10 Little Known Facts about Iconic Actor Alan Alda

The Academy Award-nominated actor and director remains a relevant presence in the industry despite his advanced age, co-starring in 2019’s “Marriage Story.” Here’s what you didn’t know about this star.

83-year-old actor Alan Alda became a household name starring in the military comedy series “M.A.S.H.” in the ‘70s, and he has continued to lead a successful career up until today.

Buy behind his creative output, the awards, and the fame, there is a complex human being that has gone through his share of interesting experiences that shaped his character and added substance to his artistic endeavors.

PIPE SMOKING

Alan was born into show business, since his father Robert was a traveling singer and a burlesque artist. In fact, his father had the idea behind the future actor’s infamous first public appearance, in the form of a scandalous headline.

2-year-old Alan Alda pretending to smoke a pipe. I Image: YouTube / USA Today.

2-year-old Alan Alda pretending to smoke a pipe. I Image: YouTube / USA Today.

When Alan was a two-year-old, his father had him pose while pretending to smoke a pipe in front of a Toronto Daily Star photographer for publicity, which started a controversy about the pipe-smoking toddler, soon surrounded by other rumors.

STAGE NAME

Even though Alan was born Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo, when he had to think about a stage name at the start of his career, he adopted his father’s chosen last name Alda, a pseudonym, using Alan as his first name.

Alan Alda in his younger years. I Image: Getty Images.

Alan Alda in his younger years. I Image: Getty Images.

Alan’s father Robert was actually named Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Robert D’Abruzo. He came up with the name Alda by taking the first two letters from Alphonso and D’Abruzzo.

KOREA

16 years after playing Captain/ Chief surgeon Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce in “M.A.S.H.” Alda actually was deployed to Korea after graduating from Fordham University and when the Korean War had already ended.

"My Wikipedia page says I served in the military as a gunnery officer, but that's actually not true. I served briefly in the Army Reserve, and was deployed for about six months,” Alda said in 2013.
Alan Alda and the rest of the main cast of "M.A.S.H." I Image: Getty Images.

Alan Alda and the rest of the main cast of "M.A.S.H." I Image: Getty Images.

“They had designs of making me into an officer but, uh ... it didn't go so well. I was in charge of a mess tent. Some of that made it into the show," the actor added. 

TONY AWARDS

Before making it big in the small and the big screen, Alda was finding success and critical acclaim as a stage actor. In fact, the first major nomination for an award as an actor for Alda was in 1967 for a Tony.

In 1967, Alda was nominated for a Tony Award in the Best Actor category for the play “The Apple Tree.” Alda has continued to perform in Broadway over the years and has gone on to earn several Tony nominations since.

Alan Alda and his wife Arlene. I Image: Getty Images.

Alan Alda and his wife Arlene. I Image: Getty Images.

COLONEL BLAKE

As a comedy series about the war, “M.A.S.H.” had to keep the emotions balanced in order to let room for humor to always be present while at the same time staying relevant and addressing the tragedies of war.

At some point in the series, the showrunners decided that a major character had to die, and since they didn’t want to kill off any character from the main cast, they introduced the character of Lt. Colonel Blake to have him died three seasons later.

The plan was to kill off the character played by McLean Stevenson off-camera and, to have the actors better engaging with the feelings around this incident, none of the stars except Alda were told about it until the last minute. 

THE WEST WING

In 2004, Alda joined the cast of the political drama “The West Wing” to portray fictional Republican senator and presidential candidate Arnold Vinick, which earned him an Emmy award in 2006.

But actually, Alda had been considered for the part of President Josiah Bartlet, later given to Martin Sheen. Alda turned down the part because he couldn’t be committed to a long series at the time.

EMMYS

His time in “M.A.S.H.” resulted in five Emmy awards for the star. Three for acting, one for writing, and one for directing. This made Alda the first person to win acting, writing, and directing accolades for the same show.

Alan Alda. I Image: Getty Images.

Alan Alda. I Image: Getty Images.

As a writer, Alda contributed in great deal to the series finale, which ended up becoming the most-watched finale of a TV show ever, surpassing cultural phenomena like “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”

SCIENCE ENTHUSIAST

Alda has been a science enthusiast for a long time, and he is particularly interested in making the work of scientists available for the common public.

In recognition of his advocacy in this matter, Stony Brook University gave the actor’s name to the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Apart from hosting “Scientific American Frontiers” for PBS between 1993 and 2007, Alda helped the BBC report on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider for the general audience. 

HONORARY WOMAN

Alda has been a dedicated supporter of women’s rights since early in his career. In 1976, he co-chaired on the Equal Rights Countdown campaign with former first lady Betty Ford.

Alda, who has openly criticized toxic masculinity and misogyny in many opportunities, was acknowledged as “the quintessential Honorary Woman, a feminist icon” by The Boston Globe.

 He has also been honored with an honorary degree from Dundee University for his work promoting the communication of science, and was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Honorary Award at the SAG’s.

PODCAST

Given his passion for communications, science, and technology, it shouldn’t surprise us that the octogenarian actor is the host of his own podcast, titled “Clear and Vivid.”

The program is centered on finding ways to communicate with each other more effectively, and he has had remarkable guests of different backgrounds on it, from violinist Itzhak Perlman to novelist Ann Patchett.

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