Alan Arkin Biography


Alan Arkin

Born Alan Wolf Arkin, March 26, 1934, in Brooklyn, NY; son of David I. (an artist and teacher) and Beatrice (a teacher; maiden name, Wortis) Arkin; married Jeremy Yaffe (a nurse), 1955 (divorced, 1960); married Barbara Dana (an actress and screenwriter), June 16, 1964 (divorced); married Suzanne Newlander, c. 1996; children: Adam, Matthew (from first marriage), Anthony (from second marriage). Education: Attended Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles State College, and Bennington College; trained with Second City.

Addresses: Agent —William Morris Agency, One William Morris Pl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.


Actor in films, including: The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming! , 1966; Wait Until Dark , 1967; The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter , 1968; Inspector Closeau , 1968; Popi , 1969; Catch-22 , 1970; The In-Laws , 1979; Joshua Then and Now , 1985; Edward Scissorhands , 1990; Glengarry Glen Ross , 1992; Indian Summer , 1993; Mother Night , 1996; The Slums of Beverly Hills , 1998; 13 Conversations About One Thing , 2001; Eros , 2004; Little Miss Sunshine , 2006. Television appearances include: East Side/West Side , CBS, 1964; The Les Crane Show , ABC, 1964, 1965; Sesame Street , PBS, 1970–72; It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy (movie), 1974; The Other Side of Hell (movie), NBC, 1978; The Defection of Simas Kurdirka (movie), CBS, 1978; A Matter of Principle (play), PBS, 1984; A Deadly Business (movie), CBS, 1986; 100 Centre Street , PBS, 2001; The Pentagon Papers (movie), 2003; And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself (movie), 2003. Stage appearances include: Heloise , Gate Theatre, New York City, 1958; From the Second City , Royale Theatre, New York City, 1961, then Off-Broadway, 1962; Enter Laughing , Henry Miller Theatre, New York City, 1963; Luv , Booth Theatre, 1964; The Opening , 1972; Power Plays , Promenade Theater, New York City, 1998. Also performed with Compass Players, 1959, and Second City comedy troupe, c. 1959–1960. Stage directorial work includes: Eh? , Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City, 1967; The White House Murder Case , Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City, 1970; The Sunshine Boys , Broadhurst Theatre, New York City, 1972; Molly , Alvin Theatre, New York City, 1973; Room Service , Roundabout Theatre, New York City, 1986; (also writer) Power Plays , Promenade Theater, New York City, 1998; Taller Than a Dwarf , 2000. Also musician and songwriter with folk group, the Tarriers, c. late 1950s; contributed to periodicals, including Galaxy; wrote children's books; lectured on creativity at various universities.

Member: American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, American Federation of Musicians, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, Actors Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild.

Awards: Antoinette Perry Award for best supporting actor, League of New York Theatres and Pro- ducers, for Enter Laughing , 1963; Golden Laurel Award for male new face, Motion Picture Exhibitor magazine, 1967; Golden Globe Award for best motion picture actor—musical/comedy, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming , 1967; best actor, New York Film Critics Circle, for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter , 1968; best actor, Kansas City Film Critics, for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter , 1969; Obie Award for distinguished directing, Village Voice , for The White House Murder Case , 1970; best actor, Kansas City Film Critics, for Popi , 1970; best supporting actor, New York Film Critics Circle, for Hearts of the West , 1975; Genie Award for best performance by a foreign actor, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, for Improper Channels , 1982; Genie Award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, for Joshua Then and Now , 1986; Valladolid International Film Festival Award (with others), best actor, Valladolid International Film Festival, for Glengarry Glen Ross , 1992; best supporting actor, Boston Society of Film Critics, for Thirteen Conversations About One Thing , 2002; (with others) best ensemble cast, Florida Film Critics Circle, for Thirteen Conversations About One Thing , 2003; Academy Award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for Little Miss Sunshine , 2007; BAFTA Award for best actor in a supporting role, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for Little Miss Sunshine , 2007; Independent Spirit Award for best supporting male, Film Independent, for Little Miss Sunshine , 2007; Screen Actors Guild Award (with others) for outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role, for Little Miss Sunshine , 2007; best supporting actor, Vancouver Film Critics Circle, for Little Miss Sunshine , 2007.


Actor Alan Arkin capped a long career as a stage, film, and television actor with a 2007 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his work in the hit indie film Little Miss Sunshine . Playing the loving—but drug-addicted—grandfather brought Arkin well-deserved attention, but it was just one of many memorable roles he portrayed over the years. He believed that many of his characters were similar to him by the nature of the craft. He told Salem Alaton of the Globe and Mail , "What attracts me [to acting] is not the glamour, not the burying yourself in other people, or the pretending to bury yourself in other people. Because I never do, anyway. It's always me. No matter how far away from it you think you're getting, it's always 95 percent you."

