Alan Arkin: Oscar Winner for “Little Miss Sunshine”

From an obit on by Carmel Dagan and J. Kim Murphy headlined “Alan Arkin, Oscar Winner for ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ Dies at 89”:

Alan Arkin, an Oscar-winning actor for “Little Miss Sunshine” with a body of work that spans seven decades of stage and screen acting, died June 29 at his home in Carlsbad, Calif.

Arkin’s sons Adam, Matthew and Anthony said, “Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man. A loving husband, father, grand and great grandfather, he was adored and will be deeply missed.”

Arkin, who was known for projecting a characteristically dry wit but could play tragedy with equal efficacy, won his Oscar for his supporting performance in the indie comedy “Little Miss Sunshine” in 2007; he scored an encore nomination for his punchy and profane turn in Ben Affleck’s best picture winner “Argo.” Arkin picked up two earlier nominations in his film career, for “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” in 1967 and for “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” in 1969.

More recently, Arkin received back-to-back Primetime Emmy Award nominations in outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for his performance in the Netflix series “The Kominsky Method,” in which he starred alongside Michael Douglas. Arkin received four additional Emmy nominations (across other categories) earlier in his career.

Beyond his screen career, Arkin began in entertainment as a stage performer, serving as an early member of the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago before making his Broadway debut in “From the Second City” in 1961. Two years later, he scored a Tony Award for starring in Joseph Stein’s comedy “Enter Laughing.”

In “Argo” he played Lester Siegel, the Hollywood veteran who was recruited to produce a fictional sci-fi film whose production would provide cover for the rescue of American hostages in Iran. Siegel, wrote Pete Hammond in his review, even “goes to the extreme of announcing the project in a Variety ad and article. ‘If I am going to be making a fake movie, I want to have a fake hit,’ says Lester, played to amusing perfection by Arkin.”

In “Little Miss Sunshine,” Arkin played the foul-mouthed, heroin-snorting grandfather Edwin. The San Francisco Chronicle said: “The cast is so perfect that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the roles. Arkin’s spontaneity gives the impression that he’s improvising.”

Arkin was an actor whose gifts were recognized early. After his Tony in 1963, he earned his first Emmy nomination, for the “ABC Stage 67” episode “The Love Song of Barney Kempinski,” in 1967, the same year he earned his first Oscar nomination. Arkin never really left television despite the success of his film career. His next Emmy nomination came in 1987 for the Holocaust-themed CBS telepic “Escape From Sobibor”; the third was in 1997 for a guest appearance on “Chicago Hope” and another in 2003 for telepic “The Pentagon Papers.”

Arkin earned his first Oscar nomination for his first credited feature performance. Norman Jewison’s “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” was a Cold War comedy in which a Soviet sub runs aground on a New England island; Arkin played the leader of the Russian party set to scout out the area. Hilarity ensues as Russians and Americans make wild encounters. The New York Times noted that it was Arkin’s debut film and said he gave “a particularly wonderful performance.”

Not all the critics were impressed with his performance in the thriller “Wait Until Dark,” in which he played a psycho terrorizing a blind Audrey Hepburn, but the role increased his profile in Hollywood and has maintained a strong reputation to this day; next he played Inspector Clouseau in a movie of that name, with Peter Sellers nowhere in sight.

Then in 1969 he earned his second Oscar nomination with Carson McCullers adaptation “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” In a review that was otherwise critical of the film, the New York Times said Arkin’s performance as the deaf-mute Singer is “extraordinary, deep and sound. Walking, with his hat jammed flat on his head, among the obese, the mad, the infirm, characters with one leg, broken hip, scarred mouth, failing life, he somehow manages to convey every dimension of his character, especially intelligence.”

He played a Puerto-Rican father in the comedy “Popi,” Yossarian in Mike Nichols’ adaptation of “Catch-22” and the title character in Neil Simon’s adaptation of his own play “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.” Seeking a different kind of experience, he appeared as a Puerto-Rican police detective alongside James Caan in Richard Rush’s crime drama “Freebie and the Bean.”

In 1976, Arkin starred as Sigmund Freud in the Herbert Ross-directed Sherlock Holmes riff “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” with a top-flight cast that included Robert Duvall, Laurence Olivier and Vanessa Redgrave.

Arkin directed his first film in 1971, helming the satire “Little Murders” with Jules Feiffer adapting his own play and Elliot Gould starring. He returned to the director’s chair for the somewhat more accessible 1977 comedy “Fire Sale,” with Arkin and Rob Reiner starring. He also helmed some episodic television and a TV movie.

He closed out the 70’s with one of that decade’s funniest film comedies: “The In-Laws,” starring opposite Peter Falk. Arkin was also the executive producer. The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote: “I was laughing so hard at ‘The In-Laws,’ a wonderful new comedy of errors… that after a while I was crying. Then I was wiping my eyes. Then I forgot to take any more notes.” As for Arkin and Falk, Maslin said, “It is theirs, and not their children’s, match that has been made in heaven.”

The early 1980s were a fallow period for Arkin. But he was the best thing in 1985 Mordecai Richler adaptation “Joshua Then and Now.” The New York Times lauded the “hilarious, scene-stealing performance by Alan Arkin as the hero’s fast-talking father.” He then reunited with Peter Falk for the John Cassavetes-directed comedy “Big Trouble.”

