show business on his own, M*A*S*H, Scientific American show, even his near-death experience in South America.  Early in the book we learned that when his first pet died, a taxidermist sorta brought it back to life, but it looked so different, even menacing, that it was worse to see the dead dog.  Near the end, Mr. Alda used that story in a commencement speech to illustrate things that cannot be replaced.  In-between there were many stories related to his mother's battle with mental illness and his days in the military, betting in horse-races, and my favorite, his pre-fame days of scraping together a living.

I am a frugal person so I easily identify with Mr. Alda's stories about his early days as a newly-wed, with a child or two, trying to make a living in New York City.  My father drove the taxi for many years, and so did Mr. Alda, many years earlier.  He quickly learned how dangerous it was, never know who would be a real passenger or a robber.  My late father occasionally fell victim to the grab-and-run types, or the farebeaters, and it always ruined his day.  At audition, Mr. Alda supposedly can do anything, have any skills required.  When it comes to height, he even asked what was the requirements, as if he can adjust his height to fit the role.  My favorite story of all is about his need to buy a new pair of pants, after he had a comfortable income.  He told his wife that he would go buy one, as if the cost of the pants would affect the family's meal plan for the week.  Old habits die hard, I suppose.

Mr. Alda had a chapter devoted to celebrity-worshipping.  He correctly stated that the whole thing makes no sense.  Just because someone is famous for one thing doesn't mean much in other aspects of life.  But people are crazy about celebrity and want to take advice from them.  Taking Mr. Alda's words, I suppose if we ever meet in real life, I should just say hi and move on.

No comments:

Post a Comment