Alan Alda discusses Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.
At 69, Alda was having a year actors dream of: nominated for an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy, his career couldn't get better. Then a near-death experience left Alda reflecting on his personal adventures as an actor, husband, father, friend and activist- The Commonwealth Club of California
Alan Alda has recently had the distinction of being nominated for an Oscar, a Tony, and an EMMY - as well as publishing a bestselling book - all in the same year.
His memoir, entitled Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Other Things I've Learned, became a New York Times bestseller.
His 2005 EMMY nomination was for his role as Arnold Vinick, Republican candidate for the presidency on "The West Wing" (which brought him two SAG Award nominations in the same year, Best Actor and Best Ensemble in a Drama Series). He also received a Tony nomination for his role in the Broadway revival of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross." On film that year, he appeared in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator," for which he received a nomination for an Academy Award and was also nominated for a British Academy Award.
2006 honors include his 32nd Emmy nomination and winning his sixth Emmy for his appearance on "West Wing" (Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series) as well as the National Science Board's Public Service Award, and his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He has earned international recognition as an actor, writer and director. In addition to "The Aviator," films include "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Everyone Says I Love You," "Flirting With Disaster," "Manhattan Murder Mystery," "And The Band Played On," "Same Time, Next Year" and "California Suite," as well as "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," which he wrote, and also "The Four Seasons," "Sweet Liberty," "A New Life," and "Betsy's Wedding," all of which he wrote and directed.
For his role in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" he won the D.W. Griffith Award, the NY Film Critics Award, and was nominated for a British Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.
On Broadway, he has appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play "QED." He starred in the first American production of the international hit play "ART." In addition to his nomination for "Glengarry," he was also nominated for the Tony Award for his performances in Neil Simon's "Jake's Women" and the musical "The Apple Tree." Other appearances on Broadway include "The Owl and the Pussycat", "Purlie Victorious" and "Fair Game for Lovers" for which he received a Theatre World Award.
On television, he hosted the award winning series "Scientific American Frontiers" on PBS for eleven years, interviewing leading scientists from around the world.
He played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic television series "M*A*S*H," and also wrote and directed many of the episodes. Alda is the only person to be honored by the TV Academy as top performer, writer and director. His 32 Emmy nominations include one in 1999 for his performance on "ER." In 1994 he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
Other Television performances include "Truman Capote's The Glass House" and "Kill Me If You Can," for which he received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Caryl Chessman, the inmate who spent 12 years on death row.
He has won the Director's Guild Award three times for his work on television, and has received six Golden Globes from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and seven People's Choice Awards, and has been nominated for two Writer's Guild Awards.
Alan Alda was born in New York City, the son of the distinguished actor, Robert Alda. He began acting in the theater at the age of 16 in summer stock in Barnesville, Pennsylvania.
During his junior year at Fordham University, he studied in Europe where he performed on the stage in Rome and on television in Amsterdam with his father.
After college, he acted at the Cleveland Playhouse on a Ford Foundation grant. On his return to New York, he was seen on Broadway, off-Broadway and on television. He later acquired improvisational training with "Second City" in New York and "Compass" at Hyannisport. That background in political and social satire led to his work as a regular on television's "That Was the Week That Was."
For twenty years he was a member of the Board of the Museum of Television & Radio, and for ten years, from 1989 to 1999, he was a Trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Ms. Timothy Near, is the Artistic Director of San Jose Repertory Theatre. Ms. Near received critical acclaim for the direction of The Crucible during the 2005-2006 season. Now entering her nineteenth season with the Rep, her many directing credits include Wintertime, The Odd Couple, ART, By the Bog of Cats...., Amy's View, Legacy, Three Days of Rain, Thunder Knocking on the Door and The Little Foxes. Under her directorship, the Rep has produced eight world premieres, 28 West Coast premieres and created the New American Playwrights Festival.
