Never Have Your Dog Stuffed

48. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned by Alan Alda. 240 p. Published September 2005.

This is the autobiography of Alan Alda, an actor famous for a number of roles, including M.A.S.H.’s Hawkeye and host of Scientific American Frontiers. Mr. Alda has always been a favorite of mine, so reading this book presented me with the opportunity to learn about the man behind the mask.

Alan Alda was born Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo. His father, an outstanding actor in his own right, collaborated with Alphonso to use the stage name ‘Alan Alda.’

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed begins with Alda’s childhood, where he watched his father’s performances with growing interest. Gathering inspiration from them, Alan vowed to one day become an actor himself. However, as he groes older and more aware of reality, both Alan and his father must come to terms with his mother’s increasingly obvious case of schizophrenia.

Following Alda through college, his acting career, and his personal life, this book provides a glimpse of the man behind the actor. From the start, Alda is remarkably straight forward, criticizing his own actions and perceptions. This slow progression toward an understanding of himself begins to reflect in his status and skills as an actor.

The name of the book illustrates Alda’s message. As a boy, his dog died, and instead of burying it, he entreated upon his parents to have it taxidermied. The dog becomes a twisted and macabre reflection of itself, haunting Alda with its glassy gaze. So to, Alda strives to show how the things in life must come and go, and to hold on them past their time twists them into something they aren’t. Rather, it is better to enjoy the moment and use it to grow.

With the wit of a practiced writer and the candor of a philosopher, Alda provides a glimpse of the human condition. At times I marveled how well Alda visualized what were obviously trying periods in his life, conveying his pains and pleasures with equal clarity and emotion. As the biography comes to a close, it’s remarkable how humble Alda is despite his fame and popularity.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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