Childhood & Early Life
John Allen Astin was born on March 30, 1930, in Baltimore, Maryland, to Margaret Linnie Mackenzie and Dr. Allen Varley Astin. His father was a physicist who served as the fifth director of the ‘National Board of Standards’ (currently known as the ‘National Institute of Standards and Technology’) from 1951 to 1969.
Astin grew up in Washington, DC and graduated from ‘Woodrow Wilson High School’ in 1948. He was a math scholar like his father and had a strong affinity for the sciences. Furthermore, a high-school classroom experience of being reprimanded by his English teacher for an incorrect reading of ‘Moby Dick’ had strengthened his faith in the sciences. Following this incident, he was resolute never to return to English.
After graduating high school, Astin followed in his father’s footsteps and became a math major at ‘Washington & Jefferson College’ in West Pennsylvania, where he received a scholarship. He strongly expressed his knack for the hard sciences to a teacher during his freshman year, but his misplaced aversion toward the humanities did not stand a chance in front of his destiny.
During his freshman year at ‘Washington & Jefferson College,’ Astin experienced the shackles of science loosening after watching Thornton Wilder's ‘Our Town.’ Inspired by what he had seen in Wilder’s play, Astin, along with a fellow student, produced Noel Coward’s ‘Ways and Means.’
In the early 1950s, Astin faced a great personal loss when his favorite English professor, who had once handed him a copy of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness,’ left the college due to the American government’s crackdown on academicians to fish out communist elements. Soon, Astin transferred to the math department at ‘Johns Hopkins University.’
To his father’s dismay, Astin started neglecting his studies to take up acting jobs in and around Baltimore. Though Astin admitted to being absolutely determined to complete his studies, he soon made the most unexpected and fateful choice of his life and joined what was then called the ‘Johns Hopkins Play Shop.’ He graduated with a degree in drama in 1952.
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Astin started his acting career with theater. He moved to New York, hoping for a breakthrough in his career. He had to take up menial jobs to keep himself afloat during those aspirational years. He worked as a sweeper at an ‘Off-Broadway’ theater, which staged the New York classic ‘The Threepenny Opera.’ In 1954, a couple of years after moving to New York, John Astin became part of the original cast of the show. He was called for the show’s second run in 1955, and continued playing his part till December 1961.
Astin took up work as a voice artist for cartoons and commercials on TV while pursuing his career in ‘Broadway’ and ‘Off-Broadway’ productions. In 1956, he got his big break as an understudy in Charles Loughton’s famous ‘Broadway’ production of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Major Barbara.’ After his resounding success in ‘Broadway’ productions, Astin played the roles of ‘Francisco’ in ‘The Power and the Glory’ (1958–1959) and ‘Collins’ in ‘Tall Story’ (1959).
His over-the-top demeanor and perfect comic timing gained him a lot of attention. Soon, on the insistence of fellow actor Tony Randall, Astin stepped into Hollywood. Simultaneously starting his TV and film careers in 1960, Astin landed small but memorable parts. He appeared in single episodes on TV shows such as ‘Maverick’ (1960), ‘The Twilight Zone’ (1961), ‘77 Sunset Strip’ (1962), and ‘Ben Casey’ (1962). He also made his first silver-screen appearance in ‘The Pusher’ (1960).
Astin did not struggle much to establish his prowess in the world of comedy and got his breakthrough role in 1961, when he was cast as the hilarious social worker ‘Glad Hand’ in ‘West Side Story,’ the movie adaptation of the ‘Broadway’ musical of the same name.
During the 1960s, he appeared in ‘That Touch of Mink’ (1962), ‘Move Over Darling’ (1963), ‘The Wheeler Dealers’ (1963), ‘The Spirit Is Willing’ (1967), ‘Candy’ (1968), and ‘Viva Max!’ (1969).
Though he had his fair share of movies in his first decade in Hollywood, Astin’s real recognition came from the world of TV. He bagged his first lead role in the ‘ABC’ sitcom ‘I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster’ in 1962, alongside co-star Marty Ingles. They played two accident-prone carpenters. Though the series lasted only one season, it became a prelude to Astin’s legendary role of ‘Gomez Addams.’
