Alan Alda

On this date in 1936, Alan Alda (né Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo) was born in New York, N.Y. He began acting at the age of 16, a hobby that he continued during his time at Fordham University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English in 1956. After graduating, he spent time performing at the Cleveland Playhouse and on Broadway. Alda’s best-known acting role is starring as surgeon Hawkeye Pierce on the television show “M*A*S*H” (1972–1983), for which Alda wrote and directed numerous episodes (1973–1983). Besides “M*A*S*H,” Alda has acted in a plethora of movies, including “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) and “The Aviator” (2004). He has also written and directed films such as “The Four Seasons” (1981) and performed in Broadway plays including “QED” (2001–2002), in which he portrayed Richard Feynman. Alda hosted the television shows “Scientific American Frontiers” (1993–2007) and “The Human Spark” (2010). He was awarded a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Actor in 1975, and won an Emmy in 2006 for his portrayal of a Republican senator on “The West Wing” (2004-2006). Alda's character, Senator Arnold Vinick, stopped going to church and often battles the religious right in his own party. Although he's asked by the young daughter of a campaign staffer, Vinick doesn't directly say he is an atheist. He and his wife, Arlene, a photographer, were married in 1957 and have three daughters.

Alda is open about his lack of belief, but prefers to identify simply as a nonbeliever rather than as an atheist or agnostic. He told the Edge Foundation, “I still don't like the word agnostic. It's too fancy. I'm simply not a believer. But, as simple as this notion is, it confuses some people. Someone wrote a Wikipedia entry about me, identifying me as an atheist because I'd said in a book I wrote that I wasn't a believer.” Alda is interested in science and cosmology, and hosted the PBS show “Scientific American Frontiers” from 1993 until 2007. He is also an advocate for feminism, and was involved in the campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. He has written two books, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (2005) and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007).

“For a while in my teens, I was sure I had it. It was about getting to heaven. If heaven existed and lasted forever, then a mere lifetime spent scrupulously following orders was a small investment for an infinite payoff. One day, though, I realized I was no longer a believer, and realizing that, I couldn’t go back.”

—Alan Alda, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007).

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Eleanor Wroblewski

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