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Alan Arkin

(1934 - 2023)

Alan Wolf Arkin was a Jewish-American actor, director, musician, and singer.

He was born on March 26, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York. While in high school, Alan moved with his family to Los Angeles. He attended Los Angeles State College but returned to New York after college to begin a career as a singer/songwriter before turning to acting.

At the age of 29, Arkin left New York to join The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, Illinois. He made his Broadway debut in From the Second City in 1961 and then became a star in the comedy Enter Laughing (1963). He won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor (Dramatic) for Enter Laughing. In 1973, he was nominated as Best Director (Dramatic) for The Sunshine Boys.

In 1966, he made his film debut in The Russians Are Coming; the Russians Are Coming. Arkin is one of only six actors to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his first screen appearance. Two years later, he was again nominated for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Later films included Wait Until Dark (1967), Popi (1969), Catch-22 (1970), The In-Laws (1980), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001), Sunshine Cleaning (2007), Get Smart (2008), and Argo (2012). For his performance as a foul-mouthed grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Arkin also directed three films, including the black comedy Little Murders (1971).

His television roles included Leon Felhendler in Escape from Sobibor (1987) and as Harry Rowen in The Pentagon Papers (2003), for which he earned Emmy nominations, respectively, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. From 2015 to 2016, he voiced J.D. Salinger in the Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman. From 2018 to 2019, he starred as a talent agent in the Netflix comedy series The Kominsky Method, earning two consecutive nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

Arkin was also a singer and songwriter. He was a member of the folk group, The Tarriers. In 1956, they had their biggest hit with a version of the “Banana Boat Song” (also known as “Day-O”), which reached #4 on the Billboard charts.

Arkin was married three times, with two marriages ending in divorce. He and Jeremy Yaffe (m. 1955–1961) had two sons: Adam and Matthew. He was married to actress-screenwriter Barbara Dana from 1964 to 1994 and had a son, Anthony (Tony). In 1996, Arkin married psychotherapist Suzanne Newlander.

He died on June 29, 2023.

Sources: “Alan Arkin (1934 - ),” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 434.

Photo: gdcgraphics, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.