It turns out “M*A*S*H” star Alan Alda loved to improvise a whole lot, but anytime he suggested it show producers would pass.
Alda, in a 2010 interview with Daily Actor, openly admits that he started out his career as an improviser. That was before joining “M*A*S*H” on CBS.
“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.”
Improvisation Finds Its Way Into One ‘M*A*S*H’ Episode Of Note
Alda, though, did remember one “M*A*S*H” episode where improvisation took place. He mentions the episode simply called “The Interview,” which originally 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.”
He recalls Clete Roberts, a local Los Angeles news anchor, who played the role of the interviewer in the “M*A*S*H” episode. Alda said there were spots “where the interviewer was just asking us questions on camera that we had never heard before and we’d answer in character. So that was really a lot of fun.”
“I see movies now where improvisation is used much more than it ever has been before,” he said. “And those movies tend to be really interesting in terms of the performances because they’re much more spontaneous.”
Show’s Actress Played Parts In Two Iconic TV Shows
Improvisation, at times, would go beyond simply saying words off the top of an actor’s head. If an actor or actress could be a character actor on different shows, then that’s a form of improvisation.
It turns out that Loretta Swit, who played Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on “M*A*S*H” through its run, made earlier guest appearances on two major TV westerns.
Swit appeared in episodes of “Gunsmoke” on CBS and “Bonanza” on NBC.
She plays Belle Clark on “Gunsmoke” in an episode called “The Pack Rat.” Clark is one of two women who join Marshal Matt Dillon in taking a wounded prisoner from Dodge City to Fort Union.
Swit, on “Bonanza,” appears in “A Visit to Upright.” She plays Ellen Sue Greely, a picky livestock heiress who is making trouble for Ben Cartwright. Swit also found other roles on TV shows, too, before nabbing her most famous role.