Alan Alda has done more in his career than be on “M*A*S*H.” Still, a lot of people remember him from that role and those nagging flaws.
Alda, who played Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on the CBS sitcom, said he understands that the character always will be a part of his life. But does that bother the versatile actor of stage and screen, both big and small?
“People ask me that a lot, and I suppose they expect me to say, ‘I’m sick and tired,” Alda said in a 2019 interview for United Airlines’ Hemisphere Magazine. “I’ve done a lot of other things in my life, but that’s fine if some people only know me as that character.
Alda Points Out ‘M*A*S*H’ Character’s Numerous Flaws
“Hawkeye was not without his flaws, either,” Alda said. “What interested me about him was not his heroic moments. He drank too much. He was a smart aleck. (And) he was a skirt-chaser. I could take him in half-hour doses—I don’t know if I’d want to sleep in the same tent with him.”
Alda managed to take his role in different directions, too. When “M*A*S*H” first appeared on CBS, the show was pretty much looking for laughs while being in the midst of the Korean War. Yet that focus turned a little toward looking at the serious effects of war, not only on doctors but soldiers, too.
The laugh track was used, obviously, a lot. Alda, though, found himself in a position to take “Hawkeye” in other ways, too. In one episode, “Hawkeye” loses his eyesight. Another one has him dealing with a doctor who is too caught up in being shell-shocked from war’s destruction.
Sure, Alda’s character had plenty of flaws as he points out. The viewers, though, found something they could connect with around “Hawkeye” Pierce and his fellow soldiers of the 4077th.
Actor Loved To Improvise, But Found Himself Turned Down A Lot
One thing Alda loved to do is improvise. He’d been around the acting world a bit so he loved to have an opportunity to go off-script if possible.
There was just one thing: “M*A*S*H” producers pretty much knocked his efforts down a lot.
“And I was always suggesting on the M*A*S*H set that we do a little bit of improvising,” Alda said. “We never did. You know, a lot of people asked us did we improvise much. We didn’t improvise a smidgen. Every work was as written.”
One episode, though, did have improvisation in it. It’s called “The Interview” and aired on Feb. 24, 1976.
“But we did one episode that was improvised,” he said. “And it was one of our special ones which was the interview show – one of the black-and-white interviews shows where we improvised a lot of the – most of the speeches that were then organized and punched up by (show creator and writer) Larry Gelbart.”
Never let it be said that “M*A*S*H” couldn’t improvise if the powers-that-be wanted it to happen.