10 Delightful Facts About Alan Alda

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

America’s funniest military doctor is now America’s funniest great-grandfather—a perpetually vibrant screen presence who’s still crafting memorable performances as an octogenarian. Born Alphonso D’Abruzzo on January 28, 1936, Alan Alda has graced us with some of the best television of all time.

Nearly a half-century before the term “prestige TV” first entered our pop culture conversations, Alda was making us laugh and cry on M*A*S*H. He was also building a bigger shelf for all the Emmys he scored (he won a total of five for the series, plus another in 2006 for The West Wing). After M*A*S*H ended, Alda continued to build a formidable career improving every role he’s been in with his trademark charm and guile.

Here are 10 facts about the man behind the second Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce.

1. HE SMOKED A PIPE AT AGE TWO FOR PUBLICITY.

Alan Alda’s father was a singer in burlesque shows, so the family was constantly on the road. Before performances in Toronto when Alda was a toddler, his father hit upon the idea of posing the two-year-old Alda with a pipe for a Toronto Daily Star photographer to spark a minor sensation. The headline read “CHILD OF TWO SMOKES PIPE; ONCE BROKE MOTHER’S NOSE."

2. HE HAD A STAGE NAME WAITING FOR HIM.

A lot of actors change their names, but Alda’s stage name was already in the family. His father, Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Robert D’Abruzzo, acted under the name Robert Alda—“Alda” being a portmanteau made from the first two letters of his first and last names.

3. HE SERVED IN KOREA.

American actor, director and writer Alan Alda in the driving seat of a jeep, surrounded by Loretta Swit and other cast members of the hit television show M.A.S.H, in costume as members of a US Army medical corp.
Keystone/Getty Images

Before acting in the fictional 4077th medical unit stationed in Korea during the war, Alda served a six-month tour in Korea in charge of a mess tent as part of the Army Reserve. “They had designs of making me into an officer, but, uh, it didn’t go so well,” Alda later said during a Q&A at Southern Connecticut State University.

4. HIS FIRST MAJOR AWARD NOMINATION WAS FOR A TONY.

We think of Alda as a TV and film star, but he began his career doing live theater, first at the Cleveland Play House and then on Broadway. He starred in The Owl and the Pussycat on Broadway in 1964 and scored a Tony nomination in 1966 for The Apple Tree. He’s won Emmys and Golden Globes, but he’s also been nominated for an Oscar and several Tonys, putting him at times within arm’s reach of an EGOT.

5. HE WAS THE ONLY M*A*S*H CAST MEMBER WHO KNEW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO COLONEL BLAKE.

For three seasons, McLean Stevenson played the affable, laid-back Lt. Colonel Blake, whose ultimate fate was a shock to fans. It was also a shock to cast members who filmed the finale but weren't given the last page of the script. As a writer, director, and main star on the show, Alda knew that producers were planning to kill Blake off-camera.

“After three years of showing faceless bit players and extras portraying dying or dead servicemen, here was an opportunity to have a character die that our audience knew and loved, one whose death would mean something to them,” producer Larry Gelbart said.

6. BEFORE HE WAS ON THE WEST WING, HE WAS ALMOST ON THE WEST WING.

Actor Alan Alda circa 1999
Newsmakers/Getty Images

Alda joined the The West Wing in its sixth season after showrunner John Wells asked the actor if he wanted to “run for President as the Republican nominee.” He played Senator Arnold Vinick until the series finale, where he spent most of his time on the series trying to become President. But he almost got the job when the show began. Before Martin Sheen signed on to play President Josiah Bartlet, Alda was in the running to play the POTUS, but turned the part down because he didn’t want to be tied down to a regular series.

7. HE’S THE ONLY PERSON TO WIN ACTING, DIRECTING, AND WRITING EMMYS FOR THE SAME PROGRAM.

An astonishing feat (technically rarer than the EGOT), Alda’s dedication to 11 seasons of M*A*S*H resulted in five Emmys—three for acting, one for writing the episode “Inga,” and one for directing the iconic episode “Dear Sigmund” (which he also wrote). More than mere trophies, Alda also had a hand in writing the series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which was viewed by more than 121 million viewers, making it the most-watched finale of a TV show ever.

8. HE HELPED THE BBC REPORT ON THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER.

As a sincere science enthusiast, Alda hosted Scientific American Frontiers for PBS for years. So when CERN launched the Large Hadron Collider, the BBC called on Alda to offer his perspective alongside Britain’s most famous public intellectual, Professor Brian Cox. Alda also got to visit the Collider a few years later. His favorite part? “Standing on that platform, looking at that giant device, and this frightening millisecond I had when I heard that after the collision the particles are flying through the air to get to the detector,” Alda said. “They would have been going through me."

9. THE BOSTON GLOBE DUBBED HIM AN “HONORARY WOMAN.”

Actor Alan Alda speaks during 'Bridge Of Spies' Q&A on Day 5 of the 23rd Annual Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2015 in East Hampton, New York
Matthew Eisman, Getty Images for Hamptons International Film Festival

Alda is a staunch feminist who spent years campaigning aggressively for the Equal Rights Amendment and co-chaired the Equal Rights Amendment Countdown with First Lady Betty Ford. He also served on the National Commission for the Observance of International Women’s Year in 1976 after an appointment from President Ford, and his involvement as an early, highly public ally led one Boston Globe writer to name him “the quintessential Honorary Woman: a feminist icon.”

