To millions of Americans Alan Alda is Hawkeye Pierce, but to me, he's so much more: he was my first favorite actor and continues to be in the top 5. He was also my second celebrity crush (Steve Martin has him beat by just a few months). I adored him on M*A*S*H when I was a kid even though I didn't get most of the jokes. It was his smile, his voice, his saunter.
Later, sometime in middle school, I discovered SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR (1978). Alda plays opposite Ellen Burstyn in this film version of a stage play that uses just one location, a room at an inn, for almost the entire film. In the first scene, the two meet by chance and wind up in bed together. They agree to meet at the same inn each year, but never speaking at other times during the year while maintaining their mostly happy marriages to other people. This goes on for years, and with each meeting comes a new crisis that they help each other through.
I always liked the story. Some might criticize it for showing an accepting view of adultery, but I think that's a simplistic analysis. SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR shows the complexity of human beings and human relationships. Here's an early section from YouTube - Doris and George have just woken up together and George is a little freaked out. (Yes, you'll get tired of the song, but the movie's totally worth it).
Alan Alda plays my all-time favorite film president in CANADIAN BACON (1995). While Michael Moore was still riding relatively high on some leftover ROGER & ME fame and respect (and before he made another name for himself by pissing people off at Oscar ceremonies), he wrote and directed CANADIAN BACON, a scathing satire about an American president whose approval rating is low because everything is peaceful. His staffers talk him into starting a cold war with Canada to improve his ratings and as an excuse to spend money on defense. Hilarity ensues when some Buffalo sheriffs (John Candy, Rhea Perlman) take this newfound conflict with Canada to heart. Steven Wright and Dan Aykroyd contribute humorous performances, such as this clip below:
Since his career began, Alan Alda has never taken much of a break between film, television, and writing. That's right, he's written the books Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. In his books, he shares personal insights about acting, parenting, marriage, and a million other things (but yet it somehow doesn't feel like a list or a lecture). His books are amusing and touching, especially the candor with which he shared the embarrassment and pain of having a mentally ill mother and his brush with death.
Alda plays an adorable and sweet husband and father in EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (1996). I'm not the biggest fan of musicals (because they can be cheesy) or Woody Allen films (mostly because he's generally in them) but this one, I adore. Firstly, it celebrates the cheesiness of musicals (the dance number at the end in Paris in particular) and it's got an amazing cast in addition to Alan Alda (Drew Barrymore, Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Natasha Lyonne, Gaby Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts). Alda and Hawn play married couple Bob and Steffi Dandridge, two wealthy but kind and generous liberal Mannhattanites. For some reason, though, their son Scott is a conservative. My favorite part of the film is when they find out why.
Alda's hilarious depiction as Milton Greene, Jack Donaghy's father, brings even more life and spirit to that show, if that's even possible. I can't find a clip of the exchange between Jack, Avery, and Milton about baby-naming, but shoot, if you missed the episode, you should really just see the whole damn thing:
Here, Alda talks about the metacomedy of 30 Rock.
There is no one like Alan Alda. From the movies in the 60s that I never saw, to M*A*S*H to ER and now 30 Rock, Alda graces everything he's in with charm and his singular wit. I can't believe he's older than my dad, because, yeah, I have a bit of a crush.