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. 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. 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". 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.
Irwin Alan Kniberg