Alan Arkin was born in Brooklyn on March 26, 1934, son of David Arkin and his wife Beatrice. He lived in Brooklyn until his family moved to California when he was 11. Arkin detested school, but fondly recalls the time he won a Spade Cooley talent contest by imitating Brooklyn actor Danny Kaye.
Arkin was educated at Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles State College, and Bennington College. He wrote songs and performed with the folk singing ensemble known as “The Tarriers.”
After he left the group, Arkin made his professional debut improvising with the Compass Players at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1959. In 1960 he joined the legendary Second City group in Chicago, also an improvisational theater.
Arkin’s Broadway debut was at the Royale on Sept. 26, 1961, in the revue From the Second City.
Arkin not only appeared in but composed the music for Man Out Loud, Girl Quiet at the Cricket in April 1962. He went on to star in the Broadway comedy Enter Laughing (1963) for which he received a Tony and several other awards. He appeared in revues and wrote sketches, music and lyrics for off-Broadway productions. Another Broadway play at the Booth Theatre in November 1964 was as Harry Berlin in Luv.
Arkin turned to directing, starting out with material for some off-Broadway shows and then his first legitimate play, Eh?, at Circle in the Square in 1966. He also directed Hail Scrawdyke! in 1966, Little Murders in 1969 and The White House Murder Case in 1970.
Arkin won his first Oscar nomination for his role as a dozy Soviet submariner in his debut film The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966), a satire on cold war hysteria. One of Arkin’s best regarded roles was in his sensitive, Oscar-nominated portrayal of a deaf-mute in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Soon after he played the paranoid pacifist Yossarian in Catch-22 (1970). He was also in the critically acclaimed films Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).
After twice being nominated, the third time was the charm for Arkin at the Oscars. He won Best Supporting Actor for his role in the indie hit Little Miss Sunshine in 2007.