Alan Alda was reluctant to sign on for M*A*S*H

He wanted nothing to do with war.

Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution

In taking on any job, there's the matter of the employer's values. What are they? Do they mesh with your own? Can you put a price on compromising what you believe in? It's a tale as old as manufacturing itself. If you clock in every day, is the thing you're making worth your time, or does it contradict what you stand for? 

This phenomenon can plague an actor, too. What does this project represent? Sure, there's a disconnect between actor and character, but what's the message of the overall movie or show? An actor can play a villain and not have to agree with the character. But if the story presents a message that the actor doesn't align with, where do they have to show responsibility?

War, in particular, is hard to present in a visual narrative format, specifically if the creators involved don't believe that wars are just. Francois Truffaut, director of movies like The 400 Blows, spoke about this issue with the Chicago Tribune back in the '70s, stating that ‘Every film about war ends up being pro-war.’ To Truffaut, showing war was ennobling war. How can a movie be anti-war when it makes war look so darn cool?

Initially, these thoughts plagued Alan Alda when he was offered the role of Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H. Raymond Strait's 1983 biography about the actor quotes Alda speaking about his conflicted viewpoint of war media.

"My greatest concern," said Alda, "was that the show would become a thirty-minute commercial for the Army."

Alda was a well-known pacifist and wasn't immediately thrilled with the prospect of portraying scenes of violent wartime to a national audience. He was totally against the war in Vietnam, so how could he profit from acting in a show about the Korean War? He paid careful consideration to how the show was presented, only accepting the role if the series dealt first and foremost with humanity, rather than some patriotic propaganda.

It was at Alda's insistence, allegedly, that each episode featured operating room sequences. To Alda, this offset the war-time drama and instead focused completely on the human element. His decision to join the show came at the last possible moment, as he signed the contracts at two o'clock in the morning before going directly into rehearsals that same morning.

Watch M*A*S*H on MeTV!

Weeknights at 6 PM, Sundays at 7 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

3 Comments

MadMadMadWorld 15 days ago
Alda also insisted on no 'laugh track' in the OR. Which made perfect sense, as it is deadly serious when some wounded soldier is fighting for his life there. It would have turned off many of the audience, with fewer viewers if they heard a dumb and wildly inappropriate 'laugh track' in the OR.
McGillahooala 18 days ago
“Can you put a price on compromising what you believe in?” Apparently, you can.
msciresi McGillahooala 17 days ago
Well to be fair the show didn’t glorify the war or army. In fact in most cases it show how ridiculous it was and satirized it. Most show did have scenes from the OR and focused on the human condition. He did state that without those conditions he would have passed. MASH by no means glorified the war or the military.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?