‘M*A*S*H’: Why One Actor Said His Father ‘Encouraged’ Him to Act by ‘Discouraging’

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Alan Alda, the beloved Dr. Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H, remembered the advice his dad gave him, once upon a time.

This was back when Alda was considering a career in acting. It’s difficult to imagine Alda doing anything but.

“My father encouraged me by discouraging me,” Alda, the M*A*S*H star 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.”

The Man Who Raised M*A*S*H Star Also Was an Actor

It’s fun to recall these stories on Father’s Day. Who raised these fabulous actors? Alda’s dad was Robert Alda. He acted on the Burlesque circuit when Alan was really young. Robert Alda even managed the theaters. And the younger Alda used to say the dancers helped him throughout childhood.

“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 it was not nearly as raunchy in those days as ordinary television is today. Commercial, network television. I’m not talking about cable.”

Alda needed some maternal love because his mother, Joan Browne Alda, sometimes was incapable of giving it. She was a homemaker and a former Miss New York. However, she also was mentally ill.

“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.”

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

Alda Sr Won a Tony Award and Appeared in Two Episodes of Son’s Show

So Robert Alda had to be there for more his children. Plus, young Alan contracted polio when he was in elementary school. His parents used the therapy created by  Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse, to treat him. The M*A*S*H star, who played a flirty surgeon on the show, said he became a feminist, in part, because of Kenny.

Robert Alda eventually graduated from Burlesque. He won a Tony Award in 1950 for his part in the Broadway show Guys and Dolls. He even did two episodes on M*A*S*H. For the second one, he was joined by Alan’s brother, Antony. That episode was called Lend a Hand and it first ran in 1980.

Alda and his wife, Arlene, have been married since 1957. They have three daughters. Alda filmed M*A*S*H in Los Angeles during the week, then fly home to New Jersey to be with his family. You can only imagine how important Father’s Day is in the Alda household.

Outsider.com