- Mar 26, 1934
- New York City, New York, USA
As a multi-talented film and stage performer with an intense comic flair, the diminutive and stocky Jewish-American character actor Alan Arkin built a career for himself out of playing slightly gruff and opinionated yet endearing eccentrics. Though not commonly recognized as such, Arkin's ability extends not only beyond the range of the comedic but far… More Bio:
As a multi-talented film and stage performer with an intense comic flair, the diminutive and stocky Jewish-American character actor Alan Arkin built a career for himself out of playing slightly gruff and opinionated yet endearing eccentrics. Though not commonly recognized as such, Arkin's ability extends not only beyond the range of the comedic but far beyond the scope of acting. In addition to his before-the-camera work, Arkin is an accomplished theatrical and cinematic director, an author, and a gifted vocalist.
Born March 26, 1934, to immigrant parents of Russian and German Hebrew descent, Arkin came of age in New York City, then attended Los Angeles City College in the early '50s and launched his entertainment career as a key member of the folk band the Tarriers, alongside Erik Darling, Carl Carlton, and Bob Carey. Unfortunately, the Tarriers never managed to find a musical foothold amid the 1960s folk boom -- which, despite the success of a European tour in 1957, encouraged Arkin to leave the group and carve out a niche for himself in another arena.
Arkin instead turned to stage comedy and joined Chicago's Second City troupe, then in its infancy. (It officially began in 1959.) From there, Arkin transitioned to Broadway roles, and won a Tony and critical raves for his debut, in Carl Reiner's autobiographical seriocomedy Enter Laughing (1963). He followed it up with the lead in Murray Schisgal's surrealistic character comedy Luv, and made his onscreen debut alongside friend and fellow actor Reiner, for Norman Jewison's frenetic social satire The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! The picture not only scored with the public and press (and received a Best Picture nod) but netted Arkin a nomination for Best Actor. He lost to Paul Scofield, for the latter's role as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons.
Arkin evinced pronounced versatility by cutting dramatically against type for his next performance: that of Harry Roat, a psychopath who systematically psychologically tortures Audrey Hepburn, in Terence Young's Wait Until Dark (1967). A return to comedy with 1968's Inspector Clouseau (with Arkin in the Peter Sellers role) proved disastrous. Fortunately, Arkin took this as a cue, and shifted direction once again the following year, with his aforementioned portrayal of Singer in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter -- a gentle and beautiful adaptation of Carson McCullers' wonderful novel. For the effort, Arkin received a much-deserved sophomore Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, but lost to Charly's Cliff Robertson.
The '70s brought mixed prospects for Arkin. He debuted as a film director in 1971, with a screen adaptation of Jules Feiffer's jet-black comedy Little Murders -- a theatrical work that Arkin had previously directed, to rave reviews, off-Broadway. A foray into the subject of American apathy in the face of random violence as it escalated during the late '60s and early '70s, the film tells the story of a sociopathically aggressive woman (Marcia Rodd) who wheedles an apathetic photographer-cum-avant-garde filmmaker (Elliott Gould) into marriage. The film divided journalists sharply. Despite initial reservations and objections, the film aged well with time, and has received renewed critical attention in recent years.
Arkin's choice of projects over the remainder of the decade varied dramatically in quality -- from the dregs of Gene Saks' Neil Simon cinematization Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972) and the tasteless police comedy Freebie and the Bean (1974) to the finely wrought, overlooked comedy-mystery The Seven-Percent Solution (1976) and Arthur Hiller's sensational farce The In-Laws (1979). Alongside his film work during the '70s, Arkin authored two best-sellers: the children's book Tony's Hard Work Day (1972) and an exploration of yoga, Half Way Through the Door: An Actor's Journey Towards the Self (1975). In the late '70s, Arkin made a rare televisi
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