Ms. Near has directed at numerous theaters around the U.S. including the Guthrie Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Ford's Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, New York Shakespeare Festival and A Contemporary Theatre of Seattle.
Awards and accolades include the Dramalogue award for her direction of Ghosts on Fire at La Jolla Playhouse, Fire in the Rain...Singer in the Storm at the Mark Taper Forum and Thunder Knocking at the Door. Ms. Near is also a recipient of the Woman of Achievement in the Arts Award, given by the San Jose Mercury News and The Women's Fund. Ms. Near is also an actress and the recipient of New York's Obie Award for her performance in Still Life.
Good evening and welcome to tonight's program presented by the Commonwealth ClubSilicon Valley, Kepler's Bookstore and San Jose Repertory Theatre. My name is BillHighlander and I will be your chair for this evening. Our thanks to the Bernard OsherFoundation for generously supporting tonight's special program. It's my pleasure tointroduce Alan Alda award winning actor, writer, director and author of "Things IOverheard While Talking to Myself". After graduated from college and serving a sixmonths throughout duty in the US army reserve. Alan began performing at the ClevelandPlayhouse, Chicago Second City and on Broadway. It has been 11 years and one of hismost terrible roles is Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H where he wrote and directed anumber of episodes include the show's finale. With additional fringes in Woody Allen's"Crimes and Misdemeanors", his solemn movie "The Four Seasons" and hosting the PBSseries "Scientific American Frontiers", Alan continued to define himself as a talented andversatile writer, director and actor. Last year Alan hit the trifecta of acting distinctionsreceiving his 32nd Emmy nomination and sixth Emmy win for his role as conservativepolitician, Arnold Vinick on the final season of the West Wing. A Tony nomination asShelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross, and his first Academy Award nomination for hisportrayal of Senator Ralph Owen Brewster Martin Scorsese's The Aviator. His memoir"Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I've Learned" spent 19 weeks on theNew York Times bestseller list. In addition to acting, Alan's role as an activist includessupporting organizations like the Equal Rights Committee, St. Jude's Children's Hospitaland the Ginger Foundation which he founded with his wife Arlene and has dedicatedhelping women and children. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Alan Alda.Thank you - thank you thank you very much. Thank you, very nice to see you tonightand I really appreciate your coming and hearing a little about about this second book Iwrote which is this Sunday it's going to be on the New York Times best seller list, so Iam really excited about that.This book was it's the second book that I wrote and it it starts off where the first oneleaves off which was one a mountain top in Chile where - and you may have heard thisbefore because it's you might have heard me talking about the first book but I will justpick you up if you have "oh hi up there, hello, hi". Well, that's nice. I will pick you up onthe story in case you don't know it. and I was doing my science program, scientificAmerican frontiers in Chile and I was up on top of a mountain 8,000 feet up talking toastronomers in an observatory and I was waiting to interview them for the final interviewor so at the end of 10 years of doing the show it was this last interview of these - this10 year period. And I got this gurgle in my stomach and didn't know what it was Ithought may be it was the chilly peppers that I had the day before and it wasn't thathello come in. oh, that's your camera no don't make any noise with that camera.So it turned out to be this unbelievably terrible pain and I was doubled over in pain. Andand they had a they had a medic there who, I don't think like gets called on too muchand and he came over, he said how are you feeling? I said "well, it's a horrible pain andit's it's moved down over here to the lower right, may be it's I think may be it's myappendix". And he said, I think so too.So I wasn't real confident about that, then they put me they had an ambulance there. Itlooked just like the ambulances we had on M*A*S*H. These ambulances went back tothe Second World War you know, and they didn't run too well. And neither did this, theystuck me in the back and they couldn't get the ambulance started. And they werepounding on the hood and trying to figure out how to get and I am lying in the back ofthe I am screaming in pain. So finally, they get me going and we go down an hour and ahalf down a bumpy road to this this little town called La Serena where there was smallhospital, and in that hospital there to meet me was Dr. Nelson Zepeda who was an expertin intestinal