It’s honestly hard to imagine anyone else as Hawkeye. Series creator Gene Reynolds definitely agreed. He had known his actor from his work on stage in New York City. Alda never even had to audition for the role because Reynolds was certain that he found the perfect actor for the role.
“He was attractive, a leading man and wonderfully comedic actor who could play the sober moments,” Reynolds told the Hollywood Reporter. “There’s not a lot of guys like that floating around.”
The only problem was that Alda lived in New Jersey at the time. He was reluctant to uproot his family to California, worried about leaving home. But the script was too good to pass up.
“I was making a movie in the Utah state prison. ‘M*A*S*H’ was by far the best script I’d ever read in prison,” Alda said. “I said to my wife, Arlene, ‘I can’t do it because it’s going to be made in California and we live in New Jersey. Who knows, this thing could run a whole year.'”
Alan Alda Stars in The Show
The show ended up running 11 years in total. But you’ll hardly hear Alda complain about that fact. The show quickly became a ratings juggernaut and Alda was the main attraction. The actor drew upon his own experience serving in the military during the Korean War. Alda never saw conflict but he saw soldiers who had. And their shell-shocked impressions left a lasting impact on the actor.
As Hawkeye, Alda was flirtatious at moments, a natural jokester always getting into trouble. But he had his moments of profound wisdom and seriousness. The character’s kindness showed through when he interacted with wounded soldiers in his tent. To prepare for the role, the actor consulted with medical professionals on how they would handle wounded or dying patients. He wanted to know how to properly act in those situations.
“Alan was brilliant at finding a way to play a scene so that he wasn’t directly in it,” writer Dan Wilcox said. “If he had an exposition in the mess tent, he spent the whole time studying his food. He’d pick up a fork, sniff at it, and put it back down, meanwhile participating in the conversation.”
Alda stayed on the show throughout all of its 11 seasons and will forever be associated with his iconic role.