Occasionally we like to highlight those second tier leading men of the 30s, 40s and 50s. In the mid forties Warner Brothers tried to make a star out of actor Robert Alda.
He’s mostly remembered today for being the father of TV and film star Alan Alda.
Nonetheless, Alda Sr. carved out a distinguished and lengthy career on the Broadway stage and in movies.
In 1946 he was most memorably cast as George Gershwin in Warner Bros.’ 1945 biopic, Rhapsody In Blue, costarring Oscar Levant, who adored Gershwin and was the first pianist to record “The Rhapsody In Blue” after the composer himself did, a blatant example of my ingenuous dauntlessness, Levant recalled. (Below is Alda as Gershwin romancing costar Alexis Smith.)
Alda was born in New York City in 1914 as Alphonso d’Abruzzo, the son of an Italian immigrant barber. His show biz career began after high school in 1930, with Alda performing as a singer-dancer in vaudeville after winning a talent contest.
Always a good-looking dude, Alda as a budding star was sometimes mentioned in the same breathe with Cary Grant. Both were at Warner Bros. at the same time, and both starred in high-powered musical biographies — Grant played Cole Porter in 1946’s Night and Day. The similarities stopped right there, however, when Grant’s big screen took off and Alda’s went South.
He found himself cast in a mish-mash of ho-hum outings: e.g., 1946’s Cinderella Jones and The Beast With Five Fingers; 1948’s Bungalow; 1949’s Homicide; 1950’s Hollywood Varieties and Tarzan and the Slave Girl. An appearance as a talent agent in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 melodrama, Imitation of Life, is the most prominent of Alda’s movie credits of the 1950’s.
By then Alda had reset his sights on the Broadway stage, winning a Tony Award for his starring role Guys and Dolls. He also toplined productions of Harbor Lights, and What Makes Sammy Run?, among other outings.
He even turned up as a game show host in an early tv version of What’s Your Bid? Alda continued to work in various tv capacities until 1983, three years before his death at age 72.
His first marriage to former beauty pageant winner Joan Browne, which produced son Alan, ended in 1946. In 1955, Alda wed Flora Marino (see below), an Italian actress he met in Rome while making several European pictures. (Their son, actor Antony Alda, died in 2009.)