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Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned Hardcover – September 13, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 339 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (September 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064090
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064090
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (339 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #919,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on September 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Highly regarded actor Alan Alda provides a deep autobiography, but not the usual kiss and tell scintillating tale of sin city. Instead his superbly written memoir grips readers starting with the stunning opening comment that "My mother didn't try to stab my father until I was 6 ..." and never lets up until he finishes his memoirs. Readers will gain an understanding of what has motivated Mr. Alda through his use of humor, charm, and the macabre such as the title of his book referring to sending the family's deceased pet Rhapsody to be stuffed by a taxidermist. Those readers seeking a Hollywood exposé need to search elsewhere as Mr. Alda has been married to the same woman for almost fifty years without referring to any side trysts. Even his long movie and TV career except for some intriguing insights into M*A*S*H is a quick glimpse with external anecdotes to remind him how fleeting fame is. Instead he concentrates on the major personal events like polio treatment or touring as a kid with his parents, his father being a star of burlesque so as a kid he traveled with the strippers, but especially his mom's schizophrenia that haunts him today with a fear he will join her in her dark room. This autobiography is one of the best out there as Mr. Alda lays out his soul including those demons eating at it, but never points the finger at his peers.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Hardcover
Emmy-award winning star of screen and stage, Alan Alda never was the prototypical Hollywood star. Now indelibly associated with MASH and the 1970's, his life was---and is----much more beyond Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce. In his own words, Alda's autobiography delivers a sentimental portrait of this second generation actor.

The son of actor Robert Alda, Alan knew that he also wanted to act from an early age. However there were some initial bumps to the dream being realized. In addition to coping with a childhood bout of polio, the younger Alda also dealt with a mentally ill mother. Using his trademark humor, Alda recounts how his love for mom existed alongside concern what she would do to the family and/or herself. Given what people were being treated with back then, keeping her at home was the infinitely more compassionate option-albeit not without its own challenges upon the family. Such experiences ultimately prompted Alan to develop his trademark sensitivity to others.

Family is a recurring theme throughout this book. In a profession where marriages are acquired and discarded like consumer goods, his 48-year marriage to Arlene really is something to brag about. They've also managed to raise three daughters, again defying the Hollywood odds of the `dysfunctional family' being an inevitable counterbalance to meteoric fame. I'm guessing the Washington D.C. `family values' crowd is too busy protecting the sanctity of marriage to take notice of somebody who actually illustrates it.

Politics is another theme running throughout this book. Bucking the route taken by many other leading men, Alda used his celebrity to lobby on behalf of the feminist movement.
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Format: Hardcover
There's simply nothing wrong with this book. In prose that flows so smoothly you'll want to down the whole of it in one sitting Alan Alda, whose TV personae most of us will have admired for years, shows himself to be in real life an affable, intelligent, intellectually curious, normal, nice guy. Who can write well. He begins with one of the best first lines of a book I've ever read: "My mother didn't try to stab my father until I was six, but she must have shown signs of oddness before that." And he goes on to tell the story of his life in roughly chronological order: from a dysfunctional childhood spent in the wings of the burlesque theaters in which his father worked, to his own years--many of them--as a struggling actor, to the more lucrative period of his career.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is not what one might expect of a celebrity memoir, not only because it is so very good but also because there is, you come to realize, so very little celebrity in it. Alda notices this himself about two-thirds of the way into the book in a prelude to his discussion of the amusing and unpleasant side effects of fame. ("This is what getting famous does to you, I thought. You wind up sending suicidal people form letters.") Alda does not here recite his stepping stones to greatness. He rather gives an honest account of his growth as an actor and a person over the years--how his intellect was challenged and changed, how he struggled to act rather than just perform. Nor does he shy away from self-criticism. There are no great faux pas to which Alda must confess, no substance abuse or extra-marital dalliances, but he does something arguably more difficult.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished listening to Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I've Learned by Alan Alda. I was surprised and slightly disappointed at the start that Alda did not read the book himself, but the compelling story soon let me forget his vocal absence. Having seen countless episodes of M*A*S*H and movies starring Alda and knowing his voice well, I almost heard his voice telling the story. His writing sends his voice well without the actual sound. Some of the story is so emotional, it might have been difficult for him to read.

I was surprised that Alda's earliest memories came from the period of traveling around the U.S. with his father on the Burlesque Circuit of the 1930s. I think of Alda as much too young to have ever seen something so ancient as Burlesque. I always equate him with the generation of college students protesting Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That is when M*A*S*H debuted. That's where I had pegged him. On further reflection, I can seeing the Burlesque influence in his work.

The story about the stuffing of a pet dog comes from Alda's youth. His father was an actor under a Warner Brothers' contract during World War II, and the family was living in a house in rural California. The author had been given the dog as a companion during his polio quarantine. It died a very strange and shocking death after eating leftovers. Its stuffing, suggested by Alda's father, did not succeed in lessening the pain of the memory of its death. Even as a child, the author saw how misguided the gesture was, and the story became for him a standard by which to measure other episodes in his life.

Readers wanting M*A*S*H stories to dominate the book will be disappointed.
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