Alan Arkin was born on March 26, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York. He found success performing with folk-music groups from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, at which point he turned his attention to acting. Arkin was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his screen acting debut in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and was nominated again two years later for his performance in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. In 2007, Arkin received his third Oscar nomination and first win for a supporting role in the indie film Little Miss Sunshine. He followed up six years later with an Oscar nomination for his role in the Ben Affleck–directed Argo, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Alan Wolf Arkin was born on March 26, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York. Arkin began studying acting at age 10 and knew early on that he wanted to be a professional actor one day. On the cusp of his teenage years, Arkin moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he began exploring music, teaching himself to play guitar. After high school, Arkin studied drama at Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles State College before returning east to attend Bennington College in Vermont.
However, the appeal of life as a touring musician pulled Arkin away from Vermont before he graduated, and he left school behind to play with a folk group called the Tarriers. Although the Tarriers fared relatively well, scoring a #4 chart hit with "The Banana Boat Song" in 1956, Arkin left the band in 1958 to join the children’s folk group the Baby Sitters. But his focus soon turned back to acting, once he hit the stage and found his footing.
The Acting Bug Bites (Again)
In 1958, Arkin began his stage career, landing roles in New York City and working with an improv group out of St. Louis before moving to Chicago. In the Windy City, Arkin honed his improv skills while working toward becoming a founding member of the famed Second City comedy troupe. While he once said that he moved to Chicago because he couldn’t make it in New York, in 1961 Arkin returned to the New York stage with Second City and made quick progress toward his childhood dream of acting for a living. His roles in the 1963 production of Enter Laughing (for which he won a Tony Award) and the 1964 production of Luv at the Booth Theatre (which was directed by Mike Nichols) went a long way toward solidifying his nascent career.
With these successes under his belt, Arkin was ready to make his leap to the big screen. And it quickly became evident that his acting career was the real deal.
Arkin made his feature debut in 1966 in the comedy The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, and hot on the heels of his Tony Award, Arkin earned an Oscar nomination for his work in the film. His performance also won him the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor, and he was nominated for the Golden Globe’s Most Promising Newcomer Award. Putting comedy aside, in the late 1960s Arkin took on a few darker roles, such as that of the villain in the 1967 Audrey Hepburn film Wait Until Dark and the 1968 film The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in which he played a deaf-mute. For the latter role, Arkin earned nominations for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe. (During his notable career, Arkin has received three further Golden Globe nominations, for his role in the 1969 film Popi, for the 1987 made-for-TV movie Escape from Sobibor and for 2012’s Argo.)
Arkin hit a brief bump in the road with Catch-22 (1970), the relatively unsuccessful adaptation of the wildly popular Joseph Heller novel, but his career over the next several decades would prove to be a nonstop ride, that has left him with more than 100 acting credits to his name, spanning both TV and film. Among Arkin's most well-known works are Edward Scissorhands (1990), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), Little Miss Sunshine (2006; Oscar win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role) and Argo (2012).
Personal Life and Other Notable Works
Arkin has been married three times and has three sons, Anthony, Adam and Matthew Arkin, each of whom is also an actor. When not acting, Alan Arkin has written several science fiction stories, children's books and screenplays for shorts and a feature TV movie. He has also turned his attention to directing over the years, helming several short films and a handful of TV shows. Arkin has also been nominated for four Emmy Awards, ranging from his work in 1967’s ABC Stage 67 to the 2003 TV movie The Pentagon Papers.
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