BookBrowse Reviews Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda

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Never Have Your Dog Stuffed

And Other Things I've Learned

by Alan Alda

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda X
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 272 pages

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A life more filled with turbulence and laughter than any Alda has ever played on the stage or screen. Memoir

From the book jacket: He’s one of America’s most recognizable and acclaimed actors – a star on Broadway, an Oscar nominee for The Aviator, and the only person to ever win Emmys for acting, writing, and directing, during his eleven years on M*A*S*H. Now Alan Alda has written a memoir as elegant, funny, and affecting as his greatest performances. Yet Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is not a memoir of show-business ups and downs. It is a moving and funny story of a boy growing into a man who then realizes he has only just begun to grow. It is the story of turning points in Alda’s life, events that would make him what he is – if only he could survive them.

From the moment as a boy when his dead dog is returned from the taxidermist’s shop with a hideous expression on his face, and he learns that death can’t be undone, to the decades-long effort to find compassion for the mother he lived with but never knew, to his acceptance of his father, both personally and professionally, Alda learns the hard way that change, uncertainty, and transformation are what life is made of, and true happiness is found in embracing them.

Comment: Unlike the vast majority of celebrity memoirs, Alan Alda's is not packed to the brim with behind the scenes gossip about other famous people, but instead is the honest, heartfelt and often humorous story of a very interesting life.  Because of this the reader reviews for Never Have Your Dog Stuffed are mixed, with the majority of those who rate it poorly complaining that they didn't want to know all about him but instead wanted to know more about the programs and people he has been involved with over the years, a particular criticism being that he devotes only a dozen or so pages to MASH.  

As Alda's memoir ably demonstrates, his life has been much more than one, albeit very successful, TV programHe tells of his childhood living upstairs from the burlesque theater run by his father, and of his mentally ill mother and how he was split between his love for her and concern for what she might do to herself and her family (the show-stopping opening sentence of his memoir being "My mother didn’t try to stab my father until I was six, but she must have shown signs of oddness before that. Her detached gaze, the secret smile. Something.").  He also discusses his battle with childhood polio, and his slow rise through the acting ranks, and the near-death experience that caused him to refocus his life when on a film shoot for Scientific American Frontiers

Two themes run through his book - family and politics.  As one reviewer puts it, "in a profession where marriages are acquired and discarded like consumer goods", his 50-year marriage to Arlene, and their three happy daughters "really is something to brag about".  As for politics, Alda has been highly active on behalf of the feminist movement, and whether you agree or disagree with his views on the Equal Rights Amendment (see sidebar), it is not possible to doubt his sincerity and commitment. 

In short, I agree with the reviewer for Publishers Weekly who describes this as "a brief but entertaining autobiography tempered with humility and a depth rarely found in celebrity memoirs."

This review first ran in the October 5, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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Beyond the Book:
  The Equal Rights Amendment

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