‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Recalls His First Day on Set on Show’s 50th Anniversary

by Joe Rutland
(Photo Courtesy Getty Images)

As much as Alan Alda is a name that people know from M*A*S*H, even he had a first day on the show’s famed set. Back in the early 1970s when the show first premiered, Alda was part of a cast that also included McLean Stevenson and Larry Linville. Of course, others then included Gary Burghoff and Loretta Swit. It would take some time before the show would catch on with viewers. Originally, it was a show that would use a laugh track. The idea was to make M*A*S*H into a sitcom more fitting to some programming of the day. It was much later that the show would take on more serious subjects and be forever popular. Obviously, the show would go through some cast changes over the years. What, though, was the first day on the show’s set like for Alda?

“After 10 days of rehearsal, I was standing behind the door of the aluminum building waiting to shoot the first scene of the first episode, and I still didn’t feel like I knew how to play this character,” Alda told PEOPLE. “He didn’t seem anything like me. It was a silent shot. All I had to do was walk across the compound, but I wasn’t convinced I could be this guy who drank too much, hit on women and was something of a smart aleck.

“When I heard, ‘Action!’ I stepped out onto the compound and saw a nurse headed toward me. I’d never seen her before, but I made the instant decision that she and Hawkeye had some kind of relationship and gave her a little hug. She played along, we exchanged smiles and walked on. I had a little extra spring in my step. ‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘I’m him.'”

Alan Alda Of ‘M*A*S*H’ Talked About When His Life Would Change

And he would be him for the show’s entire run. He put together quite an amazing run on the now classic TV show. Heck, he even gained notoriety from his role. But he didn’t really have an idea as to when his life would change. When did he know that it would? “I don’t know, but it wasn’t right away,” he said in an email exchange with the publication.

When looking back on his time there, what stood out for him to remember most about being with his fellow cast members? “The laughing and kidding as we sat for hours together between shots,” he said. “We were pals.” As to what drew people to watch the show then and forever, Alda said, “I have a feeling that the audience may have sensed that we were aware that real people had lived through events like these and that we were trying to respect that.”