Oscar Actors: Arkin, Alan–Background, Career, Awards, Cum Advantage (Oscar, Multiple Noms, Tony)

Updated June 28, 2020
Alan Arkin Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: Yes; father painter, writer, then set designer; Alan Arkin’s 3 sons actors

Social Class: Middle class; mother teacher

Race/Ethnicity: Jewish (grandparents from Ukraine)

Family: Not religious, moved from NY to LA when he was 11

Education: Los Angeles City College, 1951 to 1953

Training: Acting classes since age 10

Teacher/Inspirational Figure: Nahum Zemach

Radio Debut:

TV Debut: “Sesame Street,” 1970-71; age 36

Stage Debut: Second City, in his 20s

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut: The Russians Are Coming, 1966; age 32

Breakthrough Role: Russians Are Coming

Oscar Role: Little Miss Sunshine, 2006; age 72

Other Noms: 3 noms (2 lead, and 1 Supporting for Argo, 2011l age 77

Other Awards: Oscar nom for directing a short in 1969; age 35; Tony Award, 1963; age 29

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: lead and character actor

Last Film: NA

Career Output: NA

Film Career Span: 1966-present (over 54 years)

Marriage: 3 marriages; second wife (1964-94) actress, worked together; third wife psychotherapist

Politics: his father accused of Communist tendencies; acquitted after his death

Death: NA

Alan Wolf Arkin has enjoyed a film career spanning seven decades. He is best known for his performances in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966); Wait Until Dark (1967); The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968); Popi (1969); Catch-22 (1970); The In-Laws (1979); Edward Scissorhands (1990); The Rocketeer (1991); Glengarry Glen Ross (1992); Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001); Little Miss Sunshine (2006); Get Smart (2008); Sunshine Cleaning (2008); and Argo (2012).

He has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar Award twice, for his performances in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, and for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in Little Miss Sunshine and received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in Argo.

Arkin was born in Brooklyn, New York City, on March 26, 1934, the son of David I. Arkin, a painter and writer, and his wife, Beatrice (née Wortis), a teacher. He was raised in a Jewish family with “no emphasis on religion.” His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Russia, and Germany. His parents moved to Los Angeles when Alan was 11, but an 8-month Hollywood strike cost his father his job as a set designer.

During the 1950s Red Scare, Arkin’s parents were accused of being Communists, and his father was fired when he refused to answer questions about his political ideology. David Arkin challenged the dismissal, but he was vindicated only after his death.

Arkin had been taking acting lessons since age 10. He became a scholarship student at various drama academies, including the Stanislavsky student Benjamin Zemach, who taught Arkin a psychological approach to acting.

Arkin attended Los Angeles City College from 1951 to 1953. He also attended Bennington College.

With two friends, he formed the folk music group The Tarriers, in which Arkin sang and played guitar. The band members co-composed the group’s 1956 hit “The Banana Boat Song,” a reworking with new lyrics of traditional, Jamaican calypso folk song, combined with another titled “Hill and Gully Rider.” It reached #4 on the Billboard magazine chart the same year as Harry Belafonte’s better-known hit version. The group appeared in the 1957 film “Calypso Heat Wave,” singing “Banana Boat Song” and “Choucoune.”

From 1958 to 1968, Arkin performed and recorded with the children’s folk group, The Baby Sitters. He also performed the role of Dr. Pangloss in a concert staging of Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide,” alongside Madeline Kahn’s Cunegonde. Arkin was an early member of the Second City comedy troupe in the 1960s.

Arkin is one of only 6 actors to receive Best Actor Oscar nomination for his first screen role, for “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” in 1966.

Two years later, he was again nominated, for “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”

In 1968, he appeared in the title role of Inspector Clouseau after Peter Sellers dissociated himself from the role, but the film was not well received by Sellers’ fans.

Arkin and his second wife Barbara Dana appeared together on the 1970–1971 season of Sesame Street as comical couple named Larry and Phyllis who resolve their conflicts when they remember how to pronounce the word “cooperate.” Arkin and Dana later appeared together again in 1987 on the ABC sitcom Harry, which was canceled after four low-rated episodes.

His best known films include Wait Until Dark as the erudite killer stalking Audrey Hepburn; The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming as the leader of the landing party from the stranded Soviet submarine, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Catch-22, as Yossarian, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Little Murders, The In-Laws, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Little Miss Sunshine, for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar; and Argo. His portrayal of Dr. Oatman, a scared and emotionally conflicted psychiatrist treating John Cusack’s hit man character Martin Q. Blank in Grosse Point Blank was also well received.

Oscar Role:

His role in Little Miss Sunshine, as Grandfather Edwin, who was foul-mouthed and had a taste for snorting heroin, won him the BAFTA Film Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and the Oscar Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

On receiving his Oscar on February 25, 2007, 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”.

At 72 years old, Arkin was the sixth oldest winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

In 2006–2007, Arkin was cast in supporting roles in Rendition as a U.S. Senator and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause as Bud Newman (Carol’s Father).

On Broadway, Arkin starred in Enter Laughing (for which he won a Tony Award) and Luv. He also directed The Sunshine Boys, among others.

In 1969, Arkin’s directorial debut was the Oscar-nominated 12-minute children’s film titled People Soup, starring his sons Adam and Matthew Arkin. Based on a story of the same name he published in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1958, People Soup is a fantasy about two boys who experiment with various kitchen ingredients until they concoct a magical soup which transforms them into different animals and objects.

