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.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

15 Fun Facts About Betty White

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 98th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. Her name is Betty, not Elizabeth.

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. She's a Guinness World Record holder.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.

A photo of Betty White
Getty Images

Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. White's initial rise to stardom was derailed by World War II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. Her first sitcom hit was in the early 1950s.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she has won five times.

6. White loves a parade.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. She has been married three times.


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White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. Her meet-cute with husband number three happened on Password.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. White originally auditioned for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. If she hadn't been an actor, she'd have been a zookeeper.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. She passed on a role in As Good as It Gets because of an animal cruelty scene.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A Facebook campaign made White the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. She is the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.


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In 2014, White earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. She loves junk food.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. She wants Robert Redford.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
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White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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