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Stuffed dogs, burlesque & M*A*S*H
by Asa Butcher
2007-09-15 09:15:38
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Never Have Your Dog Stuffed
Written by Alan Alda
Arrow Books Ltd, 2007

There was one thing that I never knew about Alan Alda until I started reading his autobiography: I don't really like him! I don't hate him, but he has never ranked among my favourite actors or made me want to watch anything just because he was among the cast. "Why did I read his autobiography?" I hear you muttering under your breath, well, the answer is the title Never Have Your Dog Stuffed piqued my interest.

Come on, how can you not resist reading a book that offers such a bizarre warning on the dangers surrounding taxidermy? His advice is explained within the first few chapters and I admit that he is right… you should never have your dog or any pet stuffed. When I think of Alan Alda my brain immediately goes to "M*A*S*H" and his defining role as Hawkeye Pierce, which followed on from Donald Sutherland's movie depiction.

I guess that was the next problem: I was never a regular viewer of "M*A*S*H", so his eleven years in the series presented no interest, but there was hope. I was a devoted fan of "West Wing" and his appearance as presidential candidate Senator Arnold Vinick in the final season brought a further touch of class to the series along with Jimmy Smits' Matt Santos. As I read his autobiography he also kept popping up in films that I happened to watch, such as Martin Scorsese's The Aviator for which he nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 2004 Academy Awards.

One outcome that resulted from reading about his life was a new respect for him as a man and the difficulties he has had to face over the course of his life so far. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed begins with the line, 'My mother didn't try to stab my father until I was six, but she must have shown signs of oddness before that.' This line sets the tone for the dramatic circumstances of his family life, such as his mother's battle with schizophrenia, his own near-death experiences and the mental battle at learning how to act.

Even though I as not a "M*A*S*H" fan, it was quite disappointing that the eleven years he starred as Hawkeye Pierce was seemingly rushed through. Maybe there are dozens of other books already published that are dedicated to the series, but I did expect a little more than the single chapter Alan Alda dedicated to it. Naturally, there are a few anecdotes in that chapter, yet I ended that chapter wanting to know more.

While reading Never Have Your Dog Stuffed I had a strange feeling that is still difficult to clearly explain. The book was not laugh out loud funny, there are times when Alan Alda appears to bare his soul and give an honest description of himself at various periods of life, which reveals some of his early arrogance. I guess it is this arrogance that doesn't make you love him and it takes some time before you learn to overlook a young man's personality and there is an obvious neurosis concerning the fear of becoming like his schizophrenic mother.

Obviously Alan Alda fans will love his autobiography and have probably already read it, which leaves the rest of us who give very little thought to actors and actresses that have never made the A-list, but have consistently been there in the background of TV series and Woody Allen movies! Never Have Your Dog Stuffed has its moments, gives you insight into Mr Alda's life and teaches about the unexpected outcome of immortalising a family pet.

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