Alan Alda's vivid dreams led to one of M*A*S*H's most unforgettable episodes

Here's proof that the stuff of the Hawkeye actor's nightmares made for great TV.

Read to Me

Margaret in a bloody wedding gown. Mulcahy as Pope discovers a soldier hung from a crucifix. Hawkeye floating in a sea of detached limbs.

The M*A*S*H episode "Dreams" was a nightmare to watch in all the best ways. It was written by Alan Alda, who often calls it his favorite episode. It won a Humanitas Prize, and the Writers Guild of America liked it so much, it became the show's first episode to get nominated as both best drama and comedy.

For Alda, dreams have much more significance than for many of us.

Later diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, he said it was an unusual dream that led him to be diagnosed with the neurological disorder. "I asked for a scan because I thought I might have it," Alda told CBS News in 2018. "I read an article by Jane Brody in The New York Times that indicated that if you have — if you act out your dreams, there's a good chance that might be a very early symptom, where nothing else shows."

"By acting out your dreams, I mean I was having a dream where someone was attacking me and I threw a sack of potatoes at them, and what I was really doing was throwing a pillow at my wife," Alda said.

On M*A*S*H, Alda literally acted out his dreams, and the inspiration for "Dreams" came likely in part because, at home, he and his wife Arlene were always discussing their dreams. She said in her 2015 memoir Just Kids from the Bronx that at one point she had a picture-perfect memory of her dreams.

"I used to be able to remember my dreams," Arlene recalled. "I always loved this." Alda shared this vivid memory for his dreams, too, and in his 2005 memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed he recalled a particularly troubling nightmare he had while making M*A*S*H:

"I'm walking in Atlantic City. I turn a corner and out on the ocean I see two large cruise ships lying on their sides. I have a feeling of dread. I walk quickly, anxiously, until I find an entrance to a tunnel. Underground, I open a door and there are twelve people around a table. We eat and drink some wine. We're all strangers, but there's a feeling of fellowship, all of us having made it to safety. We introduce ourselves around the table. The last person to introduce himself is a man with a bald head. 'Well,' he says. 'I'm known by many names.' Instantly, I pitch forward, my head thudding the table in death.”

Later in his life, Alda's intense dreams would evoke nightmares from being an actor onset.

He had a recurring dream where he’d be making a movie with a different famous actor and inevitably, at some point in the dream, Alda would request to stop shooting so he could run an errand far from the studio. In each of these dreams, the stress of being delayed returning to set got worse and worse. This, too, felt ominous, like an approaching ending. "I kept getting drawn farther and farther away from my obligations," Alda wrote.

On M*A*S*H, Alda's obligations kept multiplying, as he went from the show's star to one of its key directors and writers. Although his vivid dreams have haunted his whole life, how he describes his time on set proves they aren't the only vivid imagines rattling around in his head. There are happy ones, too.

"I have very vivid memories of the first show I directed, which happened to include a picnic with 80 extras and a lot of stuff happening," Alda told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was very exciting for me. I remember skipping down the sidewalk of the airport terminal on my way home that weekend thinking I can do it."

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DanielZabo 29 days ago
I have always had this dream of not being able to find my car/Jeep? Not always the same street or people with me though? It’s odd and I’ve never been able to put it together as to why this dream keeps popping up in my dreams? This dream has come to me over 20 times give or take a few. Anything anyone?
AnnieM DanielZabo 28 days ago
I sympathize. Whenever I'm stressed I always dream about my car being stolen. Here's a pretty thorough analysis: https://www.dreamdictionary.org/dream-dictionary/car-dreams/
DanielZabo AnnieM 27 days ago
Thank you so much......& best wishes
F5Twitster 30 days ago
"Later in his life, Alda's intense dreams would evoke nightmares from being an actor onset."

Huh? What does that mean?
I think this wasn't proofread as well as it could have been. I believe we're missing a space between "on" and "set". Thus, 'Alda's intense dreams would evoke nightmares from being an actor on set' reads a little more logically.
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F5Twitster 30 days ago
Well, "Ilovecomumbo," I knew Peter Falk, and I also know he would tell you where you can take your opinion of "M*A*S*H" AND your crap-headed politics.
JHP 30 days ago
dont like it

its like a steak in a bakery
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DanielZabo 29 days ago
Now that’s a fact!
BrianThetubewatcher 1 month ago
The first dream, which starts as Margaret lies down in her tent, is sprung on viewers with no explanation. It was the eeriest and best stunner device in TV history. The viewer asks, what on Earth is happening, then after about a second we realize, oh we’re being taken on a dream. Totally cool! Leave it to M*A*S*H to innovate this way. Tuning in to every episode was enthralling. You knew your soul and mind would be stimulated, no matter what the plot would be.
harlow1313 1 month ago
I find this episode to be one of the most creative in the series. Each segment had a haunting eeriness.

Pardon a vulgarity, but I feel compelled to say F*** Parkinson's disease.

Winning is temporary.
Andybandit 1 month ago
Alan Alda acted really well in this episode. I liked this episode.
LoveMETV22 1 month ago
I clearly remember that episode. Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Dementia are such vicious diseases. It is heart wrenching to watch them progress and rob the individual of their well being and eventually their life. Thank You MeTV for this article. I feel for Alan Alda it's no joking matter. Very good article.
My mom was having the early stages of Dementia. I understand what you're saying. I am not sure how she came to thinking this, but would think that my dad was having an affair, which he never did. Occasionally, mom would get calls from people she or dad knew. I remember the conversations would somehow get to this, and she'd go into detail about so and so, would see dad with someone parked in some parking lot. My mom was an honest person, she told these stories so vividly, that if you didn't know her, you would believe her. It got to the point, where they would become graphic, and mom was not known to talk like this. I can recall she and I would be having a quite conversation, (I referred to these as her "lucid moments,") then all of a sudden, she would be yelling at me. I tried to talk to her like I usually did, but I was told not to do so. Just to walk away. Which I did. Then later on she would come by my room and apologize. I know the situation might have different, if Becky, (my sister,) could've helped me, but I was alone she couldn't help. She was sick. Once she passed, my mom's outbursts became more frequent and she less lucid moments. This would've happened anyway, but mom losing Becky, put her over the edge.
All these neurodiseases, (or whatever they're called,) STINK! My heart goes out to all that are suffering, (or know someone that is,) from them.
Thank You for your share. Unfortunately there are no cures (as of yet) for these neurological diseases. I feel for anyone who has or is experiencing the cruel progression of these disorders.Not an easy thing to watch.
carrman stephaniestavr5 30 days ago
My Grandfather had beginning dementia but in small town early 70's it wasn't spoken of.
He would accuse My grandmother of sneaking across the street to the single neighbors cooking for him cleaning & his house Even though she never went over there. She never told my dad it was happening so maybe he could have done something about it till it was too late she said mainly because he lived in another city and she didn't want to bother him. 😢
It was on a Thursday that she finally called him and told him the story He came to town that Saturday and confronted his dad, which was the first time he had ever done anything like that, and sadly my grandfather had a heart attack The following Monday and died.
My daddy never forgave himself for what he called "talking back" to his own father.
rraynard 1 month ago
It's amazing how a condession can make dreams seam so real.
You mean "condition?"
Yes I meant condition. Thank you.
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