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Who is Alan Alda?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Until recently, many believed that Alan Alda would forever be associated with his character, Hawkeye Pierce, which he played for 11 years on the extremely popular TV series M*A*S*H*. The series did make Alan Alda a household name, but many will also remember his recent dramatic turns, like his Emmy Award winning portrayal of Senator Arnold Vinick, on the last two seasons of The West Wing.

Alda definitely displayed his gift for conviction as an actor in this role, playing the conservative senator with compassion and grace. It is perhaps one of his most striking performances. Many fans of the show who were staunch Democrats have said they quickly would have changed party allegiances to vote for Vinick, if were a real senator.

Alda’s passion for his work, and his ability as an actor is apparent throughout his career, which began in the 1950s. His work of over half a century is iconic, sensitive, humorous and graceful. To this day, Alan Alda continues to make us laugh, cry, or think through his seamlessly constructed performances.

Alda had an early childhood fraught with difficulty. He suffered from polio as a young lad and his treatments for the disease included two years of total bed rest. His strong Italian Catholic family provided much needed support. Alan Alda’s mother battled schizophrenia, but throughout, the presence of Alda’s father, and their reliance on weekly attendance of Mass, which Alda still honors, kept him focused.

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As a young adult, Alan Alda received a four-year degree at Fordham University, and then joined the Army Reserves. He did actually serve in Korea for six months after the Korean War. Thus part of his portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce can be seen as informed by some of his own experiences.

M*A*S*H*, anchored by Alda, enjoyed an eleven year run. The last six years of the show were frequently written, produced and directed by Alda. Under the direction of Alan Alda, the show remained comedic, but took on a much more anti-war tone, and became a platform for Alda to speak about his political convictions.

Throughout the M*A*S*H years Alan Alda also participated in numerous film projects. His best-known films during this time include the Neil Simon movie, Same Time Next Year and The Four Seasons. Alan Alda directed and co-wrote the latter, and it remains one of his most popular projects. It’s a comedy not to be missed by lovers of Alda’s work, and it boasts an impressive ensemble cast that includes Carol Burnett as Alda’s wife, and Rita Moreno.

After M*A*S*H* Alda pursued acting and directed several more films. His last was Betsey’s Wedding in 1990. He also has taken on numerous roles in well-known Woody Allen films. In particular, his performance in Crimes and Misdemeanors is considered by many critics to be his “anti- nice guy” performance.

In 2004, Alan Alda was nominated for an Oscar, for his role in the Martin Scorsese biopic of Howard Hughes, The Aviator. He has been nominated for numerous awards including Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe, and Screen Actor's Guild Awards. Alan Alda has also written his memoirs in the 2005 autobiography Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I’ve Learned. He continues to be a passionate actor, a devoted family man, and a political activist.

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