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Alan Alda – Proud Italian American

Alan Alda – Proud Italian American

Alan Alda (born Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo; January 28, 1936) is an American actor, director, screenwriter, and author. A six-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner, he is best known for his starring roles as Captain Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series M*A*S*H and Arnold Vinick in The West Wing, and his supporting role in the 2004 film The Aviator, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Journalism and a member of the advisory board of The Center for Communicating Science and the Future of Life Institute. He serves on the board of the World Science Festival and is a judge for Math-O-Vision.

Alda was born Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo on January 28, 1936, in New York City, and had a peripatetic childhood as his parents traveled around the United States in support of his father’s job as a performer in burlesque theatres. His father, Robert Alda (born Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D’Abruzzo), was an actor and singer, and his mother, Joan Browne, was a homemaker and former beauty pageant winner. His father was of Italian descent and his mother was of Irish ancestry. His adopted surname, “Alda,” is a portmanteau of ALphonso and D’Abruzzo.

When Alda was seven years old, he contracted poliomyelitis. To combat the disease, his parents administered a painful treatment regimen developed by Sister Elizabeth Kenny that consisted of applying hot woollen blankets to his limbs and stretching his muscles. Alda attended Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York. In 1956, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Fordham College of Fordham University in the Bronx, where he was a student staff member of its FM radio station, WFUV. Alda’s half-brother, Antony Alda, was born that year (1956) and would also become an actor.

During Alda’s junior year, he studied in Paris, acted in a play in Rome, and performed with his father on television in Amsterdam. In college, he was a member of the ROTC, and after graduation, he served for a year at Fort Benning, and then six months in the U.S. Army Reserve.

In 1956, while attending Fordham University, he met Arlene Weiss, who was attending Hunter College. They bonded at a mutual friend’s dinner party; when a rum cake accidentally fell onto the kitchen floor, they were the only two guests who did not hesitate to eat it. A year after his graduation, they were married. They have three daughters: Eve, Elizabeth, and Beatrice. Two of his eight grandchildren are aspiring actors.

The Aldas have been longtime residents of Leonia, New Jersey. Alda frequented Sol & Sol Deli on Palisade Avenue in the nearby town of Englewood, New Jersey—a fact mirrored in his character’s daydream about eating whitefish from the establishment, in an episode of M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye sustains a head injury.

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