10. HE HOSTS A PODCAST.

Alda is 82 years old—and he hosts a podcast. Clear and Vivid is focused on how we communicate with each other and how we can all do better. The actor has spoken with guests as diverse as violinist Itzhak Perlman, Judge Judy, and novelist Ann Patchett to learn how they listen and communicate. Alda may have to make room on that shelf for a few podcasting awards.

10 Amazing Facts About Stan Lee

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Comic book legend Stan Lee’s life was always an open book. The co-creator of some of the greatest superheroes and most beloved stories of all time, Lee—who passed away on November 12 at the age of 95—became just as mythical and larger-than-life as the characters in the panels. In 2015, around the time of Marvel’s 75th anniversary, Lee had the idea to reflect on his own life, as he said, “in the one form it has never been depicted, as a comic book … or if you prefer, a graphic memoir.”

The result, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster in 2015, was Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir—which was written by Lee with Peter David and features artwork by cartoonist and illustrator Colleen Doran. Here are 10 things we learned about Lee.

1. HIS WIFE WAS ALSO HIS BARBER.

As a bit of a throwaway fact, Stanley Martin Lieber (Stan Lee) revealed the secret of his slicked back mane on the second page of his memoir. “My whole adult life, I’ve never been to a barber,” he wrote. “Joanie always cuts my hair.”

2. HIS CONFIDENCE CAME FROM HIS MOTHER.

Lee wrote that as a child he loved to read books by Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others, and his mother often watched him read: “I probably got my self-confidence from the fact that my mother thought everything I did was brilliant.”

3. YOUNG STAN LEE WROTE OBITUARIES.

Before writing about the fantastic lives of fictional characters, Lee wrote antemortem obituaries for celebrities at an undisclosed news office in New York. He said that he eventually quit that job because it was too “depressing.”

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA WAS HIS FIRST BIG BREAK.

A week into his job at Timely Comics, Lee got the opportunity to write a two-page Captain America comic. He wrote it under the pen name Stan Lee (which became his legal name) and titled it "Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge." His first full comic script would come in Captain America Issue 5, published August 1, 1941.

5. HE WROTE TRAINING FILMS FOR THE ARMY WITH DR. SEUSS.

After being transferred from the army’s Signal Corps in New Jersey, Lee worked as a playwright in the Training Film Division in Queens with eight other men, including a few who went on to be very famous: Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939] and It’s a Wonderful Life [1946]) and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

6. HE DEFIED THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY WITH AN ANTI-DRUG COMIC.

In 1971, Lee received a letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare asking him to put an anti-drug message in one of his books. He came up with a Spider-Man story that involved his best friend Harry abusing pills because of a break-up. The CCA would not approve the story with their seal because of the mention of drugs, but Lee convinced his publisher, Martin Goodman, to run the comic anyway.

7. AN ISSUE AT THE PRINTERS TURNED THE HULK GREEN.

The character was supposed to be gray, but according to Lee, the printer had a hard time keeping the color consistent. “So as of issue #2,” Lee wrote, “with no explanation, he turned green.”

8. HIS WIFE DESTROYED HIS PRIZED TYPEWRITER.

According to Lee, during an argument, Joanie destroyed the typewriter he used to write the first issues for characters including Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. “This happened before eBay," he wrote. "Too bad. I could’ve auctioned the parts and made a mint.”

9. A FIRE DESTROYED HIS INTERVIEWS AND LECTURES.

When Lee moved his family to Los Angeles, he set up a studio in Van Nuys where he stored videotapes of his talks and interviews, along with a commissioned bust of his wife. The building was lost to a blaze that the fire department believed was arson, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

10. HIS FAVORITE MARVEL FILM CAMEO WAS BASED ON ONE FROM THE COMICS.

Beginning with the first Spider-Man film in 2002, Stan Lee has made quick cameos in Marvel films as a service to the fans. He said that his appearance in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) was inspired by the story of Reed and Sue Richards’ wedding in Fantastic Four Annual Volume 1 #3, in which he and artist/writer Jack Kirby attempt to crash the ceremony but are thwarted.

A version of this story ran in 2015.

JK Rowling Reveals the Sweet Reason Why She Wrote Fantastic Beasts

Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images

With the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald just a week away, ​JK Rowling is reflecting on her time writing the book that inspired the first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and why she decided to expand on the Wizarding World she had created with the Harry Potter series.

While on the red carpet for the premiere of ​The Crimes of Grindelwald in Paris last week, Rowling spoke about how appreciative she is of the Harry Potter fandom that allows her to keep writing books and films. She also revealed the reason why she wanted to continue past the original series and write these movies: Potterheads!

"This fandom is the most remarkable in the world, for me, obviously," Rowling said. "Their loyalty and their passion for these stories really is the reason that I went back, because, without that, I don’t think I would have written these movies."

So there you have it, Potterheads: you really have yourselves to thank for the ​Potter universe's continued expansion. Keep it up and maybe Rowling will keep giving us more. In the meantime, Fantastic Beasts 2 hits theaters on November 16.

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