Alan Alda – Follows His Inner Voice
Alan Alda, 82, is an American actor, director, screenwriter, and author. A seven-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner, he is widely known for his roles as Captain Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series M*A*S*H (1972–1983), the host of Scientific American Frontiers, and as Arnold Vinick in The West Wing (2004–2006). He has also appeared in many feature films, most notably as pretentious television producer Lester in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and U.S. Senator Owen Brewster in The Aviator (2004), the latter of which saw Alda nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
In early 1972, Alda auditioned for and was selected to play the role of Hawkeye Pierce in the TV adaptation of the 1970 film MASH. He was nominated for 21 Emmy Awards, and won five. He took part in writing 19 episodes, including the 1983 2½-hour series finale Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, which was also the 32nd episode he directed. It remains the single most-watched episode of any American broadcast network television series. Alda is the only series regular to appear in all 251 episodes.
Alda has done extensive charity work. He helped narrate a 2005 St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital-produced one-hour special TV show Fighting for Life. His wife, Arlene, and he are also close friends of Marlo Thomas, who is very active in fund-raising for the hospital her father founded. Alda and Marlo Thomas had also worked together in the early 1970s on a critically acclaimed children’s album entitled Free to Be You and Me, which featured Alda, Thomas, and a number of other well-known character actors. This project remains one of the earliest public signs of his support of women’s rights.
In 2005, Alda published his first round of memoirs, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I’ve Learned. Among other stories, he recalls his intestines becoming strangulated while on location in La Serena, Chile, for his PBS show Scientific American Frontiers, during which he mildly surprised a young doctor with his understanding of medical procedures, which he had learned from M*A*S*H. He also talks about his mother’s battle with schizophrenia. The title comes from an incident in his childhood, when Alda was distraught about his dog dying and his well-meaning father had the animal stuffed. Alda was horrified by the results, and took from this that sometimes we have to accept things as they are, rather than desperately and fruitlessly trying to change them.
His second memoir, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, weaves together advice from public speeches he has given with personal recollections about his life and beliefs. In the book, Alda describes how as a teen he was raised as a Roman Catholic and eventually realized he had begun thinking like an agnostic. If heaven existed and lasted forever, then a mere lifetime spent scrupulously following orders was a small investment for an infinite payoff. One day, he realized that no longer held any truth for him and he did not go back.
For 14 years, he served as the host of Scientific American Frontiers, a television show that explored cutting-edge advances in science and technology. He is a visiting professor at Stony Brook University and a founder and member of the advisory board of the university’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and the Future of Life Institute. He serves on the board of the World Science Festival and is a judge for Math-O-Vision. Alda also has an avid interest in cosmology (study of the cosmos), and participated in BBC coverage of the opening of the Large Hadron Collider, at CERN, Geneva, in September 2008.
After years of interviews, Alda helped inspire the creation of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in 2009. He remains on the advisory board as of 2013. He was named an Honorary Fellow by the Society for Technical Communication in 2014 for his work with the Center for Communicating Science and the annual Flame Challenge. He is also on the advisory board of the Future of Life Institute. Alda would like to use his expertise in acting and communication to help scientists communicate more effectively to the public. In 2014 Alda was awarded the American Chemical Society’s James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public for his work in science communication. He was awarded the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal in 2016 “for his extraordinary application of the skills honed as an actor to communicating science on television and stage, and by teaching scientists innovative techniques that allow them to tell their stories to the public.”
Alda remains married to his wife Arlene (married in 1956). They have three daughters: Eve, Elizabeth, and Beatrice and eight grandchildren, two of which are aspiring actors.