WASHINGTON — He became a household name as Hawkeye on the TV smash “M*A*S*H.”
But Alan Alda isn’t settling for television dominance; he’s actively trying to save the world.
Enter the second season of his fascinating podcast “Clear + Vivid,” featuring conversations with various world leaders and celebrity influencers seeking peaceful conflict resolution.
“It’s about how we talk to each other, how we connect to each other, relate to each other, so that we can get things done and get past the friction of different opinions and ways of looking at things,” Alda told WTOP. “I don’t expound upon my views, I just have conversations with people who have been extremely successful at connecting with people and solving problems.”
That includes a chat with actor Michael J. Fox about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
“This guy is so amazing,” Alda said. “We shared some stuff together because three or four years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s too, so we were sharing notes. This guy has had it since he was 29 and he’s conducted a life where he’s found a way to keep acting even though he’s got this progressive disease. His communication is so good that he’s raised almost a billion dollars to find a cure for Parkinson’s. … He’s really inspiring to listen to — and funny.”
“[She] found somebody who hated her so much that he had a one-word hate-word Tweet to her,” Alda said. “She got in touch with him and found out he was in tremendous physical pain. He had been abused as a child. She got him free therapy someplace. Instead of reacting with hate back, she helped him and now they’re friends and they communicate all the time. … It’s an amazing story of success at reaching out. The old thing of offering a hand instead of a fist.”
You’ll also hear from productive politicians like former Sen. George Mitchell.
“The guy who brought peace to Northern Ireland,” Alda said. “People hated each other and were killing each other for generations — and he found ways to bring them together.”
Most exciting is an upcoming episode featuring a cast reunion from TV’s “M*A*S*H.”
“We were going to record it [on Nov. 14], but we had to postpone it because Jamie Farr … almost lost his house in the [California] fire,” Alda said. “Loretta Swit and I will be talking from New York, Mike Farrell will be in a studio in L.A., Jamie Farr will be on the phone from his house in Bell Canyon and Gary Burghoff will be on the phone from Northern California.”
It’ll be a first of its kind reunion of the “M*A*S*H” gang in the digital age.
“It’s the first time all of those people have gotten together in years,” Alda said. “Even though we try to have a dinner every year, we can’t all make the dinner. … It’s going to be a really nice get together. I want to talk about what we discovered as actors that helped us relate in ways that are necessary in a show like that. These ways we found in connecting are unusual. … I’ve been acting a long time and I’ve never seen people do what we did.”
Alda has plenty of fond memories from shooting Larry Gelbart’s series from 1972-1983.
“In 11 years, there were so many wonderful things that happened both as a person and as an actor,” Alda said. “There were times we told a story in a completely different way from the conventional way [and] everybody on the set was galvanized. The prop person was more excited, the extras were more excited. There were things that brought us together, the pizza we would have on Friday night to sit around and talk about the previous week. Those were things that nobody would see … but they were things that made the show what it was.”
Their TV versions of Hawkeye, Hot Lips and Trapper John became more beloved than the originals by Donald Sutherland, Sally Kellerman and Elliot Gould in Robert Altman’s 1970 film.
“There are people who talk to me about the movie as though I was in it,” Alda joked. “One reason is we told our story 250 times. We were on 11 years. It embeds itself in your mind. They had an hour and a half to tell their story. That’s probably the main difference because we used many of the same sets, we used the same basic location, we were telling stories about the same characters, but we had our own way of doing it. We had our own flavor.”
To this day, the “M*A*S*H” finale holds the record as TV history’s most watched episode. Does he lament the loss of shared communal experiences in today’s splintered TV landscape?
“I don’t mind that things are splintered now — that means nobody will kill our record!” Alda joked. “It’s fun having that record. It was an amazing moment. We didn’t know how popular the show was until the night the last episode was playing. We were on our way to a restaurant to celebrate while the country was watching the show and suddenly we realized that the streets were practically empty. We said, ‘Oh my God, they’re all home watching the show!'”
After taking his final bow as Hawkeye, Alda successfully transitioned to the silver screen, including Woody Allen’s tragic-comedy masterpiece “Crimes & Misdemeanors” (1989).
“It’s one of the best movies ever made in America,” Alda said. “It’s an extraordinarily good movie. The serious stuff is poignant and covers a theme that is almost never covered: that people do bad things and never feel bad about it. We’d like to think a murderer’s conscience will get him, but not necessarily so. The comedy is very high-class comedy. It was the first time I worked with Woody Allen. It was a wonderful experience. I’m very glad to be in that picture.”
Since then, Alda has devoted himself to communication, taping a science program on PBS called “Scientific American Frontiers,” for which he interviewed hundreds of top scientists. Similarly, he also launched the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, which now receives all proceeds from the advertisements on the “Clear + Vivid” podcast.
“We trained 12,000 scientists,” Alda said. “They started coming to me saying, ‘This training is saving my marriage. … If you can communicate something as complex as science, you can communicate your emotions.’ … A hostage negotiator told me his techniques for negotiating the release of a hostage can be used in a marriage. There’s a joke in there somewhere!”
Find more details on the podcast website. Hear our full conversation with Alan Alda below:
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Alan Alda (Full Interview)