Celebrate Alan Alda’s birthday with ‘Paper Lion’

Alan Alda turns 86 years young on Jan. 28, and for millions of folks, this Big Apple-born thespian is primarily known as Capt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce.  “M*A*S*H” (1972 – 1983) aired for 11 seasons on CBS, and this beloved comedy series sometimes wandered into categorization-no man’s land because the show frequently dealt with the drama, tragedy, and grief of the Korean War.  Meanwhile, Alda could march between gags and heartbreak with the ease of a four-star general ordering a coffee, and yes, he actually served in the U.S. Army Reserves in South Korea during the 1950s. 

He told Terry Gross during a 2019 NPR interview, “I was in the Reserves.  I don’t know if you call that being in the military.  They put me in charge of a mess hall at one point.”

Earning six Emmy awards – five for “M*A*S*H” and one for “The West Wing” – Alan made a dream career, and although TV is his most prolific vehicle, he’s starred in his share of movies too. 

To help celebrate the man’s 86th trip around the sun – and over 60 years with his wife Arlene – let’s go back and watch about two dozen “M*A*S*H” episodes and his terrific big-screen performance in “Paper Lion” (1968)!  

George Plimpton, “Paper Lion” (1968) – “42!  Zed!  3!  88!  Hut!  Hut!”  Detroit Lions Quarterback George Plimpton yells his cadence while under center during training camp like he’s a 10-year seasoned veteran.  However, once the ball is hiked, his green rookie colors splash on his blue, silver, and white uniform.  George has thrown the ball around during co-ed two-hand touch games in Central Park with his friends and colleagues, but he’s never actually played college or pro football. 

In “Paper Lion”, Alda is Plimpton – a real-life journalist – who attempts to try out for the Lions as a quarterback, but he’s really working undercover to write a story.  Well, the coaches know George’s true identity, but will they blow his cover?  Don’t worry, Alex March’s film – based on Plimpton’s 1966 non-fiction book – isn’t a spy movie, but rather a carefree comedy, as the 32-year-old Alda – who stands at 6’ 2” and weighs 170 pounds – is built like a marathon runner rather than a muscled man of the gridiron. 

Still, Alan displays spry athleticism, adolescent joy, and some moments of fiery discourse that will make him a household name as Hawkeye Pierce.  Detroit Lions players like Alex Karras and Lem Barney and coach Joe Schmidt have supporting roles and offer hijinks, laughs, and mettle that hinder and help George’s indoctrination to the NFL.  It’s all in good fun, but then again, no one ever laughed during wind sprints.    

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Alex March

Written by: Lawrence Roman, based on George Plimpton’s book

Starring: Alan Alda, Lauren Hutton, Alex Karras, Lem Barney, and Joe Schmidt

Runtime: 107 minutes

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