Though he did not play one of the central characters in Tim Burton’s 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands,” Arkin is still remembered for his performance as Winona Ryder’s father that Rolling Stone characterized as “marvelously wry.”

In the early ’90s he appeared in the epic “Havana,” starring Robert Redford, and played the old codger who dreamed up the device that enables the hero to become “The Rocketeer.” Arkin was part of the starry cast populating the screen adaptation of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

In the late ’90s the actor did some fine, interesting, varied work. Arkin played the psychiatrist of the professional killer played by John Cusack in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (the New York Times said, “Alan Arkin is an enormous treat as Martin’s psychiatrist, who can’t conceal his problem of being afraid of his homicidal patient”). He was the dignified diplomat at the center of Bruno Barreto’s Brazilian kidnap drama “Four Days in September,” the cop on the trail of the genetically imperfect Ethan Hawke in “Gattaca,” the paterfamilias always moving his family around to avoid paying rent in “Slums of Beverly Hills.”

In Jill Sprecher’s indie film “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing” (2001), Arkin had a particularly excellent scene opposite Matthew McConaughey. In 2007, the same year he appeared in “Little Miss Sunshine,” Arkin played a senator without political courage in the film “Rendition.”

The next year he appeared in “Sunshine Cleaning,” a sort-of black comedy about a pair of sisters who clean up crime scenes. Also in 2008, he played the Chief in the film adaptation of “Get Smart” that starred Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. The next year, still continuing to show his range as an actor, Arkin appeared with Robin Wright Penn in Rebecca Miller’s seriocomic “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” a small but ambitious film in which, the New York Times said, “Together Ms. Penn and Mr. Arkin create a portrait of a marriage in which you sense the intertwining crosscurrents of devotion, boredom, anger and gratitude.”

In 2012, the same year he appeared in “Argo,” Arkin starred along with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken in “Stand Up Guys,” about a trio of old mobsters who get the gang back together for one last hurrah.

As for television, Arkin was among the many actors who did some time on “Sesame Street” in the early 1970s. He tried series television with the brief 1987 ABC sitcom “Harry” (in which he starred with then-wife Barbara Dana, among others) and more successfully in the new century with Sidney Lumet’s well-written, well-acted courthouse drama “100 Centre Street.” Reviewing the latter, the New York Times lauded “Alan Arkin’s superbly real, understated portrayal of Joe Rifkind, a thoughtful judge so prone to giving criminals every chance at redemption that his nickname is Let-’em-Go Joe.”

He appeared in a number of TV movies over the years, including the 1978 telepic “The Defection of Simas Kudirka” and, much later, “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself,” in which he played a world-weary mercenary.

Even after his film career had launched, Arkin occasionally guested on series, doing an arc on “St. Elsewhere” in 1983 as the husband of a stroke victim played by Piper Laurie; appearing in 1997 on “Chicago Hope” (on which son Adam was a series regular); and guesting on “Will & Grace” in 2005.

Alan Wolf Arkin was born in Brooklyn on March 26, 1934, but the family moved to Los Angeles when he was 12.

His father, David Arkin, an artist and writer, lost his job as a teacher amid the paranoia of the Red Scare. Alan started taking acting classes before he reached puberty. He attended Los Angeles City College for two years, then Bennington College from 1953-54, dropping out to form the Tarriers, a folk-music group in which he was the lead singer.

In 1955, he recorded an album for Elektra titled “Folksongs — Once Over Lightly.” With other members of the Tarriers, he wrote a version of the Jamaican calypso folk song “The Banana Boat Song” that was a big hit in 1956. He was already a young actor finding work where he could.

Arkin first appeared on the big screen, uncredited, in his role as lead singer of the Tarriers in 1957’s “Calypso Heat Wave.”

He made his Off Broadway debut as a singer in “Heloise” the following year. At the Compass Theatre in St. Louis, which he had joined, he caught the eye of stage director Bob Sills, which led to Arkin becoming an original member of Chicago’s Second City troupe together with Paul Sand.

He wrote the lyrics and sketches for his Broadway debut, the musical “From the Second City.” After winning his Tony in 1963, he returned to Broadway the next year in Murray Schisgal’s “Luv,” directed by Mike Nichols.

Arkin made his directorial stage debut with the Off Broadway hit “Eh?” (1966), which introduced the world to Dustin Hoffman. He further directed Off Broadway’s “Little Murders” (1969) and “The White House Murder Case” (1970). On Broadway, he directed the original production of Neil Simon’s extremely successful comedy “The Sunshine Boys,” which ran for 538 performances beginning in 1972. He directed the unsuccessful Broadway musical “Molly” in 1973 and was absent from the Rialto for 27 years until 2000, when he directed Elaine May’s play “Taller Than a Dwarf”; Matthew Broderick and Parker Posey starred.

Arkin was married three times, the first to Jeremy Yaffe, the second to actress Barbara Dana.

All three of his sons became actors, but Adam Arkin also became a director of episodic television. Speaking to Variety about how he came to direct, Adam Arkin said, “I often joke about the fact that when other kids were being taken to baseball games and sporting events and fishing trips, my father was taking me to see silent Russian films.”

In addition to his three sons — Adam and Matthew, with Yaffe; and Anthony Dana Arkin, with Dana — Alan Arkin is survived by third wife, Suzanne Newlander Arkin, whom he married in 1999.

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