Alan Alda con­nected with his sim­i­larly long-wed char­ac­ter in ‘The Long­est Ride.’

Los Angeles Times - - SUNDAY CALENDAR - By Su­san King Alan Alda is dis­cussing en­dur­ing love, a sub­ject he knows by heart. Alda, who came to fame as Hawk­eye Pierce on the 1972-83 CBS com­edy se­ries “MASH,” re­cently cel­e­bratasked su­san.king@la­times.com

ed his 58th wed­ding an­niver­sary. He mar­ried his wife, au­thor-pho­tog­ra­pher Ar­lene Alda, when he was a strug­gling ac­tor. They have three grown daugh­ters and eight grand­chil­dren.

Alda is a de­voted fam­ily man, and dur­ing the 11 sea­sons of “MASH” he com­muted to Los An­ge­les from their home in New Jer­sey be­cause he didn’t want to dis­rupt his fam­ily’s life.

“We have friends who have been mar­ried as long or longer,” Alda said when about the se­cret to their union dur­ing a re­cent phone con­ver­sa­tion from his home in New York. “I think in Hol­ly­wood it gets talked about more.”

In Alda’s lat­est film, the Ni­cholas Sparks ro­man­tic drama “The Long­est Ride” open­ing Fri­day, the ac­tor plays a char­ac­ter for whom he feels a great kin­ship.

“It was one of the few parts I have played where — let me see if I can find the most ac­cu­rate way to say this — the emo­tions I feel in real life were as close as I ever felt to the emo­tions of a char­ac­ter,” the 79-year-old ac­tor said.

Alda’s wid­ower Ira Levin­son plays a key role in the melo­drama star­ring Britt Robert­son and Scott East­wood (the youngest son of Os­car-win­ning Clint). Ira was mar­ried for decades to the vi­va­cious Ruth, and eight years af­ter her death, the box of love let­ters he sent her are his most prized pos­ses­sion.

“What I like about the movie a lot is that it is about long-term love,” Alda said. “Most movies end when the long-term love is about to begin. Most movies deal with the ex­cite­ment of new ro­mance, which can be trans­lated into long term, but that takes some do­ing. I think this is kind of a re­al­is­tic look at a re­la­tion­ship.”

The lives of the young stars-in-their-eyes cou­ple — pro­fes­sional bull rider Luke (East­wood) and col­lege se­nior Sophia (Robert­son) —change dramatically af­ter they res­cue Ira and his box of let­ters from his burning car, which caught fire af­ter it went through a guard rail. As he re­cov­ers in the hos­pi­tal, Ira de­vel­ops a grand­fa­therly re­la­tion­ship with Sophia, who vis­its him fre­quently to read him the let­ters he wrote to Ruth (Oona Chap­lin) when he was a young man (Jack Hus­ton).

Both direc­tor Ge­orge Till­man Jr. and Robert­son bonded with Alda dur­ing the pro­duc­tion. “He is the nicest guy, the hard­est worker — he doesn’t like to leave the scene un­less it’s right,” said Till­man, who de­scribed Alda as the “rock” ev­ery­one looked up to dur­ing film­ing.

Robert­son noted that Alda was al­ways “giv­ing me lit­tle bits of wis­dom.”

“It didn’t seem forced,” the actress added. “It al­ways just seemed like that is the kind of per­son he is — just a gen­er­ous soul.”

She said she misses their din­ners to­gether when they were on lo­ca­tion in North Carolina. “The cast and the pro­duc­ers would go to din­ner, and we would end up closing down the place. I would al­ways try to sit next to Alan be­cause I loved talk­ing to him.”

Alda has re­ceived 33 Emmy nom­i­na­tions, win­ning six times. Be­sides his act­ing du­ties on “MASH,” he wrote and di­rected many of the episodes. He’s also writ­ten and di­rected four fea­tures, in­clud­ing the 1981 hit “The Four Sea­sons.” Ten years ago, he was nom­i­nated for an Emmy for “The West Wing,” a Tony for a re­vival of “Glen­garry Glen Ross” and an Os­car for Martin Scors­ese’s “The Avi­a­tor.”

His ca­reer be­gan rather in­aus­pi­ciously in bur­lesque, of all places. His fa­ther, Robert Alda (“Guys and Dolls”), was a young ac­tor in 1936 tour­ing the East Coast in bur­lesque, with his wife and 6-month-old son in tow. “Phil Sil­vers car­ried me out on­stage in a school­room sketch,” said Alda. “I was told all the greats were in that scene — my fa­ther, Phil Sil­vers and ‘Rags’ Ragland.”

His fa­ther, though, tried to talk him out of fol­low­ing in his foot­steps.

“He wanted me to think twice about it be­cause he knew how hard it is and how dif­fi­cult it is to make your way, no mat­ter what tal­ent you have,” said Alda. “Then he tried to help me get work. He wasn’t able to get me much work other than a sum­mer stock tour the year Ar­lene and I were mar­ried.”

Ac­tu­ally, it was Sil­vers who gave Alda his first break on TV in a guest star­ring role in 1958 in his famed CBS sit­com “The Phil Sil­vers Show.”

Alda re­cently com­pleted a four-week en­gage­ment on Broad­way with Candice Ber­gen in a re­vival of A.R. Gur­ney’s “Love Let­ters” and will be seen later this year as Tom Hanks’ boss in the Steven Spiel­berg film “Bridge of Spies.”

It isn’t act­ing but science that in­trigues Alda th­ese days. A science buff since he was a child, Alda got the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­view some of the top names on the PBS se­ries “Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can Fron­tiers” from 1993 to 2005. He re­al­ized dur­ing his ten­ure on the se­ries that sci­en­tists had a lot of great sto­ries but that they needed help­ing telling them.

Six years ago, he help founded the Alan Alda Cen­ter for Com­mu­ni­cat­ing Science at New York’s Stony Brook Uni­ver­sity, where he is also a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor.

“We teach sci­en­tists to be able to com­mu­ni­cate with the public about science,” he said. “What I do is work with the other peo­ple in the cen­ter, tweak the cur­ricu­lum and fig­ure out what we will do next.”

That’s a theme of Alda’s — al­ways look­ing ahead, find­ing in­spi­ra­tion from many sources.

The ac­tor said he “wants to keep do­ing things I haven’t done be­fore. As a mat­ter of fact, I think I am more in­ter­ested in learn­ing from other peo­ple now than when I was young.”

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

“WHAT I like about the movie a lot is that it is about long-term love,” Alan Alda says of “Long­est Ride.”

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