Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Alan Arkin Dies at 89

Versatile Actor and Folksinger: Oscar winner Alan Arkin, whose background in improvisation and knack for comic drama were cornerstones of his extensive genre-hopping career that yielded enduring characters from the 1960s comedy “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” to “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Argo,” has died.

Alan Arkin

Thus reports the Los Angeles Times. The actor’s sons Adam, Matthew and Anthony said in a joint statement:

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,

And Wikipedia tells us a familiar American Jewish story:

Alan Wolf Arkin was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 26, 1934, the son of painter and writer David I. Arkin, and his wife, Beatrice (née Wortis), a teacher. 

He was raised in a Jewish family with "no emphasis on religion". His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Russia, and Germany.

His parents moved to Los Angeles when Alan was 11, but an 8-month Hollywood strike cost his father his job as a set designer. 

During the 1950s Red Scare, Arkin's parents were accused of being Communists, and his father was fired when he refused to answer questions about his political ideology. David Arkin challenged the dismissal, but he was vindicated only after his death.

Now, most people knew Alan Arkin as an actor - and, as the JTA and the Forward and everyone else eulogizes, an excellent actor. 

But those of who (like Abq Jew) are old and NYC-based enough also remember Alan Arkin as a folksinger. Again per his Wikipedia entry:

The Tarriers
With Erik Darling and Bob Carey, [Alan Arkin] formed the folk group The Tarriers [named after the folk song Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill], in which Arkin sang and played guitar. 
The band members co-composed the group's 1956 hit The Banana Boat Song, a reworking, with some new lyrics, of a traditional, Jamaican calypso folk song of the same name, combined with another titled "Hill and Gully Rider".
It reached No. 4 on the Billboard magazine chart the same year as Harry Belafonte's better-known version.

Yes, Abq Jew must point out (he must! he must!): that Banana Boat Song, The same song that made Harry Belafonte (see May's Harry Belafonte Dies at 96) famous. The Tarriers did it first.

Musicians Wash Sq Park

And yes again - Abq Jew must also point out that The Tarriers formed from a collection of folk singers who performed regularly at Washington Square Park in New York City during the mid-1950 and 1960s.

The Tarriers kept going for years, on and off, with personnel changes that included Eric Weissberg (see March 2020's Eric Weissberg, 'Dueling Banjos' Musician, Dies at 80) and Marshall Brickman in the group.

However - after completing a European tour in early 1958, Alan Arkin left the group to pursue acting. At which he did rather well.

Alan Arkin

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