Alan King (comedian)

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Alan King
Alan king 1966.JPG
King in 1966
Born Irwin Alan Kniberg
(1927-12-26)December 26, 1927
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died May 9, 2004(2004-05-09) (aged 76)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Lung cancer
Occupation Actor, comedian, writer, film producer
Years active 1955–2004
Spouse(s) Jeanette Sprung (1947–2004; his death; 3 children)[1]

Alan King (December 26, 1927 – May 9, 2004) was an American actor and comedian known for his biting wit and often angry humorous rants. King became well known as a Jewish comedian and satirist. He was also a serious actor who appeared in a number of movies and television shows. King wrote several books, produced films, and appeared in plays. In later years, he helped many philanthropic causes.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

The youngest of several children, King was born Irwin Alan Kniberg in New York City, New York, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Minnie (née Solomon) and Bernard Kniberg, a handbag cutter.[2] He spent his first years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Later, King's family moved to Brooklyn. King used humor to survive in the tough neighborhoods. As a child, King performed impersonations on street corners for pennies.

When he was fourteen, King performed "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" on the radio program Major Bowes Amateur Hour. He lost first prize, but was invited to join a nationwide tour. At fifteen, King dropped out of high school to perform comedy at the Hotel Gradus in the Catskill Mountains. After one joke that made fun of the hotel's owner, King was fired; however, he spent the remainder of that summer and the one that followed as M.C. at Foreman's New Prospect Hotel in Mountaindale, NY. He later worked in Canada in a burlesque house while also fighting as a professional boxer. He won twenty straight fights before losing. Nursing a broken nose, King decided to quit boxing and focus on his comedy career. King began working as a doorman at the popular nightclub Leon and Eddie's while performing comedy under the last name of the boxer who beat him, "King".

Career[edit]

King began his comedy career with one-liner routines and other material concerning mothers-in-law and Jews. King's style of comedy changed when he saw Danny Thomas performing in the early 1950s. King realized that Thomas was talking to his audience, not at them, and was getting a better response. King changed his own style from one-liners to a more conversational style that used everyday life for humor. His comedy inspired other comedians such as Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, and Bill Cosby.

King married Jeanette Sprung in 1947. They had three children, Andrew, Robert, and Elainie Ray. His wife persuaded him to move to Forest Hills, Queens for their children, and later, to Great Neck, Long Island, where he lived for the rest of his life.[3] There, he developed comedy revolving around life in suburbia. With America moving to suburbs, King's humor took off.

The comedian began opening for many celebrities including Judy Garland, Patti Page, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne and Tony Martin. When Martin was cast in the movie Hit the Deck, he suggested King for a part, which resulted in his first movie role. King played small roles in movies in the 1950s, but disliked playing stereotypical roles that he described as "always the sergeant from Brooklyn named Kowalski".[4]

King eventually expanded his range and made a name for himself in a wide variety of films. He often portrayed a gangster, as in Casino (1995) and Night and the City (1992), both starring Robert De Niro, as well as I, the Jury (1982) and Cat's Eye (1985). He frequently worked for director Sidney Lumet, beginning with Bye Bye Braverman (1968) and The Anderson Tapes (1971). Lumet later cast him in a tour-de-force starring role in Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), a provocative comedy about a ruthless business mogul and his TV-producer mistress (Ali MacGraw).

He had another major role in Memories of Me (1988) as the so-called "king of the Hollywood extras," portraying Billy Crystal's terminally ill father.

Like many other Jewish comics, King worked the Catskill circuit known as the Borscht Belt. His career took off after appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Perry Como Show and The Garry Moore Show. Living just outside New York City, King was frequently available when Sullivan needed an act to fill in for a last-minute cancellation. King also became a regular guest host for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, hosted the Oscars in 1972, and was the MC for President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. King was also the long-standing host of the New York Friar's Club celebrity roasts.

King was the first recipient (1988) of the award for American Jewish humor from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The award was ultimately renamed in his honor.

Personal life[edit]

Throughout his life, King was deeply involved in charity work. He founded the Alan King Medical Center in Jerusalem, raised funds for the Nassau Center for Emotionally Disturbed Children (near his home in Kings Point, New York), and established a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis University. He also created the Laugh Well program, which sends comedians to hospitals to perform for patients. In the 1970s, King turned his passion for tennis into a pro tournament at Caesars Palace Las Vegas called the Alan King Tennis Classic, which was carried on national TV by the TVS Television Network. He also started the Toyota Comedy Festival.

Death[edit]

King, who smoked cigars (a fact that came up in his routines from time to time), died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan on May 9, 2004, from lung cancer. He was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens. He is survived by his wife. The movie Christmas With The Kranks was dedicated to his memory at the end of the credits before the 1492 Pictures logo.[1] He is also referenced in the end credits of Rush Hour 3.

Work[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Anybody Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It, with Kathryn Ryan (1962)
  • Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery (1964)
  • Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex? Memoirs of a Happy Eater (1985)
  • Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King (1996) with Chris Chase
  • Alan King's Great Jewish Joke Book (2002)
  • Matzoh Balls for Breakfast and Other Memories of Growing Up Jewish (2005)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bruce Weber (10 October 2004). "Alan King, Comic With Chutzpah, Dies at 76". The New York Times (NYTimes.com). Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  2. ^ Alan King Biography (1927-)
  3. ^ Ho, Janie. "Alan King, Comic, Actor Dies at 76", CBS News, May 9, 2004. Accessed June 18, 2009. "King, who until then had been using worn out one-liners, found his new material at home. His wife had persuaded the New Yorker to forsake Manhattan for suburban Forest Hills, Queens, believing it would provide a better environment for their children." Archived 20 December 2010 at WebCite
  4. ^ [1] Archived May 10, 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Alan King: Inside the Comedy Mind" (1991)
  6. ^ TV Weekend; James Garner as a Curmudgeon Pulled Back Into Life - New York Times

External links[edit]