‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Explained Growing Up in a Burlesque: ‘Watching Strippers and Comics and Chorus Girls’

by Joe Rutland
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Alan Alda, known for playing “Hawkeye” Pierce on CBS’s “M*A*S*H,” grew up in a very interesting world, the world of burlesque.

For those who don’t know about burlesque, it was a theatrical form of entertainment. It happened to be filled with a lot of different acts. Burlesque was a risque and, obviously, pretty adult-focused style of getting laughs or applause.

Alda remembers growing up in this world watching his father, actor Robert Alda, perform on the stage.

“I spent the first three years of my life standing in the wings watching strippers and comics and chorus girls,” Alan Alda said in an interview with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross. “And it was a bizarre beginning to a life.”

Alan Alda Had A Sense Of His Surroundings

Alan Alda, though, was just a little boy at the time. Yet he was aware of his surroundings, of what was going on around him at the time.

“But I do remember – you know, children are so much more aware than everybody gives them credit for,” he said. “I remember thinking – ’cause when the chorus girls would take me up to their dressing room, you know, they would take me up, and they would comb my hair and talk to me.”

Alda said the chorus girls would look at him and treat him like a mascot or little pet.

“And then they’d say, OK, Ally, we’re going to change our clothes now,” he said. “Turn your back. And I’d stand with my face pressed against their costumes hanging on the wall, and I’d smell the perfume and I’d hear them behind me.”

This was during Alda’s formative years and his father’s growing years as an actor. Robert Alda, who made an appearance on his son’s show on CBS, was the first actor to play Sky Masterson on Broadway’s “Guys and Dolls.” Marlon Brando would play Sky Masterson in the movie version. Robert Alda also portrayed George Gershwin in a 1945 biopic of Gershwin’s life called “Rhapsody In Blue.”

Military Career Helped Alda Form ‘Hawkeye’

Did you know Alan Alda served in the United States military? He actually was in the Army Reserves during the Korean War, the same war in which “M*A*S*H” is set.

Alda spent six months in Korea, an experience that has stayed with him throughout his life.

“They had designs of making me into an officer but, uh … it didn’t go so well,” he told an audience in 2013. “I was in charge of a mess tent. Some of that made it into the show.”

Working in a mess tent gave Alda a good view of how soldiers were responding to the war zone. He saw soldiers coming in to eat after being out in the field. They sometimes, according to Alda, hardly touched their food because of what their bodies experienced during active duty.

These and other experiences ultimately found their way into “M*A*S*H” episodes. Alan Alda wanted to bring a sense of reality into the show, even when it was for laughs at times. At one point, the show was going for humor yet later on catered to showing how serious war zones were for soldiers and citizens alike.

Outsider.com