surgery. And I any way, they have got a lot of expert surgeons in Chile but II think I was lucky that he was there that night in La Serena. And he he did a lot oftests on me because he knew what was, he knew he knew that field. He could diagnosisit right away which was very important because I had about this much about a yard ofmy intestine that was dead and there was a little more dying every few minutes and inabout two hours I will be dead along with my intestines. So, he he - by now he had meon a little morphine, so I wasn't feeling so - and I think I like the morphine a lot then.You know, I am just used to a little vine, a glass of beer, but this was quite at a departure it's very -And and that he he leaned in till I faced. And he said, "Now now here is what'shappened. Some of your intestine has gone bad and we have to cut out the bad part andsaw good ends together." And I said, "Oh, you are going to do an end to endanastomosis?" You should have seen his face when I said that, He said, "How do youknow that?" I said, "Oh, I did many of them on M*A*S*H." and then you know that'strue, I that was the first operation I learned about on M*A*S*H and he had a sort ofknow what you were you know, what the idea was, so your hands were going in theright place, things like that and and while M*A*S*H was on the air, he was watchingM*A*S*H, while he was in high school. So, good two of this is two of us came tothis from a fictional background to this evening.And it was a it was a very you know, it was very interesting. I didn't I didn't getscared which surprised me a lot because I I; - all my life I had thought I I want toknow exactly how I I am going to die. I going to die in my sleep, I don't want to noticeit, you know. And here, I was just taking care of business. I I dictated a letter to my wifeand and to my children and grand children and and then they put me out. And well,the end of the story is I lived. And and in fact, my my, I was wondered when two ofour daughters came - we have three daughters and two of them came down to to see mein Chile while I was recuperating for a few days. And my middle daughter was veryfunny. Said, "Wait a second, hold hold it. You see, you dictated your last words andand we don't know where they are, we don't know what happened to them. May be youleft everything to me." She has a good sense of humor, I admit. So, I got back to theStates and I was really-really glad to be alive. I mean, I was I was a little euphoric and II just wondered I was very much aware that every thing that I went through, everydaywas something that wouldn't have happened if on that night October 19th, four yearsago if I had just gone, checked out. And it's very interesting I - I think a lot ofwho go through this have have bumped into a number of them now; some of themhaving had the same operation.Everybody feels really glad to be here. It's a it's a wonderful feeling to be that aware ofyour life. And I had loved my life before this and I was - I enjoyed everything that I didand yet, now I was enjoying it even more. And I was looking for ways to get even morejuice out of it because now I mean; we have a greater awareness you know, that that thistime is limited. Certainly when we were kids, we think it's going to go on forever. Andeven as we get older, we we know it's kind of indefinite. But before you realize, if theymight come a day sometimes when it's going to stop and when ever that is, I I kept thatfeeling going for a long time that I wanted to be able to to enjoy it and and then Istarted to get this things up - I didn't want to just enjoy it. I wanted to get the most out ofit and feel the most satisfied with it. In fact, I have started looking over I started lookingover talks that I have given, - things I had said to young people, then I get commencementcommencement exercise or thing I had said to my children or my grandchildren; Ithought back on them. And I was trying to figure out what kind of advice I had giventhem; because I had always told them to look for values and think about what made theirlives meaningful. And so, in the middle of that night - one night, I heard this voice in theback of my head saying "so, tell me have you lived a life of meaning" I am talking tomyself you know, -- excuse me so, I I mean I am and my age was you know, whatwhat are you kidding? What look at what a wonderful life I have had No, no really Isaid if you don't wake up tomorrow which - you know it was like a an idea that wasn'ttoo too alien to me now.If you don't wake up tomorrow, will this have been a life of meaning? So, then I startedtrying to figure out what meaning meant to me and mean you know, if you are say meaningenough and know that it does not have any meaning. So, I I think I boiled it - I had tohad to define it for myself. I think it - for me it's a kind of a lasting feeling of satisfactionand I have been lucky enough to live through