Born in 1934 in Brooklyn, New York, Arkin was the son of two teachers, David and Beatrice Arkin. His father was also an artist. Arkin knew he wanted to be an actor by the time he was five years old. He studied acting from an early age, wherever he could. By the time he was eleven years old, the family had moved to Los Angeles where his father hoped to find work as a scenery painter for films. As Arkin reached middle school, he also developed an interest in music and taught himself to play guitar. He made extra money by playing in social clubs as he got older, though acting remained his primary interest. After studying drama at Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles State College in the early 1950s, Arkin returned to the east, attending Bennington College for a few years.

After leaving school, Arkin focused on music for a time by joining a band called the Tarriers. The folk group soon had chart-topping hit songs such as "Cindy, Oh Cindy" and "The Banana Boat Song." The success of the Tarriers in the late 1950s allowed Arkin to return to acting, though his career did not take off right away. Arkin began his acting career on stage. After an early singing role in Heloise in New York City in 1958, then working with the St. Louis, Missouri-based improvisational Compass Players in 1959, Arkin decided he needed training in acting.

To that end, he went to Chicago. Arkin studied improv at Second City and became a member of the original Second City comedy troupe. Arkin learned much from the experience. He told Anna Quindlen of the New York Times , "I took the Second City job because I was failing in New York. I couldn't get arrested. When I got there I wasn't funny at all. But slowly I built one character, then another, and the audience helped teach me what was funny and what didn't work."

Arkin returned to the New York stage with the Second City revue From the Second City in 1961–62. He soon became a star on Broadway with his work in the 1963 production of Enter Laughing at the Henry Miller Theatre and the 1964 production of Luv at the Booth Theatre. He won a Tony Award for Enter Laughing . Arkin then began focusing on film, though he also did a few guest spots on series like East Side/West Side and The Les Crane Show .

Arkin's feature acting career took off in 1966 with an appearance in the comedy The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! which led to an Academy Award nomination. Some of his roles were dark as he played a cold-hearted villain who terrorizes a character played by Audrey Hepburn in 1967's Wait Until Dark . Another early memorable role was playing deaf-mute John Singer in the 1968 film The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter , which also garnered Arkin an Oscar nomination. That same year, he played the title role in Inspector Clouseau . The following year, Arkin played Puerto Rican Abraham Rodriguez, the father in Popi . His film career temporarily stalled after he appeared in a box office bomb, the 1970 adaptation of the Joseph Heller novel, Catch-22 .

While Arkin continued to appear in films, he also began directing stage productions, finding it more satisfying than acting on stage. Arkin's directorial debut came in 1967 with Eh? , which he did under the pseudonym Roger Short. At the time, the Off-Broadway production was struggling, though it did star a young Dustin Hoffman. Arkin turned the production around and made it a success. Through 1976, Arkin directed at least ten plays in the Northeast, including New York productions of The Sunshine Boys in 1972 and Molly in 1973. His direction of the Off-Broadway production of The White House Murder Case in 1970 won him an Obie Award.

Arkin occasionally worked in television in the 1970s, though the medium was not one he particularly favored unless the role was interesting. In 1970, he began a two-year run on the popular children's series Sesame Street as Larry. When his film career briefly slowed down, he appeared in several television movies, including It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy in 1974, as well as The Other Side of Hell and The Defection of Simas Kurdirka , both airing in 1978. Referring to the latter movies, Arkin told the New York Times' Quindlen, "My agent warned me about doing the two of them because he thought it would kill my movie career. I talked to my family and I finally told my agent if doing terrific work and making terrific money is giving up something, I'll take it."

Arkin's film career rebounded in the late 1970s. In 1979, he starred in the comedy The In-Laws opposite Peter Falk. Arkin played a dentist whose life is turned upside down after he becomes engaged to the daughter of a scheming government agent, played by Falk, who is trying to steal U.S. currency engraving plates and sell them. Arkin's character was dragged into the mess. The film remained popular among comedy fans for years after its release. For Joshua Then and Now , released in 1985, Arkin received praise from critics and audiences for his acting work. In this film, which was based on a novel by Mordecai Richler, he played Reuben, the petty crook father of the titular character, a writer.

While his film career was again going strong, Arkin returned to stage directing several times in the mid-1980s. In 1986, for example, he directed a production of the farce Room Service at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City. Originally produced in 1937, the play focuses on a fly-by-night producer who scams his way into ensuring that his production stays open and his cast has a hotel to stay at in the White Way. The production also featured the stage debut of Arkin's son, Tony, the product of his second marriage to actress-writer Barbara Dana.

Arkin also appeared in a cluster of television series, plays, and movies in the mid- to late 1980s. In addition to appearing in a PBS production of A Matter of Principle , which aired on American Playhouse in 1984, he played Harold Kaufman in 1986's A Deadly Business . The television movie aired on CBS and focused on toxic waste.

