Alan Alda, star of TV’s anti-war comedy ‘M*A*S*H,’ hailed for 60-year career

January 28, 2019

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Alan Alda, best known for playing a wise-cracking Army doctor on the long-running anti-war television comedy “M*A*S*H,” received a lifetime achievement award from his fellow actors on Sunday, celebrating a 60-year career on stage and screen.

Alda, 82, who announced in July that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years earlier, was presented the honor by film star and one-time-costar Tom Hanks at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards dinner in Los Angeles.

“I see more than ever how proud I am to be part of our brotherhood and sisterhood of actors,” Alda said, after receiving a sustained standing ovation from his peers.

Declaring it was every actor’s job to “get inside a character’s head and to search for a way to see life from that person’s point of view.”

“It may never have been more urgent to see the world through another person’s eyes than when a culture is divided so sharply,” he added.

Alda is most remembered for his Emmy-winning portrayal of the insubordinate but highly skilled Army surgeon Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on “M*A*S*H,” the landmark comedy series set during the Korean War.

A show that ran 11 seasons on CBS and years more in syndicated reruns. Its 1983 series finale was watched by nearly 106 million viewers, a record that stood three decades as the largest audience for a U.S. TV broadcast.

The New York-born performer got his start in live theater, made dozens of motion pictures and worked extensively elsewhere on TV, including two seasons on NBC’s celebrated political drama “The West Wing,” playing a Republican U.S. senator.

“The West Wing” earned Alda his sixth Emmy Award, on top of five previous Emmys for his work on “M*A*S*H.” He is the only performer to win Emmys for acting, directing and writing on the same series. He also was a three-time Tony Award nominee for his Broadway work, most recently in 2005 for “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

On the big screen, Alda earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as a real-life U.S. senator, Republican Owen Brewster, in Martin Scorsese’s 2004 historical biopic “The Aviator” about mogul Howard Hughes.

Alda, however, will remain forever associated with “M*A*S*H,” based on the 1970 Korean War movie satire directed by Robert Altman and adapted from a novel of the same name by a real-life doctor who served in Korea.

The show centered on the antics of Hawkeye Pierce and fellow doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital – MASH for short – as they struggled to keep their sanity and save lives. When not tending to waves of wounded GIs, Hawkeye and his pals passed their time playing practical jokes, carousing with nurses and drinking to excess.

A far cry from several military sitcoms that came before it, “M*A*S*H” went beyond poking fun at Army life to deal with such issues as circumstantial ethics and the morality of war.

Premiering in September 1972 as America was still embroiled in Vietnam, “M*A*S*H” struggled in the ratings during its first season before catching on with viewers, lauded by critics and resonating with the anti-war sentiment of the time. It ran about eight years longer than the Korean conflict.

The success of “M*A*S*H” helped spur a prolific film career. Among his most memorable movies were “Same Time, Next Year” opposite Ellen Burstyn, “California Suite” with Jane Fonda, both in 1978, and the 1979 political drama co-starring Meryl Streep, “The Seduction of Joe Tynan.” Alda wrote and directed several of the films he starred in, including “Joe Tynan.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)