‘M*A*S*H’ Star Explained Why He Couldn’t Help Being an Actor: ‘Where I Belong’

by Josh Lanier

Alan Alda was born to be an entertainer. He exudes a likeability that is preternatural. But the former M*A*S*H star said his father, who was also an actor, tried to persuade him to do something else. However, Alda said he knew show business is “where I belong.”

Alda opened up about how he evolved to become an actor with The Comic’s Comic in 2013.

“I don’t think you can watch your parent from the wings and not say, ‘That’s where I belong.’ Not only that, I got an inside look at how it worked,” he said. “When you watch from the wings, I think that’s the best way to learn about the theater. Because when you’re in the wings, you’re seeing how the illusion is created. If you watch a magician from the wings, you see where he hides the pigeons. And I could see where the comics hid the pigeons, and it really was educational. And I absorbed all of that at an early age.”

Alda’s father, Robert Alda, ran a burlesque show and managed a theater. He booked comedians and strippers as well, Alan Alda remembers.

“I watched burlesque,” the M*A*S*H star said in 2000. “I remember very vividly standing in the wing watching the comics and the strippers, which is a very bizarre childhood.”

But Robert Alda eventually raised his profile and made his way to Broadway. He won a Tony in 1950 for his role in Guys and Dolls. He even appeared in two episodes of M*A*S*H. Alan’s brother Antony joined him in the second episode, titled “Lend a Hand,” which Alan Alda wrote in 1980.

Alan Alda’s Dad Tried to Talk Him Out of Acting

Those early years were difficult, Alan Alda remembers. And his father tried to dissuade him from going into show business because it’s a hardscrabble life.

“My father encouraged me by discouraging me,” Alda told the Saturday Evening Post. He said, “No, don’t be an actor, it’s a hard life,” and then he tried to get me jobs.

“I guess I sort of paid him back by getting him parts in several episodes of M*A*S*H. That was fun. The only advice my dad gave me about acting that I can remember is, ‘Your legs will get tired, so always find a place to sit down.’ It’s true. If you watch me on M*A*S*H, you’ll see how often I was sitting down with my feet up on the desk.”

Alan Alda’s mother did encourage him, but he admits their relationship was strained.

“I had a difficult relationship with my mother because she was a schizophrenic and paranoid and thought I was trying to kill her all the time,” the M*A*S*H star said in 2019 in an interview for his SAG-AFTRA award. “So it was a difficult time.”

But “my mother did love me and gave me confidence. She told me I could do anything. And I actually believed her.”