Biography

Bitten by the performing bug at an early age, youngster Alan King sang for nickels and dimes in the Brooklyn subways. Born Irwin Alan Kniberg, King's first stage name was Earl Knight, of the itinerant musical aggregation Earl Knight and His Musical Knights. Abandoning music for stand-up comedy, he worked his way up the Catskills circuit and the burlesque wheels. His first big break came in 1949, when he headlined at New York's Paramount Theatre. Seven years later he opened for Judy Garland at the Palace, and subsequently accompanied Garland when she performed in London. Making his first film appearance in 1955, King provided side-of-the-mouth comedy relief in such films as Miracle in the Rain (1956) and The Helen Morgan Story (1957). Introduced to TV audiences by Ed Sullivan, King made innumerable appearances on the variety weeklies hosted by Sullivan, Garry Moore and Perry Como. A 1961 stand at his own weekly sitcom proved futile, though it resulted in a very funny pilot episode. By the early 1960s, King's act was a well-oiled mechanism: he could always be counted on to expound hilariously upon his childhood, his show business experiences, his misadventures in suburbia, and especially the trials and tribulations of married life ("Last year I took my wife on a trip around the world. This year she says 'Let's go someplace else.' "). While much of his earlier material might not pass muster in these more politically correct times, it always brought down the house--even in houses dominated by female spectators. Much of his stand-up material was incorporated in a brace of best-selling books, Anyone Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It and Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery. Returning to films in the late 1960s, King was shown to particularly good advantage in three of director Sidney Lumet's projects: Bye Bye Braverman (1968) The Anderson Tapes (1971) and Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), in which he received top billing. He also shone in Memories of Me (1988) as "the king of the Hollywood extras," and Enemies: A Love Story (1989) as Rabbi Lembeck. In the mid-1960s, he launched another aspect of his career when he co-produced the hit Broadway comedy Impossible Years (1965). He has since served as executive or associate producer of such films as Lipstick (1976), Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981), Wolfen (1981) and Cat's Eye (1983). Alan King has also functioned in a production capacity on the TV series The Corner Bar (1972-73) and Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell (1975, as "executive in charge of comedy"), and was co-producer of the made-for-TV feature films Return to Earth (1974), How to Pick Up Girls (1978) and Reunion at Fairborough (1985). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi