Alan Arkin began his career as a struggling actor playing small roles on stage and television, sustaining himself by doing odd jobs. However, his focus at that time was on singing and he formed a vocal-group specializing in folk music called ‘The Terrier’. He was guitarist and the lead singer of the group.
In 1956, they reworked on the traditional calypso song, ‘The Banana Boat’. The song, with another title, 'Hill and Gully Rider', became a big hit, reaching #4 at the Billboard. The following year, the group appeared in film called ‘Calypso Heat Wave’, where they sang ‘The Banana Boat Song’ and ‘Choucoune’.
In 1958, he left the group to join a children’s folk song group called The Babysitters. In the same year, he made his Off-Broadway debut as a singer in ‘Heloise’.
In 1959, he joined the Compass Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri. However, he did not stay with them for long. Very soon, he moved to Chicago to become one of the founding members of The Second City, an improvisational comedy group.
In 1961, Arkin went back to New York to make his Broadway debut with a musical titled ‘From the Second City’. He wrote the lyrics and also did the sketches.
In 1963, he starred in Broadway comedy ‘Enter Laughing’ and won a Tony Award for it. This was also the year, he wrote and acted in a short film called, ‘That’s me’.
In 1964, Arkin made his television debut, appearing as ‘Ted Miller’ in ‘The Beatnik and the Politician' episode of ‘East Side/West Side’ drama series. At the same time, he continued with his Broadway engagements, appearing as Harry Berlin in ‘Luv’.
In 1966, he made his directorial debut with an Off-Broadway production called ‘Eh?’ His first major film, 'The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming' also released in May 1966, earned him number of awards and nominations.
Subsequently, he began to work in all three mediums. Among his works on stage ‘Little Murders’ (1969), ‘The White House Murder Case’ (1970) and ‘Sunshine Boys’ (1972) are most significant.
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However, from 1966 onwards he began to concentrate more on movies. Quickly, he established his versatility by appearing in all kinds of films. While 'The Russians Are Coming' was a comedy, his 1967 movie ‘Wait Until Dark’ was a psychological horror thriller film, where he appeared as a violent criminal.
In 1968, he again starred in two very different types of pictures; ‘Inspector Clouseau’ and ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’. The later is considered one of his best films and he won several awards and nominations for this work.
‘Popi’ (1969) was another of his major films of this period. Also in 1969, he made his directorial debut with a 12-minute children's film, titled ‘People Soup’. It starred his sons Adam and Matthew.
With a film career spanning six decades, Arkin has acted in more than 100 films and won number of nominations and awards irrespective of the film’s box office success. For example, ‘Catch-22’, released in 1970, was regarded as a commercial and critical failure; but Arkin earned two nominations.
‘Hearts of the West’ (1975) and ‘The In-Laws’ (1979) are Arkin’s two other major works of the 1970s. This was also the decade when he made his feature directorial debut with ‘Little Murders’ (1971) and received great acclaim for it. ‘Fire Sale’, another film directed by him, was also released in 1977.
He began the 1980s by starring in comedy film called ‘Simon’ and was nominated for Saturn Award for Best Actor. ‘Improper Channels’ (1981), ‘Joshua Then and Now’ (1985), and ‘Escape from Sobibor’ (1987) are three of his most acclaimed work of this decade.
Very soon, he began to slow down wishing to find more time for his family. Yet, he appeared in a number of quality movies like ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990), ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ (1992), ‘Indian Summer’ (1993), ‘Mother Night’ (1996) and ‘Slums of Beverly Hills’ (1998).
Along with working in films he has concurrently worked on stage and television. However, since early 1970s he abandoned stage acting because that was too demanding and began to concentrate on directing. However, in 1990s, he once again appeared in a play he wrote, ‘Virtual Reality’.
As 2000 set in, Arkin further limited his activities. Yet, he produced number of masterpieces like ‘Thirteen Conversations About One Thing’ (2001), ‘Eros’ (2004), ‘Little Miss Sunshine’(2006), and ‘Argo’ (2012) etc. His last released film ‘Love the Coopers’ (November 2015) was a box office hit.
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’Little Miss Sunshine’, released in 2006, is one of Arkin’s best film. His role as crude and heroin-addicted Grandfather, Edwin, not only earned him great acclaim, but at 72, he became the sixth oldest person to win an Oscar.
’Argo’, released in 2012 is another of his best works. The film was not only critically acclaimed, but Arkin’s acting was especially commended. As Lester Siegel, Arkin received three awards and twelve nominations.
Arkin has also written a number of books. Among them are ‘Tony's Hard Work Day’ (1972), ‘The Lemming Condition’ (1976), ‘Halfway Through the Door: An Actor's Journey Toward Self’ (1979) , ‘The Clearing’ (1986) and last but not the least, his memoir, ‘An Improvised Life’, released in March 2011.
Awards & Achievements
Alan Arkin has received numerous awards in his long acting career. In 1966, he received Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his role in ‘The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming’. In addition he received five nominations including the Academy Award for Best Actor for the same work.
In 1968, he received Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his role in ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’. He was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture for the same role.
In 1969, he received Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his role in ‘Popi’ and nomination for Golden Globe Award.
in 1975, he received New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in ‘Hearts of the West’.
In 2006, he finally received Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in ’Little Miss Sunshine’. He also received five other awards, including the BAFTA Award and seven nominations for the same role.
In 2012, he received Hollywood Film Award for Ensemble of the Year, Palm Springs International Film Festival Ensemble Cast Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for his work in Argo. In addition he has received twelve nominations, including Academy Award nomination, for the same work.