Probably best known for his comedy roles in films such as Catch 22 and Little Miss Sunshine, Alan Arkin was in reality very serious to the point of being a somewhat spiky personality on set according to some directors
Born Alan Wolf Arkin on 26th March 1934 in Brookyn New York to schoolteacher parents he had been attending acting classes even as a child and when he was 11 years old the whole family moved to LA where he studied acting at University. In 1955 at 21 years old he married the first of his three wives that only lasted six years during which he made his acting debut in the long forgotten ‘Calypso Heat Wave’ in 1957 but worked more in theatre in off-Broadway shows having had a brief stint with a folk group The Tarriers. During this time he divorced before marrying his second wife in 1964 who had joined his singing group.
By Alan Arkin was appearing on Broadway itself and won a Tony award in 1963 and his performance caught the eye of Norman Jewison who cast him in his first lead film role in 1966’s ‘The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!’ a cold wat satire and would earn him huis first Oscar nomination. His comic flair led to him being cast as Inspector Clouseau a role that he would play only once and would be forever overshadowed by Peter Sellers in what was his defining role. But Alan Arkin had range – one of his best roles was far darker playing the bad guy in the terrific thriller in 1967’s Wait Until Dark opposite Audrey Hepburn where he terrorised her. That same year he got another Oscar nomination for ‘The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter’ (1968) as a deaf man. But it was his next role that would define him playing Yossarian in Catch 22 an adaptation of the best selling book and a far from easy shoot going on for months and the film’s title quickly became a catchphrase that would immediately fall into modern parlance.
Arkin had turned his hand to directing having started with a short film in 1957 and making his feature length debut helming Little Murders in 1971 a dark comedy that starred Elliott Gould and in all Arkin would direct nine shorts, films and TV series. The 1970’s would see him in range of differing genres that included cop thriller ‘Freebie and the Bean’ with James Caan but little else set the box office alight. It was only at the start of the 1990’s that he would start catching audiences and film makers attention with ‘Edward Scissorhands’, the superb ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ and the comedy thriller ‘Grosse Point Blank’ but it would be 2006’s ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ that served him well winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as an often blunt but warm grandfather. It was arguably his last great role though he would go on to be nominated for a fourth and last time in Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ in 2013. After this Arkin’s films would not bring him any further acclaim.
His association with spiritual mentor John Battista saw him write a book about their 20 year friendship ( though never actually mentioning him by name) but Battista was also charged with a number of sexual offences and eventually committed suicide and Arkin’s association with him stalled his career in the last few years of his life although his role in TV series, ‘The Kominsky Method’ saw him Emmy nominated but his last role would be providing a voice for ‘Minions The Rise of Gru’.
He had three children one of which followed him into acting & directing and 1996 saw Arkin marry his third and last wife until his death aged 89 years old on 29th June 2023.
related feature; Glenda Jackson obituary