Of course, teenage Alan Alda plotted the perfect revenge against high school bullies
Later, while working on M*A*S*H, the FBI helped the TV star escape a real revenge plot.
Read to Me
For the M*A*S*H episode "The Most Unforgettable Characters," Hawkeye and B.J. pretend to get in a fight that unpredictably almost finds the best pals coming to real blows. It was a tense moment between friends that only Frank Burns could delight in.
On M*A*S*H, Alan Alda played Hawkeye with a certain machismo. He was as confident suavely mixing a drink as smoothly driving a golf ball. So it wasn't exactly out of character to see him losing his cool and almost throwing a right hook at B.J. Any man can be pushed.
As a young boy, though, Alda was never really interested in being macho, playing sports, or fighting. At his Catholic high school in suburban New York, he frequently got bullied by jocks who left mean notes on his desk every day because he just didn't fit in.
It took Alda a while before he found a couple of guys at school who he said were "more interested in writing than fighting." With his new pals, they convinced their English teacher, a young priest named Father McMahon, to swap out a book report homework assignment and instead write a comedy sketch about the assigned reading.
The priest encouraged his students to be creative, and this inspired them to spend all summer writing a play. They couldn't wait for Father McMahon to read it when school started again, and when he did, the priest was so enthusiastic, he offered to personally fund the entire production.
"This meant he'd have to pay for musical arrangements, scenery, and costumes," Alda wrote in his 2005 memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. "I didn't find out until much later how much he was risking by encouraging us. He had gone into personal debt to put the play on."
While Father McMahon was pouring his savings into supporting his students' dreams, Alda and his buddies were staging their musical. It was called Love's the Ticket!, and Alda said it shocked him when putting on his first play ended up solving his bullying problem.
"It seemed that everybody wanted to be in it: basketball players, football players, even the guys who had wanted to beat me up," Alda said. "Pretty soon, the bullies were up on the stage. And I had them dancing in a chorus line."
Instead of leaving mean notes, Alda said, "Now they were working on their dance steps and hoping their makeup wouldn't run. This was very close to the perfect revenge."
Alda's first play had the happiest ending of all when audiences came to see it, and the boys raised enough money to pay back the priest. For Alda, not even his first taste of acting meant as much as getting those bullies off his back.
"I was relieved that the bully days were over," Alda said.
Although Alda felt giddy describing his "revenge plot" as an adolescent, there came a time when he was making M*A*S*H when he had to get much more serious about threats of violence, when he learned about a very real revenge plot that the FBI believed might be executed against him.
In Alda's 2007 memoir, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, he explained that one day, two FBI agents visited the M*A*S*H set. They told him there was a young woman who recently escaped from a Florida mental hospital who said she was out for revenge against the actors Alan Alda and Clint Eastwood.
The FBI told Alda that the troubled woman believed he'd wronged her in the past.
"It seems Clint and I had abducted her in Los Angeles a couple years earlier," Alda said.
To protect Alda from this more serious threat than the jocks he'd shoved off his back in high school, M*A*S*H posted up a guard as a lookout on set for a long time, but fortunately, nothing ever came of the threat the FBI described. Alda could once again focus on the things he discovered he loved doing since he was a boy avoiding high school bullies: acting, writing, and directing.