To judge from Alan Alda's autobiography, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, his 11-year run as Hawkeye Pierce on the groundbreaking comedy M*A*S*H wasn't so much a turning point in his career as a mildly notable step along his lifelong search for his muse. He gives the show a few pages, but a dismissive leap between "I had a story idea" and "by the time we were done [with the series] I had written nineteen episodes" pretty much sums up Never Have Your Dog's wide-ranging approach, and its central attitude: Alda's history is more important for what he learned than for what actually happened, or what his fans might want to hear about it. The whole book is a journey, and the path is more in Alda's mind than in his external life.

The opening chapters address Alda's childhood, when his father was a burlesque singer and his family lived from theater to theater; first brought onstage at 6 months old, Alda (born Alphonso D'Abruzzo) seemed destined for a life in show business. His mother's dangerous mental instability provides a series of horrifying stories to balance out the cute anecdotes about a child growing up among nude dancers and vaudeville comedians, but it all adds up to a colorful and chaotic family life out of a picaresque novel. But once Alda gets old enough to seek his own education, he dryly analyzes every event in terms of how he can improve his craft and channel some of the immediacy he sees in other performers, and the stories get spottier and less clearly detailed as Alda focuses more on what he was thinking and discovering than what he was actually doing.


Alda seems aware that autobiography readers are often hunting after gossip, and he addresses them directly with the brief chapter "Famous Women I Have Kissed," which delves into his thoughts on fame, and his bafflement over people's fascination with celebrity lives. He never does get around to dishing dirt in Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and the book is the better for it. It stands out as a reflection of its author in a way most cookie-cutter memoirs aren't. Still, at times it feels achingly incomplete, given all the high-profile projects it fails to address, from Alda's career as a film director to his current run on The West Wing. The book itself seems like yet another grab at the muse—Alda's thoughtful attempt to order his influences and his life, and see what comes of sober reflection. But a little more concession to people outside his head might have been nice, given that they're the ones he's expecting to buy the book.