What Was ‘M*A*S*H’ Icon Alan Alda’s First Ever Role on TV?

by Joe Rutland

Talk about making an impression on TV! Outsiders, we all know Alan Alda from his role on “M*A*S*H” but where did he make his TV debut?

He had to work alongside Sergeant Ernie Bilko back in 1958. Well, the show was called “The Phil Silvers Show” and starred comedian Phil Silvers. Now Silvers played the lead role of Bilko, a guy who always was trying to get the better hand of his commanding officer, played by Paul Ford.

Alda played a character named Carlyle Thomson III in a 1958 episode called “Bilko the Art Lover.”

According to IMDb, in the episode, “Bilko is in dire need of a break but true to form has no funds. He contacts Carlyle Thompson III thinking he now has his millions but instead finds him as penniless as himself.”

Silvers led a rowdy band of Army soldiers, featuring Allan Melvin, Joe E. Ross, and Herbie Faye. Elements of “The Phil Silvers Show” can be found in Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon classic “Top Cat.” From the interaction between Top Cat and Officer Dibble to the “gang” that follows Top Cat around, the resemblances to some of Silvers’ TV work as Bilko is scary.

So, Alan Alda of “M*A*S*H” found himself side by side with a nightclub comedian in Silvers. That’s a pretty rad way to start your TV career.

‘M*A*S*H’ Star Recalled How Cast Was Willing To Become Better Connected

It’s not new to hear, Outsiders, about some sitcom cast members not getting along.

One couple that didn’t, for example, was Vivian Vance and William Frawley of “I Love Lucy.”

So, in order for that not to happen on “M*A*S*H,” Alda and the rest of the cast wanted to get better connected with one another.

That played a large role in them working off one another during the show’s comedy-centric days.

Each actor did work hard for the show’s sake.

Alda said, “We figured out how to relay to one another off-camera by sitting in a circle of chairs and just kidding with one another and laughing together.”

Show’s Cast Felt It Was Important to Develop Ability For Them To Know On-Camera Styles

Cast members felt it was important to develop an ability that they could understand others’ on-camera styles.

Alda also said that the cast “had this connection when cameras turned on.”

He adds that the type of connection they made “turned our performances into something much more alive than it would have been otherwise.”

Other members of the “M*A*S*H” cast over the years included McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swit, Gary Burghoff, Larry Linville, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, and Mike Farrell.

“M*A*S*H” was one of television’s most popular sitcoms and still runs in syndication.