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Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned    by Alan Alda order for
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed
by Alan Alda
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I recently introduced my teen sons to early M*A*S*H seasons on DVD. They were instantly addicted and I was delighted by the satirical fun all over again. I reacted to Alan Alda's memoir in much the same way as I did to the series. In Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned, an intelligent, humane, and very funny man shares much of what he has discovered about acting and about life. Just as when playing Hawkeye Pierce, he made me laugh a lot and cry a little.

Alan Alda (born Alphonso D'Abruzzo) certainly had an unusual childhood. His dad was in burlesque, and as a small boy, Alda was on the road with his parents, in 'a world of gambling and drinking and the frequent sight of the buttocks, thighs, and breasts of naked women ... How could you not want to explore a place like this?' He downplays the tough times (he had polio as a child and his mother's mental illness worsened over the years) and even milks past trauma for humor - his father really did have his dog Rhapsody stuffed, in a mistaken attempt to comfort his grieving son after Alda's beloved pet died.

Alda speaks of his acting career, including an early decision point 'between burlesque and theater; between performing and acting.' He chose acting, and discusses what Hamlet's reaction to actors expressing emotions on stage - 'What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?' - meant to him. He reveals how part-time jobs (such as a psychiatrist's paid hypnosis experiment) actually helped with acting, and explains how his improvization skills evolved. And, very welcome to his fans, he talks about learning by doing on M*A*S*H, telling us that, on the set, 'trust is where the gold is'.

Despite a chapter on 'famous women i have kissed', Alda doesn't offer insider stories about the rich and famous, but rather a wry, modest look at his own life, culminating in his involvement with Scientific American Frontiers and a brush with death and emergency surgery in Chile. In his book, Alan Alda continually questions - life, the universe, acting ... and taxidermy. He ends with this sage and succinct advice for the rest of us: 'Just live. Laugh a little.'

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