The boots and dog tags Alan Alda wore in every episode of the beloved sitcom M*A*S*H recently sold at auction for $125,000. Alda will donate the funds to Stony Brook’s Alda Center for Communicating Science.
“The Alda Center is deeply grateful to Alan for this gift and for Alan’s continued and unwavering support of our work,” said Laura Lindenfeld, executive director of the Alda Center and dean of the School of Communication and Journalism. “Since its founding in 2009, Alan has been in lock-step with us, helping us to develop and refine our unique method, advocating for us, and working alongside us to help researchers share the wonder and significance of their work with others.”
As the wise-cracking Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, Alda appeared in every episode of the award-winning show, which he also helped write and direct. When the show ended in 1983, Alda was allowed to keep his character’s boots and dog tags. Earlier this year, he decided to auction them off to benefit the Center.
“I thought, what a great chance to put these boots and dog tags to work again,” Alda said. “For 11 years, they helped promote the idea that human connection could be a palliative for war. And now they can promote the idea that a human connection can get us to understand the things that affect our lives so deeply. I can’t think of a better use for them.”
Heritage Auction hosted the auction and even agreed to donate their usual fee to the Center.
The name of the buyer has not been released.
After M*A*S*H, Alda hosted PBS’ American Scientific Frontiers. On the show, Alda visited some of the leading scientists of the time in their labs and spoke to them about their research and discoveries. While shooting those shows, he drew from his training in improvisational theater to help the scientists connect with him in a more personal way that was less like a lecture and more like a warm conversation.
The experience got Alda, a lifelong lover of science, wondering if training scientists in improvisational theater could help them learn to share their work more effectively with non-expert audiences.
Alda took his idea around to several universities, asking for partners. Stony Brook agreed to try his idea with graduate students, and eventually the Alda Center for Communicating Science was founded.
Since then, the Center has worked with more than 20,000 scientists and researchers around the world, including from government agencies, scientific organizations and many of the best universities in the country.