Based on cartoons created by Charles Addams, the horror/black comedy ‘The Addams Family’ became one of Astin’s most memorable works. From 1964 to 1966, Astin was the patriarch of one of the oldest fictional families on TV. He reprised his role of ‘Gomez Addams’ in the 1977 TV movie ‘Halloween with the New Addams Family.’ Between 1998 and 1999, Astin voiced his character in the animated series ‘The Addams Family’ and played ‘Grandpa Addams’ in the Canadian–American reprisal ‘The New Addams Family.’
Soon after the completion of the original ‘Addams Family’ series in 1966, Astin was cast in the main role in the ‘ABC’ sitcom ‘The Pruitts of Southampton,’ which was based on the Patrick Dennis novel ‘House Party.’ He became ‘the Riddler’ in the second season of ‘Batman’ in 1967, appearing in two episodes.
Between 1967 and 1970, Astin made single-episode appearances on many TV shows, such as ‘The Wild Wild West,’ ‘The Flying Nun,’ ‘Death Valley Days,’ ‘Bonanza,’ and ‘The Odd Couple.’ In 1971 and 1972, Astin appeared in ‘Night Gallery’ thrice, each time in a new avatar.
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After appearing in the second season of ‘McMillan & Wife’ (1972–1973), he was seen in two made-for-TV movies, namely, ‘Only with Married Men’ (1974) and ‘The Dream Makers’ (1975). He then had another spell of single-episode appearances in popular TV series. Astin bagged the lead role of ‘Lt. Commander Matthew Sherman’ in the World War II comedy ‘Operation Petticoat’ (1977–1978).
Some of Astin’s most notable TV projects in the 1980s were ‘The Facts of Life,’ ‘Different Strokes,’ ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ and ‘Night Court.’
He continued to appear on the big screen during the 1970s and the 1980s, with projects such as ‘Freaky Friday’ (1976), ‘Teen Wolf Too’ (1987), ‘Return of the Killer Tomatoes’ (1988), and ‘Night Life’ (1989). He voiced the lead character of ‘Dr. Putrid T. Gangreen’ in the animated series ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,’ adapted from the film of the same name.
During the 1990s, Astin worked mostly as a voice artist for animated shows such as ‘Taz-Mania’ (1991), the adult animated sitcom ‘Duckman’ (1994–1997), ‘Bonkers’ (1994), ‘The Twisted Tale of Felix the Cat’ (1995), ‘Johnny Bravo’ (1997), ‘Pinky and the Brain’ (1997), and ‘The Wild Thornberrys’ (1999).
In 2001, John Astin returned to ‘Johns Hopkins’ to revive their drama course and has taught there ever since. In 2011, the theater in the Merrick Barn was renamed ‘John Astin Theatre’ to commemorate his contribution to the art of drama and his effort toward successfully revitalizing the drama course at ‘Johns Hopkins.’ Astin, who is a decade short of completing a century, hopes to make drama a major degree again at the institute.
While teaching, Astin kept appearing on TV and in movies. His latest project was the 2017 animated series ‘Justice League Action,’ which saw him contribute as a voice artist. He also appeared in the movie ‘Starship II: Rendezvous with Ramses’ in 2015.
Personal & Family Life
John Astin married actor Suzanne Hahn in 1956. Not much is known about their married life. However, it is clear that theirs was not a perfect marriage. The couple got divorced in 1972. Astin has three sons with Hahn: David, Allen, and Tom.
Astin and Hahn’s marriage could have seen its last in 1970, when Astin met Anna Marie “Patty” Duke at an ‘ABC’ convention. They had a short-lived affair, which ended primarily because of Astin’s marital status. However, Astin wasted no time and married Patty Duke on August 5, 1972. Astin adopted Patty’s son from a previous relationship, Sean Astin (a popular actor from the ‘LOTR’ trilogy). The couple welcomed their younger son, Mackenzie Astin, on May 12, 1973. Astin and Duke’s marriage was not completely stable, and after 13 years of ups and downs, the couple finalized their divorce on November 3, 1985.
Astin and Valerie Ann Sandobal had a relationship for a year, before tying the knot on March 19, 1989. Astin moved to Baltimore with his third wife and has lived there for the past 30 years.