Alan Alda, star of TV's anti-war comedy 'M*A*S*H,' hailed for 60-year career

Alan Alda, star of TV's anti-war comedy 'M*A*S*H,' hailed for 60-year career

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Alan Alda, best known for playing a wise-cracking Army doctor on the long-running anti-war television comedy "M*A*S*H," received a lifetime achievement award from his fellow actors on Sunday, celebrating a 60-year career on stage and screen.

Alda, 82, who announced in July that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years earlier, was presented the honor by film star and one-time-costar Tom Hanks at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards dinner in Los Angeles.

"I see more than ever how proud I am to be part of our brotherhood and sisterhood of actors," Alda said, after receiving a sustained standing ovation from his peers.

Alda is most remembered for his Emmy-winning role as the insubordinate but highly skilled Army surgeon Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce on "M*A*S*H," the landmark CBS comedy series set during the Korean War.

He wrote and directed many episodes of the show. Its 1983 series finale was watched by nearly 106 million viewers, a record that stood three decades as the largest audience for a U.S. TV broadcast.

The New York-born performer also worked extensively on Broadway, in motion pictures and elsewhere on TV, including two seasons on NBC's celebrated political drama "The West Wing," playing a Republican U.S. senator.

"The West Wing" role earned Alda his sixth Emmy Award, on top of five previous Emmys for his work on "M*A*S*H." He was the first performer to win Emmys for acting, directing and writing on the same series.

On the big screen, Alda earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as a real-life U.S. senator, Republican Owen Brewster, in Martin Scorsese's 2004 historical biopic "The Aviator" about mogul Howard Hughes.

Alda, however, will remain forever associated with "M*A*S*H," based on the 1970 Korean War movie satire directed by Robert Altman and adapted from a novel of the same name by a real-life doctor who served in Korea.

The show centered on the antics of Hawkeye Pierce and fellow doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital - MASH for short - as they struggled to keep their sanity and save lives. When not tending to waves of wounded GIs, Hawkeye and his pals passed their time playing practical jokes, carousing with nurses and drinking to excess.

A far cry from several military sitcoms that came before it, "M*A*S*H" went beyond poking fun at Army life to deal with such issues as circumstantial ethics and the morality of war.

Premiering in September 1972 as America was still embroiled in Vietnam, "M*A*S*H" struggled in the ratings during its first season before catching on with viewers, lauded by critics and resonating with the anti-war sentiment of the time. It ran about eight years longer than the Korean conflict. (Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)