The Four Seasons, Four Stories, and Alan Alda
December 3rd, 2023
I can’t listen to Antonio Vivaldi without thinking of Alan Alda. Let me explain:
While attending Omaha South High in the late 1970s, my art teacher, Toni Turnquist, often sang the praises of the TV series, M*A*S*H. Because of her reviews, I checked it out and was immediately drawn to Alda for the humorous and hopeful way he played his character, Hawkeye.
So, when the film, The Four Seasons, written and directed by Alda, came out in the spring of 1981, I found myself in front of the big screen, popcorn in hand, as quickly as I could.
Was it my kind of movie? The story was about three upper middle-class married couples living in New York who vacation together during each of the four seasons. And me? I’d just turned 20 years old and was more into Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Orca the Killer Whale.
In the film, after a seasonal pattern is established with the vacationing couples, one of the characters leaves his wife and suddenly shows up with a much younger woman. Again, not something I could relate to, but it was an example of how great storytelling can make one laugh and reflect, even if the theme isn’t something the viewer has personally experienced. You felt for each character and could see the story from each one’s point of view.
And the icing on the cake? Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Like Alda’s smile, the music was hopeful and beautifully woven into the story.
I don’t recall how much, if anything, I knew of Vivaldi’s music before that film. But afterwards? Those violin concertos, not to mention his other compositions, became part of my own life’s soundtrack.
In early March of 1998, I went to Paris for the first time and the person I was with insisted we visit Sainte-Chapelle. I knew little of Paris besides the Eiffel Tower and had never heard of Sainte-Chapelle.
On a brisk morning, we stepped inside—the medieval gothic cathedral with its countless stained-glass windows took my breath away. Still, I was distracted by a poster on the wall. The announcement was for a performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to be presented at Sainte-Chapelle that afternoon. The music from the Alda movie, I thought!
After a quick bite at a nearby brasserie we returned just in time for the concert. As the sounds of the strings echoed off the colorful windows high above, the late winter sun gleaming through, it all felt like a dream. I could almost picture Alda in the audience, smiling to the music.
I was sitting in what Marlo Thomas promised was the best seat in the house. She was starring in the Elaine May play, Relatively Speaking, on Broadway. I’d become a fan of Marlo as a kid while watching the TV comedy series, That Girl. Years later, when her father, the entertainer, Danny Thomas, passed away, I made a memorial cartoon about him. Marlo saw it and requested the original which now hangs in the lobby of the St. Jude’s Children’s Research hospital in Nashville.
Marlo and I exchanged a few letters, and when she learned I’d be coming to New York in the fall of 2011, she invited me as her guest to the play.
Afterwards, we met backstage. We hugged and as we chatted, I’d had the silly hope that, as a thank you, I could buy her a drink and hear some stories from her career.
And, maybe even her husband, TV personality, Phil Donahue, could join us! It was a fantasy, of course, but as she introduced me to the other cast members, enthusiastically describing the cartoon I’d made about her father, I was about to ask her about that drink—
That’s when Alan Alda and his wife, Arlene, appeared backstage. Marlo had no idea that Alan and Arlene were there—I learned later that it’s a theatrical superstition, that if an actor is to watch a fellow actor’s play, that actor doesn’t announce it beforehand.
Marlo introduced me to Alda, which, of course, was a thrill. But before I knew it, the other cast members were surrounding Marlo and Alda and it soon became clear that we—Marlo and Phil, and heck, maybe even Alan and Arlene—wouldn’t be squeezing into a cab to a nearby fancy Manhattan bar.
As I slipped out the backstage door and headed out into the chilly November air of New York, I found myself humming The Four Seasons, in search of a big greasy slice of pizza.
Now, as a host on KVNO, I’m delighted whenever Vivaldi shows up in the playlist. As the music swirls, I’ll gaze from the window of the studio. All the better if the music accompanies golden falling leaves, or drizzling rain, or dancing flakes of snow, or maybe gleaming sunshine—the sky as blue and deep as a panel of glass in a Paris cathedral.
And almost always, I’ll picture Alan Alda. Maybe he’s on the sidewalk in a parka, scooping snow and he’ll pause to give me a warm smile. Or better yet, he’s in the studio with me, that twinkle in his eye, both of us sipping a coffee as the morning sun begins to ignite the Omaha sky.