I enjoyed his work on M*A*S*H, on his specials for PBS and other work, and I truly enjoyed his take as Arnold Vinick, the Republican challenger to Jimmy Smits' Matt Santos on The West Wing.
So when I heard about his new memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, And Other Things I've Learned, I didn't rush out to buy it. I did, however, come across the paperback version at an airport. To be honest, I rarely read on planes. I usually try to sleep. As I've gotten older (not much older mind you), I've enjoyed traveling a lot less. I mean, I enjoy being at my destination, it's just the whole getting to or from the destination that I don't care much for.
So I bought the book and it sat at my nightstand for a while. When I finally decided to check it out, I couldn't put it down.
Alda writes as if he's having a conversation with you. In fact, he writes so freely that, at times, he says things that are so intimate, it's as if we've been friends for years. And that, in itself, is kind of odd because of the whole "celebrity" status of Alan Alda.
Like any other named actor in Hollywood, or anywhere for that matter, fans get to know these people by watching them on television or movies. We see aspects of a person in their performance, and I might argue, the longer we see them, the more of themselves we might get to know. But we can never really know them.
It's like saying that we can know an artist by the music they perform, or the paintings they paint or the books they write. And yes, while we might have an insight to them, we don't really interact with them, so our understanding is very limited. Unless of course, you're a stalker, but that's really a topic for a whole other post.
So Alda's writing is so uninhibited as to shine light on his entire life, and I would argue, parts of his life that he opens up may have left his parents a little less than happy. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I think he is giving us his take on life, and at no time does he ever cast aspersions on his family, quite the opposite. But if his mom were anything like my mom (and they're not) she wouldn't be too happy about appearing anywhere in print, let alone describing scenarios from life.
But it's this openness that just takes you in. It's this freedom that makes us cringe for him at certain stages in his life, or bask in his excitement at other stages. But, for me, the greatest aspect of this book is his die hard belief that his work was work. A craft that others may see as "easy" or "flashy" or any of a number of other descriptive words, to him, was, and is, work.
He is cut from a cloth that believes acting to be a lifelong endeavor of experience. And to be able to convey those experience well, one must analyze those experiences.
I've written before about different techniques in acting, where it be Meisner, Stanislavsky, Method or any number of techniques. And each actor is different and chooses different techniques to best covey to an audience their character.
But for actors like Alan Alda, it's more than just work, it's life. His book reminded me a little bit of the Shelley Winters autobiography Shelley Also Known As Shirley. Her take on acting was much like Alda's. It was just as viable a job as any other, requiring study, dedication, determination, and some luck.
And like Winters, Alda recounts a rich history of American theater and his observations and part in it even at a very young age. And while I honestly thought the book would focus heavily on his years on M*A*S*H, it doesn't. In fact, while he discusses the series, it is obvious that as great a show as M*A*S*H was, it was just another chapter in his rich life, but not the focus of his life.
With celebrities commanding the front pages of magazines and headlines in newspapers more for their antics off screen than on, it's refreshing to see someone who still treats the craft as an honest days work that is never taken for granted. I hope younger celebrities learn from his account and put as much effort into their craft as some seem to do in their nightlife.