|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Length: 235 pages
Start Date: Sept. 6, 2010
Finished Date: Sept. 18, 2010 (I should have finished it earlier but Pride & Prejudice cut in)
Where From: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: On a memoir-reading kick, I picked this up, having seen many Alan Alda movies and, after skimming it, realizing that his writing style is just as good as his acting style.
Summary: An unconventional memoir by respected and versatile actor Alan Alda about unusual, quirky experiences revolving around his family that formed his early unschooled education as an actor and have affected him thus far.
As the title suggests, this is a far from conventional literary memoir where Alan Alda translates good form from acting to writing, keeping the nostalgia readers will expect intact but giving the stories purpose rather than just to entertain or inform. Alda is a skilled writer and his life experiences are a melting pot for his development as an actor. He is humble, promoting the opposite of self-serving celebrity autobiographies of late—rarely does he use the words “I” or “me.” His on-screen persona as intelligent, witty, and somewhat nervous is transparent on the written page as his value as a veteran actor of stage, film, and TV is magnified by his skill as a writer.
The book is divided into 3 acts, a clever adoption of George Abbott’s take on playwriting that he cites as:
Act I- Get your hero up a tree
Act II- Throw rocks at him
Act III- Get him down again
His father, Robert Alda, was an actor of radio, burlesque, and (sparingly) film, who has an uncanny resemblance to Alda, and provided a venue for jokes and subtle influences for the younger Alda, who recalls judging his dad as not being a “serious” enough actor. He had a habit of directing his father when he read lines with him and even gave the older Alda a copy of Hamlet to study from, but ended up using it to better his own self-taught acting, learning the craft through ordinary means of osmosis. His mother, who had bouts of mental illness recognized as schizophrenia but never diagnosed, are recalled with several instances of paranoia and accusations of being spied on. Lighter moments, such as his first sweet encounter with wife Arlene, lighten what could have been an overwhelmingly dark memoir.
One thing I was hoping for that didn’t come through was more of his experiences in films, especially under Woody Allen’s direction. Alda refers more to his early stage work, M*A*S*H, and briefly Paper Lion, but perhaps this is brought up more in his follow-up memoir, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, which I will try down the road. If you enjoy Alda as an actor, I recommend reading this, but general readers may not be too intrigued. So, I'll give this an A as I really liked the book, but I will just recommend rather than "highly" recommend it.
Rank: (A)- Very Good, Recommend