8 things you never knew about Alan Alda

From smoking a pipe as a toddler to acting in zombie stories with Mark Hamill, the career of the M*A*S*H star is quite surprising.

Top image: Associated Press

If your movie needs a wise elder figure of authority, he is the one to cast, as Spielberg did in Bridge of Spies.

Yet the actor has always projected an air of wisdom. In hindsight, it seems as if he was always playing someone intelligent or mature for his age (if you can overlook the pranks on M*A*S*H) — and that traces all the way back to his toddlerhood.

To celebrate eight decades of the life and career of television's beloved Hawkeye, here are eight things you might not know about Alan Alda.

1. He smoked a pipe at the age of two.

Well, at least once. Alda's father performed in burlesque theaters, and for a bit of publicity in Toronto his parents posed the toddler with a pipe for the paper The Daily Star. "CHILD OF TWO SMOKES PIPE, ONCE BROKE MOTHER'S NOSE," the headline proclaimed. "I don't remember my mother telling me I had broken her nose," Alda recalled in his first memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. "My mother was quoted as saying they'd hoped I'd get sick and never smoke again but that I liked it."

Image: The Telegraph

2. He made his television debut on 'The Phil Silvers Show' playing a millionaire.

In "Bilko the Art Lover," Alda portrayed a 25-year-old former barracks mate of Bilko who is due to inherit millions. Bilko shows up to squeeze some cash from the old pal, but it turns out, that inheritance money has yet to arrive. Alda's character is a starving artist. The 1958 episode of The Phil Silver Show would be Alda's first screen credit.

3. He co-starred on Broadway with Diana Sands in 'The Owl & The Pussycat'.

Alda was the "Owl," Sands the "Pussycat" in this acclaimed Broadway play by Bill Manhoff. The two are the only actors on stage in the romantic comedy. Subsequent stagings of the play, and the film version, omitted the original interracial relationship of the two leads. The first interracial kiss on television would not happen until 1967.

4. He lost the 1969 Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leonard Whiting.

Alda's big screen breakthrough came in the 1968 biopic of George Plimpton, Paper Lion. If you're wondering who Leonard Whiting is, don't feel bad. After playing the leading lover in Romeo and Juliet, he only made a few more films.

Image: Associated Press / Marty Lederhandler

5. He was the only actor to appear in all 251 episodes of 'M*A*S*H'.

Alda also directed the finale, one of 31 episodes he helmed. His first time behind the camera for M*A*S*H was "Mail Call" in season two.

6. He succeeded Donald Sutherland in two different acting roles.

The first is well known — Hawkeye Pierce. Sutherland played the character in the film. In 1993, Sutherland would co-star in Six Degrees of Separation with Will Smith in the role of Flan. Later, Alda voiced the character in the audio book. Alda reportedly told Sutherland, "Thank you for my life," when the two bumped into each other at a gala for the Queen of England.

Image: Associated Press / Liu Heung Shing

7. He was the voice in a popular zombie apocalypse story alongside Martin Scorsese, Mark Hamill and more.

While on the topic of audio books, we would be remiss to overlook Alda's part in this unlikely superstar cast. The 2007 spoken word edition of the best-selling zombie apocalypse story roped in dozens of celebrities, everyone from Carl Reiner and Alfred Molina to Simon Pegg and Common.

8. He has played a Senator three times, and reportedly considered a run for Senate.

Alda just has that air of a statesman about him. Sen. Joe Tynan in The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), Sen. Arnold Vinick in The West Wing (1999) and Sen. Owen Brewster in The Aviator (2004). The latter was a real person. When New Jersey's Sen. Bill Bradley announced his retirement in 1995, it is said that Alda mulled a run for the vacant seat.

Image: The Aviator

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