Directing Little Murders

His most acclaimed directorial effort is Little Murders, released in 1971. Written by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, it is a black comedy film starring Elliott Gould and Marcia Rodd about a girl, Patsy (Rodd), who brings home her boyfriend, Alfred (Gould), to meet her severely dysfunctional family amidst a series of random shootings, garbage strikes and electrical outages ravaging the neighborhood.

Arkin also directed Fire Sale (1977), Samuel Beckett Is Coming Soon (1993) and Arigo (2000).

Arkin is the author of many books, including Tony’s Hard Work Day (illustrated by James Stevenson, 1972), The Lemming Condition (illustrated by Joan Sandin, 1976), Halfway Through the Door: An Actor’s Journey Toward Self (1979), and The Clearing (1986 continuation of Lemming). He has released two memoirs, An Improvised Life (2011) and Out of My Mind (2018).

In 1985, he sang two selections by Jones & Schmidt on Ben Bagley’s album Contemporary Broadway Revisited.

In 2014, Arkin received the Gregory Peck Award for Cinematic Excellence to honor his life’s work at the San Diego Film Festival.

Marriages: 3
Arkin has been married three times, with two ending in divorce. He and Jeremy Yaffe (m. 1955–1961) have two sons: Adam Arkin, born August 19, 1956, and Matthew Arkin, born March 21, 1960. He was married to actress-screenwriter Barbara Dana from 1964 to 1994: she appeared with him in segments of the TV Show Sesame Street in the 1970s. They lived in Chappaqua, New York. In 1967, they had son Anthony (Tony) Dana Arkin. In 1996, Arkin married psychotherapist Suzanne Newlander, whose surname he adopted for his character Norman Newlander in The Kominsky Method. They live in Carlsbad, California

Tony Award: 1963
Arkin began his career as a member of a folk singing group, the Tarriers. Her first attracted attention as a member of The Second City satirical group out of Chicago. An overnight critical sensation in his first Broadway appearance, in Enter Laughing (Tony Award, 1963), he later appeared in “Luv” and directed a number of plays, including the Off Broadway production of “Little Murders” as well as the subsequent screen version (1971)

A comedian, at his best playing bumbling, loud comic types, he played a sensitive dramatic lead as a deafmute in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). He was nominated for a best actor Oscar for this film, as well as for his screen debut role in The Russians are Coming (1966). Arkin won the Supporting Actor Oscar in 2006 for the comedy, “Little Miss Sunshine,” in which he played the eccentric, foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed grandfather.

Arkin has long been recognized as an actor of great talent and versatility on stage, screen and television. Born in New York, Arkin launched his career with Chicagos improvisational revue Second City. This led to his first part on Broadway, the lead in Carl Reiners play Enter Laughing, for which he won a Tony Award. The following year he appeared again on Broadway in Murray Schisgals hit, LUV. In 1998 he directed, starred and co-wrote with Elaine May, the hit production of Power Plays at the Promenade Theatre.

Arkin began directing for the stage with the much acclaimed Eh, starring Dustin Hoffman, at the Circle in the Square. He then won an Obie for directing Jules Feiffers Little Murders, followed by Feiffers The White House Murder Case, all three of which kept the Circle in the Square tied up for several years. These productions were followed by The Sunshine Boys on Broadway, Rubbers and Yanks Three at The American Place Theater, Joan of Lorraine at the Hartman in Stamford, The Sorrows of Stephen at the Burt Reynolds Theatre, starring his son Adam; and Room Service at the Roundabout in New York.

Alan Arkin’s first feature The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, as well as an Oscar nomination. He received a second Oscar nomination, and the New York Critics Award, for his performance in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. A second New York Critics Award followed for his role in Hearts of the West. His other films have included Catch-22, Little Murders (which he also directed), Joshua: Then and Now, The In-Laws, Edward Scissorhands, Havana, Glengarry Glen Ross, Four Days in September, Mother Night, Slums of Beverly Hills, Gattaca, Steal Big, Steal Little, Jakob The Liar, Grosse Pointe Blank, Americas Sweethearts, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Noel and The Novice.

Arkin has written and directed two short films, T.G.I.F. and People Soup. The first opened the New York Film Festival and the latter received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Subject. Arkin recently completed the animated film Bee Movie, written and directed by Jerry Seinfeld, as well as the feature Little Miss Sunshine for directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Arkin starred in the highly acclaimed A&E series 100 Centre Street, written and directed by Sidney Lumet. Other television appearances include his Emmy-nominated performances in The Pentagon Papers for the FX network and Escape From Sobibor. He guest starred as the father of his real-life son Adam Arkin on Chicago Hope, which earned him yet another Emmy nomination, and also appeared in Showtimes Varians War. He was recently seen in HBOs And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself with Antonio Banderas for director Bruce Beresford.

Arkin directed the TV adaptation of the Broadway play Twigs with Carol Burnett, and The Visitor with Jeff Daniels, Swoozie Kurtz and Julie Haggerty, which won multiple international awards.


Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations

1966: The Russians Are Coming (Best Actor)
1968: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Best Actor)
2006: Little Miss Sunshine (Supporting Actor)

Oscar Awards

2006: Supporting Actor