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‘M*A*S*H’: How Burlesque Shaped Alan Alda’s Sense of Humor

‘M*A*S*H’: How Burlesque Shaped Alan Alda’s Sense of Humor

Alan Alda brought into his “Hawkeye” character a sense of humor on M*A*S*H that actually has its roots with Alan’s father. For those who don’t know, Robert Alda was Alan’s father. He made an appearance on M*A*S*H while he was still alive.

See, Alan received an early boost in learning about having a sense of humor. His dad developed one while being a top comic in the world of burlesque. In fact, Alan Alda can recall a time when he was just six months old when he went on stage.

Well, it was Robert’s idea. Alan didn’t seem to mind, though. When he got out there, he and Robert started going back and forth with one another. “He’d be Abbott and I’d be Costello,” said Alan Alda. “We’d do the whole ‘who’s on first?’ routine.”

But what about those days of being off-stage and watching his father in the burlesque houses? “I would watch my father and his friends perform,” the M*A*S*H star told The Boston Globe back in 1982, according to MeTV. “My earliest memories are the burlesque comics, the straight men, the chorus dancers, the strippers. They were all very warm people, all friends of the family.”

Alan Alda Plays Up ‘Hawkeye’ Best Traits

While watching Alda closely in playing “Hawkeye,” one can see little glimmers of a possible song-and-dance man out there. Talk about a role that would fit into the burlesque world just fine.

It should be noted that Robert and Alan Alda were quite close. So, having Robert around the set for an episode didn’t bother Alan in the least. Here’s another thing: “Hawkeye” does his best to make someone else crack up in the 4077th. What would make his day? Getting Frank Burns, played by Larry Linville, to go off the deep end about something.

Alda was quite involved in the writing and directing of M*A*S*H episodes throughout its run on CBS. There is a pretty solid demarcation point during the series’ run. If you notice throughout the early seasons, then the dialogue is pretty rich with jokes and gags. Reportedly, that’s the way Larry Gelbart saw the show and wrote it in that direction.

Once Gelbart left M*A*S*H, Alda and others decided to write episodes in different ways. The laugh track wasn’t always being used. War’s serious matters started to receive notoriety. M*A*S*H viewers still tuned in each week to see what was happening at the 4077th.

A sure sign that people loved “Hawkeye” and the entire M*A*S*H cast happened when a record-breaking audience tuned into the series finale. It drew one of the biggest numbers in Nielsen history. It was a worthy thing to have happened for such a solid show.