Alan Alda,
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
(Random House, 2007)

Alan Alda told the American Academy of Arts graduating class, "Show up on time. Know your lines. Respect your director, your fellow actors and yourself." He advised them always to tell fellow actors "you were wonderful," whether they were or not. Not "the play was wonderful." That means the actor wasn't. He goes on to say, "There's an ecstasy to acting, and that ecstasy is a glorious experience, but acting is something else, too. It's a service to the people who come to the theater." Alda's latest book, Things I Overheard while Talking to Myself, is Alda's service to his many fans.

Alda writes that many people believe he is a doctor (he has spoken to graduating medical students) because of his 11-year comedy stint as Hawkeye, the disaffected, sarcastic but compassionate war-time doc on the enormously successful TV series M*A*S*H. A neighbor even confessed to him she had thought of calling him in a critical medical emergency. But though Alda is not Hawkeye the doctor, he embodies something of Hawkeye's wit and certainly his compassion. Alda is a long-time activist and idealist who has given back much to the audiences that enjoy his work.

Things I Overheard is a bright, well-paced mix of Alda's speeches, mostly to college graduating classes, juxtaposed with events from his long life. It is the second memoir he has undertaken in recent years (the first was Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, also reviewed on Rambles.NET), proving that the actor and director is also comfortable as an author.

Alda once gave up a chance for a $50,000 paycheck because he wouldn't do a cigarette commercial. "That was when values kicked in." He's always chosen his material with an eye to its social content, and also managed to make his productions, when he had the say-so, vehicles for other people's talents. The book is peppered with stories both hilarious and tender, about Alda's aspirations, some of his failures and his encounters with daughters and grandchildren. He writes about Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Anne Bancroft and the heroic workers cleaning up in the aftermath of 9-11 (he sent them a truckload of Hershey bars).

Toward the end of the book he quotes himself from a speech made in 2003, "We have the miserable luck to live in fascinating times." This means anything could happen. He advises those graduates, "Don't let the world tell you that success is a big house if you think success is a happy home." These are the kinds of aphorisms that are strewn almost carelessly throughout this delightful upbeat book.

I'm not sure Hawkeye was an optimist, but I'm sure Alan Alda is.

review by
Barbara Bamberger Scott

6 October 2007

what's new