In addition, Arkin continued to write and publish books, something he had been doing for many years. While a struggling stage actor in the late 1950s, he had contributed science fiction stories to Galaxy magazine. Arkin penned a number of children's books between acting gigs, including Some Fine Grampa! , which was inspired by his granddaughter, Molly. He also continued to make music and lectured on creativity at various universities.

By this point in his career, Arkin was selective about the roles he would take no matter what the genre. Time with family and having downtime were important to him as he reached his sixties. Despite wanting to slow down, he continued to take on quality film roles. In the early 1990s, he appeared in Edward Scissorhands, Glengarry Glen Ross , and Indian Summer . Arkin's work as a failing salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross was particularly acclaimed by critics.

In the mid- to late 1990s, he continued to challenge himself by taking on a variety of film roles, including a memorable turn as a villain in 1996's Mother Night . Arkin also had a featured role in the 1998 independent hit The Slums of Beverly Hills . Arkin played Murray Abromowitz, a single father of three teenagers, in this coming-of-age story. The film focuses his character's daughter reaching maturity while growing up on the poor side of the wealthy Los Angeles suburb in 1976.

Although Arkin said he would not do stage acting again because of its demands and his own lack of interest, he took on one challenge in 1998. His appearance in the play he wrote, "Virtual Reality," as part of Power Plays , was his first role since 1972's The Opening . Arkin also directed the three humorous one-acts that made up Power Plays and received much critical praise for his three contributions to the production. He directed another play in 2000, Taller Than a Dwarf , as well.

Arkin's film career became limited again in the early 2000s. While doing the occasional mainstream film, he primarily appeared in indies like 13 Conversations About One Thing in 2001 and Eros in 2004. Ar-kin also did more television, including a ten-episode stint on the series 100 Centre Street in 2001 and television movies The Pentagon Papers and And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself , both in 2003.

Arkin saw his career reach a new high with his role as the heroin- and porn-addicted grandfather in the dark family comedy/road flick Little Miss Sunshine in 2006. His character trained his granddaughter, Olive Hoover, as she prepared to compete in a kiddie beauty pageant. While Arkin's Edwin Hoover, aka Grandpa, died during the course of the film, his legacy continued to its end. Arkin's work in Little Miss Sunshine was widely praised, regarded as perhaps the best performance in the film. This opinion was emphasized when Arkin won his first Oscar as best supporting actor. According to Sheigh Crabtree of the Los Angeles Times , in his acceptance speech Arkin said, "More than anything, I'm deeply moved by the open-hearted appreciation our small film has received, which in these fragmented times speaks so openly of the possibility of innocence, growth, and connection."

Landing more plum film roles, including the role of Chief in the big-screen version of the 1960s television program Get Smart , Arkin remained philosophical about his life, varied career, and self-definition. He told David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor , "We set limits on what we can think about and what we're capable of doing…. But that's a self-definition. It has nothing to do with who you really are. I'm interested in finding out someday what I really am. I believe strongly there is something within each of us that goes way past what our vision is—something infinitely more exciting than what we conceive ourselves to be."

Selected writings

Children's books

        Tony's Hard Work Day
      , Harper (New York City), 1972; rev. ed., Gibbs Smith (Salt Lake City,
      UT), 2002.
The Lemming Condition , Harper, 1976.
The Clearing , Harper and Row (New York City), 1986.
Some Fine Grampa! , HarperCollins (New York City), 1995.
One Present from Flekman's , HarperCollins, 1999.
Cassie Loves Beethoven , Hyperion (New York City), 2000.
Cosmo: A Cautionary Tale , Azro Press (Santa Fe, NM), 2005.


        Halfway Through the Door: An Actor's Journey Toward Self
      , Harper and Row (New York City), 1979.
Halfway Through the Door: First Steps on the Path Toward Enlightenment , Harper and Row, 1984.



Contem porary Theatre, Film and Television , vol. 39, Gale Group (Detroit, MI), 2002.


Chicago Sun-Times , April 26, 1993, sec. 2, p. 4.

Christian Science Monitor , July 8, 1986, p. 1.

Globe and Mail (Canada), September 5, 1985.

Los Angeles Times , February 26, 2007, p. E11.

New York Post , January 26, 1998, p. 41; January 7, 2007, p. C3.

New York Times , February 9, 1986, sec. 2, p. 7; May 22, 1998, p. E1; January 7, 2007, sec. 2A, p. 7.

Seattle Times , March 13, 1998, p. E1.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch , September 13, 1998, p. F4.

Toronto Star , August 28, 1998, p. D3.

Toronto Sun , August 4, 2006, p. E5.

Washington Post , June 15, 1979, p. B2.


"Alan Arkin," Internet Movie Database, (May 16, 2007).

Contemporary Authors Online , Thomson Gale, 2007.

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