Alan Alda's autobiography travels a path less taken. Instead of a sensationalist, name-dropping page-turner, Alda writes about his life as a memory play, an exercise in recollecting his childhood, his parents (dad Robert was a veteran on stage, film, and vaudeville), and his career. You want to know about Alda's most famous work, the eleven years on M*A*S*H? You have exactly 16 pages to do so, and guess what: It's one of the least entertaining parts of the book. But should fans of the award-winning actor-writer-director avoid this slim memoir? Not in the slightest. Slyly humorous and open-hearted, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is a breezy, most enjoyable read. Alda's ability to recall his childhood (including backstage at raunchy vaudeville shows), school years, stage struggles and successes is as entertaining as one of his Emmy-winning teleplays. Alda is inordinately attune recalling life's crystallizing moments: when religion no longer worked for him, how something in his pocket made him forever a better actor, or his mother's painful descent into dementia. Alda's ever present humor is a great asset whether telling a charming love story on meeting his wife Arlene or a life-threatening illness in a remote part of Chile ("I am in and out of consciences, but I never take a break from the screaming. The show must go on."). Like Alda's persona, his book is more human and less flash. What would be filler in most books is often the mot entertaining and revealing here; especially Alda's dynamic relationship with his parents. Really, who else would name his memoir after an unfortunate trip to the taxidermist? The year the book was published during a revival for the 69-year-old; he was nominated for an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony in the same year. --Doug Thomas
From Publishers Weekly
"My mother didn't try to stab my father until I was six," actor and author Alan Alda writes at the beginning of his autobiography. The child of a well-known actor, Alda (born Alphonso D'Abruzzo) spent his early years on the road with a burlesque troupe. The time spent on the stage wings, watching his father perform, made a profound impact on the youngster, igniting a desire to entertain others that has stayed with him his entire life. Just as profound was his mother's losing battle with mental illness; Alda spent much of his adult life attempting to reconcile his resentment of her outbursts and unmanageable behavior coupled with her unbridled enthusiasm for life and encouragement. Fueled by a desire to learn and constantly question, Alda carves out his own path; he marries and starts a family while continuing to act and write. His enthusiasm for new experiences-improv, musical theater, television, film-enabled him to grow as an artist, resulting in better jobs. (Alda discussed his most famous role, as Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H*, in 1985's The Last Days of M*A*S*H*.) Humble to a fault, Alda spends more time discussing his formative years than he does on his Emmies and Oscar nominations, which he glosses over. A significant chunk of the final third of the book is devoted to an epiphany Alda had after a health scare in Chile. It runs a bit long, but Alda's conversational style keeps the story on track. It's a brief but entertaining autobiography tempered with humility and a depth rarely found in celebrity memoirs.
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