Larry Gelbart never wrote stage direction for Alan Alda
"He seemed to understand the part almost intuitively."
There’s a nature to the relationship between the cast and crew of M*A*S*H that almost feels symbiotic. The actors on set had such firm trust in the writers that they could genuinely believe in their plotlines and scenes as actors. The writers kept their faith that the actors understood their characters, and allowed for open communication between cast and crew. Because of this, M*A*S*H goes from a good show to a great one.
A notable example of this trust comes from the creator and producer of M*A*S*H, Larry Gelbart, who shared a show factoid about one Alan Alda. In an article in St. Joseph News-Press, Gelbart revealed, “In all the scripts I wrote for M*A*S*H, I never once wrote a stage direction for Alan Alda.” Gelbart explained his reasoning, and continued, “He seemed to understand the part almost intuitively, to expand it, to make it more meaningful, to infuse it with his own wit and tenderness and integrity.”
Gelbart also confessed, “I suspect that this is his last year of the show. From here on, he’ll probably concentrate on theatrical films. He’s never been hotter.” The article was published in 1979, but Alda, ever the dutiful soldier, marched on with M*A*S*H until its conclusion in 1983.
Of the show, Alda said to The Jackson Sun, “We were all dared on by the potential of it. That people can be at once nurturing, as these doctors and nurses are, and bestial, as the war is, represents such an unfathomable part of the human experience. To find people caught in that complex contradiction of actions - you never get to the bottom of that!” Still, Alda conceded, “There isn’t an unlimited number of stories, and copying ourselves would not be satisfying for us, or for the people watching. It’s time to move on.”
Alda also added that although he had faith in the material, he didn’t understand the complete impact that the series would have. He said, “I never thought we’d change the world. That’s asking too much. I thought we’d make people feel, make them rub up against their neighbors.”