Alan Arkin's name is plastered all over the news this week for his well-deserved Academy Award nomination as Lester Siegel in Ben Afleck's Argo (easily my pick for Best Picture this Sunday). But before he planted himself in the City of Angels (Los Angeles, not the mediocre film), Alan Arkin performed right here in Chicago with The Second City.
If you haven't seen Argo, you probably still recognize Arkin from Little Miss Sunshine, Marley and Me, Grosse Pointe Blank, Glengarry Glen Ross, Catch 22, Edward Scissorhands and a number of diverse movies, or any number of movies where he delivers a riveting performance no matter the part.
Arkin had already toured with a folk band, done time in multiple acting schools and performed in New York before he was invited to join Second City in 1960. But at first, he turned them down. Little did he know that the improv skills he picked up at Second City would transform his career (and provide the title for his memoir: "An Improvised Life").
As Alan told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly:
"I said, 'Fat chance. I'm going to bury myself at a hole in the wall in Chicago? It would be the end of my career,' " Arkin tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. But he "starved for yet another year in New York, without being able to get any kind of work at all," he says, and ultimately decided moving to Chicago might be his only chance at a steady paycheck. He made the move "with my heart in my mouth, thinking that my life was over."
It was at Second City that Arkin honed his improv skills and learned the value of failure. Expiramenting on stage every night was a revelatory experience for Arkin, who took the lessons of the Second City stage with him through the rest of his career.
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