Acclaimed actor and author Alan Alda recalls his greatest life lessons in his new book, "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself."
I fell deeply in love with her. When we brought her home from the hospital, I carried her up the narrow stairs to our second-floor apartment as Arlene walked ahead of me, climbing slowly against the pull of her stitches. We were in Ohio, where I was making $60 a week at the Cleveland Playhouse. With local commercials, I could sometimes bring it up to $80 a week, and we had four sunny rooms and a couch we'd bought for $5 at the Salvation Army that was comfortable, if lumpy, and equipped with a set of fleas.
Very soon, our freshly born girl looked us in the eye and smiled toothlessly. They said in those days that babies didn't smile, that it was just gas. But we knew that in spite of science and all of nature, she was smiling at us. It wasn't gas; it was love beyond the limits of anatomy.
We called her Eve. For us, she was the first woman ever born.
During the day, while I was at rehearsal, Arlene would walk down the empty streets of our neighborhood with Eve in her carriage, partly to get some air but mainly in the hope that someone would pass by and stop to look at our amazing baby. At night, when I wasn't onstage, I would read Sholom Aleichem stories aloud to Arlene while she cooked dinner and Eve slept in her crib.
As the soup simmered, Tevye delivered his milk and our girl slept quietly until she woke and called for her late-night meal. There was no doubt in that moment what our purpose in life was. Arlene would make her own milk delivery, and then I would walk barefoot on the midnight linoleum, our daughter slung over my shoulder, urging up a burp. There was no question that she, with her gummy smile, was all the reason we needed to be alive.
When she was six months old, we moved back to New York, where I took part-time jobs while trying to find work on Broadway. After three months as a doorman outside a ritzy restaurant near Rockefeller Center, I auditioned for a part that consisted of five lines of dialogue. I got the job and was completely thrilled. It was my first Broadway show. I gave back my elaborate doorman's costume and began a month of rehearsals, during which time I must have said my five lines 500 ways. Herman Shumlin was directing the show, a thin comedy called "Only in America." Shumlin was a tall man in his sixties, as thin as the play, but with a sense of humor he had apparently picked up watching Gestapo officers in war movies of the '40s. Every time I read one of my lines, he turned his bald head in my direction and looked as if he were going to ask me for my papers. He never smiled. Instead, he would hold his forehead and wince. After a few days, I realized he was constantly in the middle of a migraine attack, and I could see that the whole process of rehearsal was torture for him. It wasn't all that great for anyone else, either.