The Son Also Rises: Adam Arkin, TV's Newest Star, Inherited His Dad's Funnybone

My father told me a month on the series could make me better known than he is,” says Adam Arkin. “He has mixed feelings about that. He’s worked in this industry for 25 years.”

At 20, Adam finds himself in the enviable position of heading up his own TV series, Busting Loose. And while no one is yet putting down protean actor-director Alan Arkin as “Adam Arkin’s father,” Busting Loose shows fair signs of vaulting Adam to the airier reaches of TV stardom. It is one of the few successes on the lackluster new CBS schedule.

As Lenny Markowitz, an Upper West Side kid on the lam from parental smother love, the likable Arkin plays the closest thing to a male Rhoda. “The character of Lenny is contained in me,” says Adam. “But I’ve had a lot less sheltered existence than he has.” In his famous New York acting family (his stepmother is writer-actress Barbara Dana, descendant of author Richard Henry Dana), Adam recalls, “We all were in analysis for about three years—I was about 12 or 13 when I asked to go.” On his first stay in Hollywood two years ago, he admits trying “a little foolish experimenting with drugs. But I was never badly hooked.”

Even now Arkin thinks he’s in a “whacko business” filled with “insanity and weirdness.” Busting Loose’s exhausting rehearsals and tapings before a live audience consume all his waking hours before he collapses at midnight into a rented bed in the Beverly Comstock Hotel. Sadly, that is the same building where another overnight TV star, his downstairs neighbor Freddie Prinze, killed himself. (Adam was asleep at the time and heard nothing.)

“I’ve been lucky in that my father helped me understand what not to expect from success. Anything you go into success with—positive or negative—will stay with you. That,” Adam reflects, “may be part of what happened to Freddie.”

Arkin is close to both his real mother and his father—they were divorced when he was 4. He lived with his mother, Jeremy Wakefield, a plant store owner, in St. Louis and San Luis Obispo, Calif. until he was 11. After his father remarried, Adam moved back to New York. An admitted “underachiever” at the Professional Children’s School, he was self-educated “by going on location with my father to places like Mexico and Selma, Ala.” Alan (“I’ve seen his ability since he was very young”) cast his son in his 1970 Oscar-nominated short, People Soup, and at 13 Adam had a walk-on as a fighter pilot in Catch-22.

By the time he left high school, Adam had given up both college plans and a sideline as a rock drummer (“I’m a so-so drummer—I do lots of things mediocrely”). He acted in summer stock and later with his parents at Connecticut’s Hartman Theatre. He guested on TV shows like Happy Days and Hawaii 5-0, made a commercial for Dentyne and has turned upperbrow for a forthcoming drama on PBS’s Visions.

So far Adam is unworried that Busting Loose will forever typecast him as a Jewish Fonzie. “I can play a Greek or an Armenian or an Italian—any of the hairy guys,” he jokes.

Even if Busting Loose winds up just busted, Adam doesn’t foresee “a huge fall.” For one thing, his girlfriend, Kathy Cunningham, a Barnard sophomore, is in New York “and we’ve been apart most of the three years we’ve known each other.” (They have agreed not to date others.) Then, too, the Arkin acting legacy is hardly threatened. Waiting in the wings is Adam’s brother Matthew, 16, who already has starred on Kojak.

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