b. Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Robert D’Abruzzo, 26 February 1914, New York, USA, d. 3 May 1986, Los Angeles, California, USA. An actor and singer who, although he enjoyed a long career in many areas of showbusiness, is remembered mainly for his first film role, when he portrayed the composer George Gershwin in the 1945 Warner biopic Rhapsody In Blue. The son of a barber, Alda was educated at New York University, and worked as an architectural draughtsman before making his stage debut in vaudeville in 1933 with an act called Charlie Ahearn And His Millionaires. He subsequently worked on radio, toured in burlesque, and performed in summer stock in numerous straight plays, such as Tobacco Road, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Room Service and The Time Of Your Life.
Alda made his Broadway debut in 1950, creating the role of gambler Sky Masterson in the Abe Burrows -Jo Swerling- Frank Loesser musical Guys And Dolls. He stayed with the show for nearly two years, and his performance gained him a Tony Award, as well as Donaldson and New York Drama Critics Poll honours. While touring Italy and Sicily in the mid-50s in La Padrona Di Raggio Di Luna, he received the Golden Wing Award for his performance as an Italian, and in the early 60s settled in Rome for some years. He continued to work occasionally in the USA, and in 1963 toured with Can-Can, before returning to Broadway in the following year, co-starring with Steve Lawrence and Sally Ann Howes in a musical spoof on Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 30s, What Makes Sammy Run?
Alda’s own movie career never lived up to the promise of Rhapsody In Blue. He made only two more musicals, Cinderella Jones (1946) and April Showers (1948), along with some 20 or so other films, which included The Beast With Five Fingers (1947), The Man I Love (1947), Tarzan And The Slave Girl (1950), Two Gals And A Guy (1951), Beautiful And Dangerous (1958), Imitation Of Life (1959), Cleopatra’s Daughter (1961), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1968), I Will, I Will, I Will... For Now (1976), Bittersweet Love (1976) and The Squeeze (1980). Alda also appeared frequently on US television, in programmes such as By Popular Demand, The Milton Berle Show, The Kids From Fame, Police Story, Perfect Gentlemen, Days Of Our Lives, Supertrain and The Robert Alda Show. He also starred on Italian radio and television, and played in cabaret throughout most of his career. In 1984, Alda suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered. His son is the famous actor-director Alan Alda.