Even with a rock star’s stubble and a biker’s silver stud earring, Tony Alda is unmistakably related to that other Alda, the sensitive, clean-cut one from TV’s M*A*S*H. The smile and the small, quick eyes are the same. Sitting barefoot on the patio of his town house outside Los Angeles—his view of the Pacific includes a mist-enshrouded Catalina—the 34-year-old actor is analyzing the autobiographical bits and pieces that make up Johnny Corelli, the sleek young no-goodnik who has been bringing trouble, and some much-needed energy, to NBC’s 25-year-old daytime drama Days of Our Lives. “Actually, there’s a little bit of my uncle Ermanno Marino’s body movement in Johnny,” he says. “There’s also a little bit of my cousin Vinny D’Abruzzo’s speech patterns. There are even some aspects about Johnny Corelli that are like myself.”
So there really isn’t any room for half-brother Alan in Johnny Corelli, the sort of afternoon-soap lowlife who can sneer at the mirror and confide to his diabolical self, “Yeah, she’s crazy about me; it’s just a matter of time.”
“Johnny likes to play around with people’s heads,” says Alda, who doesn’t mind the occasional mind game, either. Growing up, he says, “I always played practical jokes on people,” relatives in particular. When he was 20, he put on a wig and dress and introduced himself to a visiting aunt as his mother’s friend from church. “And she fell for it!” marvels his mom, former actress Flora Marino. Thirteen years earlier, when his dad—the late actor and singer Robert Alda—was starring on Broadway in the musical What Makes Sammy Run?, “the conductor let me lead the orchestra,” says Tony, “and at one point my dad looked down and saw me standing there. He almost had a fit.”
Whether in or out of the orchestra pit, Alda always looked up to his father, who died at age 72 in 1986, two years after a stroke. “He had the stroke during open-heart surgery,” Alda says, “then he went into a coma. Nobody knew if he was coming out of it. Those were the worst days of my life.” His father made a partial recovery, but “his speech was pretty much lost,” says Alda, who remembers this as the most painful aspect of his father’s last years. “Actors make a living with their speech, and this had gone away with him. I’ve finally gotten over his death, but there are still times I’d like to see him, for him to see the kids [he and his wife, Lori Carrell, 34, have two sons, Ian, 6, and Zan, 3] or come to the studio.”
Tony, the only child of his father’s second marriage (Robert Alda and first wife Joan Browne, Alan’s mom, divorced in 1957), was born in Saint-Julien, France, in 1956 and spent his first six years in Europe, where his father did film and stage work. Later, during the family’s periods back in New York City, he got to know his half brother, who’s 20 years older. “We’d go to Alan’s place in New Jersey,” he says. “His oldest daughter, Eve, was about my age, so I would play with her. We would get together on birthdays.” And as a step-mom-and-stepson act, says Tony, Alan and Flora got along beautifully.
When it came to his own acting, Tony says, the most important advice he has ever gotten from Alan was, “Know what you want in a scene.” For a while, though, he wasn’t into that scene at all. Despite a few boyhood acting experiences, including a 1967 episode of TV’s Daniel Boone, he decided to study music and attended New York’s Juilliard School. Fed up with Manhattan after his apartment was burglarized, he moved to Los Angeles in 1977 and switched to acting. His first role was—ha! Poetic justice strikes!—a rock musician on a detective series called Switch. That was followed by parts on Knots Landing, Quincy and Alan’s sitcom M*A*S*H (where Robert and Tony appeared together in an episode).
The family name, of course, opened mc than a few doors. But though Robert had starred on Days of Our Lives in 1980 and ‘£ the soap’s executive producer, Ken Corday insists, “Antony won us over during the screen test.” Tony’s half brother believes family resemblance helps. “My father was one of the most charming actors of his generation,” says Alan, “and there’s some of that natural charm and charisma in Tony. Plus, Tony’s basic honesty adds to that, which makes him an appealing person to watch.” Tony says it does not bother him a bit that, for now, he’s less watched than Alan. “It’s never been a bummer,” he says. Besides, “it’s conceivable that teenagers who haven’t seen M*A*S*H might say, ‘Hey, that’s an Alda—he must be related to Tony.’ ”
Acting dynasty aside, it was Tony’s resemblance to a guy named Jeff that helped him get to know his musician-actress wife, Lori. They met in 1978 in Columbus, Ohio, where he was starring in the musical King of Hearts, and she was playing piano in a nightclub. “I was instantly attracted to him,” says Lori. “He had a zest for life.” She went home that night to find that her mother had left out a newspaper article about him and the play. “It was so weird,” Alda says. “Her mother asked her, ‘Doesn’t this guy look like Jeff?’ He was an ex-boyfriend.”
“Marriage was good for Tony,” says his mom. “It changed him and made him more mature.” But some things—such as practical joking—not even love can cure. When Alda and Lori were starring together in St. Petersburg, Fla., in a play about Da Vinci, one scene called for Alda—as Leonardo—to show Lori his drawing tablet. The script called for her to be overwhelmed by the beauty of a sketch of the Mona Lisa. Instead, says Alda, “I had drawn a penis. Lori started crying out, ‘Oh, Leonardo!’ She was supposed to be crying, but she was laughing so hard she had tears coming down her face.” No, it would probably be easier to reform Johnny Corelli.
Tom Gliatto, Patrick Cole in Los Angeles