Alan Alda's on-set ''clash'' with M*A*S*H director Jackie Cooper

Cooper used his autobiography to attack Alda, and even then couldn't come up with anything convincing.

Seldom is there heard a discouraging word about Alan Alda. A vast majority of the people who have worked with the actor/writer/director have only glowing praise to speak of him. From M*A*S*H through to The West Wing and even 30 Rock, his collaborators have all come forth with positive takeaways from their time spent with Alan Alda. It's rare to find an actor with this level of near-universal likability, but that's Alda. Everybody seemingly gets along with him, even the people who left M*A*S*H because he was such a star. 

However, in his 1982 autobiography, Please Don't Shoot My Dog, director and former child star Jackie Cooper recounts a few heated moments on the set of M*A*S*H. As Cooper claims, he may have seen a side of Alda that few others ever did. This wasn't the first time the two creatives worked together; Alda came close to starring in Jackie Cooper's directorial debut, Stand Up and Be Counted. Alda agreed to star in the movie if, and only if, a few changes were made to the script. However, producers interfered, the changes weren't made, and Alda stepped away from the project. Regardless, though, Alda left a good impression, one that was consistent with what Cooper had seen from the actor onscreen.

Cooper would later write about how those first impressions were upended years later on the set of CBS's M*A*S*H:

"On the surface, he was the man I had expected — very conscientious, very serious about his work, thoroughly professional about being on time, with his lines learned. However, beneath that serene surface, things were different."

Whether Cooper was unconsciously holding some animosity toward Alda or not, he continued to describe the tense mood he perceived while making the hit show. Rather than establish any precise wrongdoings in Alda's actions, Cooper paints a picture of an unmanaged set, writing about M*A*S*H productions that lacked the directorial governance of a strong leader. 

"Stevenson, Burghoff, and Loretta Swit were terrors," Cooper writes without specifying how or why. "So I asked Alda to intervene with them, for the good of the morale of the entire ensemble. After all, he was there every week and I wasn't. He refused. If any problem arose, he'd stalk off to his dressing room and sit there until the clouds had blown over."

While Alda would certainly find success as a director, he was on M*A*S*H strictly as an actor until well after Cooper stopped working on the show. To ask an actor to intervene in the people management duties of a director isn't just unprofessional, it also risks subverting the important on-set hierarchies necessary in a big television production.

Cooper includes one costly slip-up and tries to pass the blame onto Alda for reacting to a perceived slight.

"I said, 'If the producers had only wanted a funny person, they would have hired a Carl Reiner. But they wanted good actors, so they hired you.'"

For whatever reason, Cooper felt the statement would restore his rapport with the cast, but obviously, it didn't. To their credit, everyone involved in the cast remained professional until the episode wrapped filming. Alda, however, shortly thereafter confronted Cooper about the insult.

Cooper wrote, "'I want to tell you something,' he [Alda] began. 'You have no idea what kind of people we are. How dare you say the producers should have gotten a funny man like Carl Reiner in the show?'"

Cooper then spends the next two pages attempting to cast Alda as jealous and irrational in his "outburst." The truth though, comes through, even as Cooper tries to distort it. Alda was standing up for and protecting the other actors on M*A*S*H. It's clear even in Cooper's autobiography that his attempts to smear Alan Alda fall short, and that Alda did nothing wrong.


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19 Comments

sjbang88 28 days ago
Well, Jackie Cooper couldn't put one over on Lt. Columbo. As for Alan Alda, he has spent his career as a director as a Woody Allen wannabe, failing miserably.
Catscutet 1 month ago
I never watched MASH when it was on originally. Since ME TV, I have become a great fan of a show I love!
(I never watched because mom didn’t like it!!!)
JimmyAngel 1 month ago
Always preferred the early seasons to the later ones, I didn’t mind BJ the first season he was on, but when Larry Linville left the show changed dramatically and became very sanctimonious due to Alda and Farrells agendas
WVsassy 1 month ago
I was a kid when MASH originally aired. My parents didn’t watch it. They couldn’t stand Alan Alda. Ill watch an early episode once in a while, but I won’t give the BJ/Charles/Potter episodes the time of day. I have found that with MASH, people either love it or hate it. I lean towards the latter.
professorecho 1 month ago
Wow, what a puff piece on Alda and tear down of Cooper, who sounds perfectly reasonable to me with what he said and how he said it. MASH started out as a great, funny show, but over the years became increasingly self righteous and pedantic and unwatchable. For me it happens when Wayne Rogers exits as I could never stand that B.J. character. Alda took over everything and made it less a TV show than a polemic. After it ended I never watched it again in reruns and its lasting power baffles me.
19611313 1 month ago
Cannot watch MASH because of Alda.
He had to dominate every episode.
sagafrat69 1 month ago
MASH has many people WATCHING! That's the reason why it's on so much lol. Cooper was giving Burgoff a hard time, calling him "kid" and just being a jerk. Stevenson stepped in and told him enough. Cooper didn't direct many episodes in the series therafter. Can't really blame Alda or any other cast member for speaking up. Apparently not an easy guy to work for. He did lose his virginity to Joan Crawford when she was a Hollywood star and he was a teeny bopper. So some things do work out in show biz 😎😁
Andybandit 1 month ago
That is bad. They clashed with each other because MASH is on 2 many times on MeTv, just kidding.
John 1 month ago
Yes, that's the problem Alda never makes a mistake, he thinks.
MASH was much better in the first three years before it turned into the Alan Alda show and later the Hekyll and Jekyll show with the addition of BJ.
Alda's problem was he portrayed a rather seedy man with no morals and even less love for his country
Never cared for him!
McGillahooala 1 month ago
I prefer the work of Jackie Cooper to that of Alan Alda but I would have to say it sounds like Jackie overstepped on this one. Even when he’s berating these people he uses Carl Reiner as an example of a funny man. I can think of three dozen people working at that time that would be better examples of funny than Reiner.
WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
Sounds like sour grapes because Alda wouldn't be in Cooper's movie.
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Cooper was terrific in "Treasure Island" with Wallace Beery, one of the all time great adventure
movies. And who can forget when he was pitching woo to Miss Crabtree in a Little
Rascals short? I saw it recently on MeTV+, I hadn't seen it since I was a kid and it
really holds up. And it turns out Miss Crabtree was a babe, I didn't realize that back
in 4th grade in Westfield, NJ.
Yep,I knew someone would confuse Coogan with Cooper! Coogan was the bald one! He was in the last PM where he committed perjury to save Perry's client!
That is true. I believe it is or was called Coogan Law to ensure something like 15% of earnings must be saved for a child actor. I think the mother and stepfather bought furs, cars and whatnot.
WVsassy cperrynaples 1 month ago
According to Tom Mankiewicz’s book, “My life as a Mankiewicz: An insider’s journey through Hollywood”, Keenan Wynn had the role of Perry White, but suffered a heart attack, and then the role was given to Jackie Cooper. Hardly a rejected role. Also Jackie Cooper, as an adult, spent a lot of time behind the camera, as well as in front. To say that he was “another child star with adult problems” is laughable. Jackie Cooper was very successful in my eyes. The man’s career stretched out continuously for over 60 years.
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