a lot of different things that most of usregard as meaningful you know, -- I love my family I I have been an artist most ofmy life and that - these things do give you a sense of of meaning. Helping out otherpeople and that kind of thing, I have I have been involved in that even some peoplethink a lot of us - most of us think gaining celebrity is going to give them a sense of lifelong satisfaction and it doesn't it doesn't really it doesn't work out that way. A lotall these different things and I found it not any single one of them gave it to me, and andall put together they did for a time and it would be leapfrogging from one to the other. Ididn't know what would what would give me this feeling all the way through to the endand and then I came across this idea that Marcus Aurelius really had said 2,000 yearsago and you know he was the emperor of Rome and he was a great writer at the sametime and he said, in one book there is just this one sentence that really jumped out atme, he said "all we have is now" and you know, I am trained as an actor to to live inthe now, to work in the now when I am on a stage and I am working with another actor it'sjust the two of us together.Even though we know of it everything else is happening there is in an awareness like amultiple awareness, we are aware of the audience, we are aware of the exit signs, we areaware - not that I don't this stage but often, it is a red stage and and at the same timethat you you have this imaginary existence in Spain or some place, you are also awarethat you are right here on this red stage and you have to be careful where you put yourfeet or you will trip.So, this is multiple awareness but it's all happening now and and I put this togetherwith what a brain scientist told me when I was doing the science show. He said "ourexperience of now just last for five seconds and then we are into a new portion of nowand what ever happened before that five seconds, that's just memory". You know, likewhen I talked about the red stage, that's over that's not happening now to us - that all ofus, we are all we are all thinking of that of a memory when I said Marcus Aureliusthat's already a memory and and then just now when I said remember when I saidremember when I said Marcus Aurelius that's a memory too.So, -- so the problem is for me now it's it's like a game to see if I can stay as this fiveseconds keeps moving to try to stay within it, stay in that five seconds and I find when Ido this just wonderful thing, I don't know, this is what I am - telling to me what ishappening to me likely and I don't know that I don't know if this is scientific, it'sprobably just a fantasy but I get the impression that colors are more vivid, I see people'sfaces when I when I get when I say to myself hey get into that now thing and I and II see the colors of their faces more vividly and I I hear what they are saying - what theywere saying registers on me better, well I think that this may be great, I may be able tokeep this going all the way until the next time I nearly die or may be actually do, andand I will and it may not give any meaning to my life, but at least that a bitter edge toworry of meaning, I don't have to just care about that any more, because this is sointeresting, and you know one of my heroes, a guy that I played on broadway, who was agreat physicist, Richard Fineman , and he had he he was curious about every thing,and he explored every thing that he could about nature and about his own life, and he hada similar a similar thing that he that he went through when he when he was about todie and it's very much like what what I was discovering here, he was about to die ofcancer, he had a bad cancer and he he said to his doctor, at the end when I am about togo, I don't want you to give me an anesthetic because if I am going to die, I want to bethere when I do, isn't that great, what I mean that just for that alone I feel I feel he is a hero of mine.So let's, roughly what the book is about, it's me trying to figure out and you know I havedone I have given these talks in crazy places some times, I scare my self if I can, whenyou get famous, they ask you to talk at places, and some times they ask you to talk at aplace we have no business going, because you don't know any thing about it, and I sayyes, and then I am scared to death and then I have to like really work hard to deliverfor instance I was asked to soon after M*A*S*H was popular, I was asked to give thecommencement talk had a college of surgery where these doctors were graduated, and Iand I don't know any thing about medicine, you know, I mean, I said to them I saidyou know, may be they thought here that they have taught you every thing they couldabout being a doctor and now they brought in some body to show you had to act like one.So it's really good to be here with you tonight and I am enjoying being here now with youright now, thank you.