The chorus girls always brought me up to their dressing room. They talked with
me; they patted my cheek and combed my hair. They were affectionate. I was like
a pet. When they had to change costumes, they would say, Okay, Allie, turn your
back now. While they changed, I stood with my face against the wall where their
costumes were hanging. My face was buried in their silk clothes, and the smell
of their sweat and perfume filled my nostrils. I heard the sound of their
clothing sliding on and off their bodies. All of this was far more interesting
for a three-year-old than you might imagine.
But I wasnt only the dancers pet; I was a plaything for the whole company.
When I was six months old, the comics thought it would be funny to bring me out
in a high chair in a schoolroom sketch. As they told me this story later, all
the great comics were in this sketch: Red Buttons, Phil Silvers, Rags Ragland. I
dont know now if all these comics were actually in the same sketch; the story
must have grown with each telling. They said they put a school bell in front of
me on the high chair, and totally by accident, I would manage to bang on it
every time one of them was getting to a punch line. You upstaged the greatest
comics in burlesque, they told me.
When I was two, the company was playing a theater in Toronto. A photographer
from the Toronto Daily Star came backstage, and my father got the idea that if
he posed me in a way that made me look as if I were smoking a pipe, the paper
would be sure to print the picture and the burlesque company would get some
unusual publicity. They dressed me up in my woolen suit and posed me gravely
holding a pipe with tobacco in it. They seem to have invented a new name for me,
too. I was born Alphonso DAbruzzo, but that day I was Alphonse Robert Alda,
Ali for short. The newspaper printed the picture and ran a story under it
that, sixty-seven years later, is a gold mine of information on how not to raise
child of two smokes pipe
once broke mothers nose
Alphonse Robert Alda, at the age of two years and three months, finds solace
from worldly cares in a briar pipe.
I dont remember my mother ever telling me I had broken her nose, so this may
have been invented to demonstrate how big and strong I was or maybe to account
for a slight bend in her nose she wasnt fond of. As for smoking, according to
the myth dreamed up by my father, I had reached up and taken the pipe out of his
mouth a year earlier. My mother was quoted as saying theyd hoped Id get sick
and never smoke again but that I liked it and had continued to smoke the pipe.
Then they invented a specialist from New York whom they said they had
consulted. He told us, my mother was quoted as saying, provided moderation
was shown, the smoking might not do Ali as much harm as the psychological aspect
of denying him. This bit of invented psychology looks even stranger when, later
in the article, she says: We dont believe in pampering children. All you have
to do to stop him if he starts to cry, which is seldom, is to tell him not to be
So, lets review this. Youre two years old. You watch naked women shake their
tits five times a day. You never get to cry or act like a baby. But denying you
tobacco would be psychologically unhealthy.
At the end of the article, my mother tells the reporter how much I like to act.
He wants to be an actor like his daddy, she said. Watch! Ali, she asked,
what would you do if a man were chasing you with a big stick? The little
fellow spread himself against the wall, his face and eyes depicting horror and
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...