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King, Alan


KING, ALAN (Irwin Alan Kniberg ; 1927–2004), comedian, actor, producer, author. Born in Brooklyn to poor Russian-immigrant parents, King parlayed a borscht-belt sense of humor into a varied show business career that spanned over half a century, including countless appearances on national television shows. His political activism on behalf of civil rights (he marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), his campaigning for John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, and his philanthropic contributions to Jewish causes in the United States and Israel (he founded the Alan King Diagnostic Medical Center in Jerusalem) made him one of the best-known figures in entertainment.

An unabashed wisecracking New Yorker, King honed his skills in the Jewish hotels of the Catskill Mountains after being expelled from high school at the age of 17. He got his first big break in 1949 when he headlined at New York's Paramount Theater. Seven years later he opened for Judy Garland at the Palace, and he accompanied the actress-singer when she performed in London. From there his career took off, leading to comedy, television, movies, theater and film production and five best-selling books. He took on the persona of a swaggering crank – part impatient executive, part put-upon husband and father – complete with elegant haberdashery, a fine cigar, and a sour expression

On stage, he mocked life in suburbia and criticized everything from airline food to marriage. He also appeared in almost 30 films (often as a rabbi, an agent, or a gangster), including Bonfire of the Vanities, Bye, Bye Braverman, and Enemies, a Love Story. As a Broadway producer, his credits included The Impossible Years, in which he also starred, The Lion in Winter, and Tyrone Guthrie's revival of Dinner at Eight.

In Israel, he also established a nonsectarian scholarship fund for American students at the Hebrew University and an Albert Einstein scholarship fund. He conducted fundraising efforts for the Nassau (L.I.) Center for Emotionally Disturbed Children and established a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis University. He was a member of the board of the North Shore Medical Center.

His books include his autobiography, Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King, Anyone Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It, Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery, Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex?, and The Alan King Great Jewish Joke Book.

In 1998, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture bestowed on King its first award for American Jewish humor. After that, the award carried King's name. On the New York stage in 2002, he portrayed the film tycoon Samuel *Goldwyn as a man of chutzpah and brass very much like himself, the New York Times said.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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