Martin Balsam was an American actor, best known for appearing in supporting roles in films such as ‘Psycho’ and ‘12 Angry Men.’ His role as ‘Arnold Burns’ in the film ‘A Thousand Clowns’ earned him an ‘Academy Award’ for the ‘Best Supporting Actor.’ Born and raised in New York City, Martin was inclined toward acting since his high-school years, when he performed in various plays. He carried forward his interest after school, too, but had to put his acting dreams to a halt due to the outbreak of the Second World War, in which he served as a radio operator. He made his ‘Broadway’ debut in the late 1940s and then shot to success in the early 1950s. Martin made his screen acting debut in 1949, with the series ‘Suspense.’ He then appeared in series such as ‘Danger’ and ‘The Living Christ Series.’ He appeared in many small roles in films and TV, but by the late 1950s, he had become a well-recognized actor. With a slew of successful films such as ‘Psycho,’ ’12 Angry Men,’ ‘Catch-22,’ and ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ Martin established himself as a successful character actor in Hollywood.
Childhood & Early Life
Martin Balsam was born on November 4, 1919, in the Bronx, New York City, to Lillian and Albert Balsam. Both his parents had Russian Jewish origins. His father was a businessman who dealt in women’s sportswear, while his mother was a homemaker.
When he was young, Martin grew up as a normal kid. He discovered his love for acting while he attended ‘DeWitt Clinton High School.’ He joined the drama club in school and participated in many plays and stage shows.
He wished to explore his passion for acting and enrolled at the highly reputed ‘The New School’ in New York. He studied drama intensely and decided that acting was what he wanted to do all his life.
However, the outbreak of the Second World War in the late 1930s proved to be a roadblock. Martin was in his early 20s then, and he was called for service by the American defense forces. He worked as a radio operator for the army. In the mid-1940s, after the end of the war, Martin joined ‘Radio City Music Hall’ and worked there as an usher.
In 1947, he attended the famous ‘Actors Studio’ in New York to hone his acting skills. He trained himself in many different forms of acting, and by the late 1940s, he was doing ‘Broadway’ shows. ‘The Rose Tattoo’ by Tennessee Williams was one of his first successful plays, and he subsequently made his screen debut.
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Martin made his screen debut in 1949, with the small role of ‘Abramsom’ in the TV anthology series titled ‘Suspense.’ He then appeared in small roles in series such as ‘Actors Studio,’ ‘Danger,’ and ‘The Living Christ Series.’
In the early 1950s, he appeared in radio and TV crime dramas such as ‘The Big Story’ and ‘Frontiers of Faith.’ He also played the supporting role of ‘Joey Gordon’ in the soap opera ‘Valiant Lady.’
He made his film debut in 1954, with ‘On the Waterfront,’ in which he had a small uncredited role. His TV roles got better with shows such as ‘Inner Sanctum Mystery,’ ‘Philco Television Playhouse,’ and ‘Goodyear Television Playhouse.’
He had his first major acting breakthrough when he appeared in the 1957 courtroom drama film titled ‘12 Angry Men.’ The film featured Martin as one of the jurors with the job of deciding whether the accused is guilty of murdering his father or not. The film was a huge success and ended up becoming one of the cult classics of the century.
The same year, Martin appeared as ‘Sergeant First Class Baker’ in the legal drama film ‘Time Limit.’ Apart from appearing in film roles, Martin also remained active on TV and made appearances in series such as ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Pursuit.’
In 1958, he played the supporting role of ‘Nick Santos’ in the groundbreaking American crime-drama series titled ‘Decoy.’ The same year, he appeared as a guest star in the Alfred Hitchcock-hosted TV series titled ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents.’
In 1959, Martin appeared as ‘Mac Keeley,’ a key character in the biographical crime-drama film titled ‘Al Capone.’ It was a huge commercial and critical success.
In the late 1950s, he also appeared in ‘The Twilight Zone.’
He entered the 1960s with a slew of films such as ‘Ada’ and ‘Cape Fear.’ He was also seen in series such as ‘The Defenders,’ ‘Cain’s Hundred,’ ‘Route 66,’ ‘The Eleventh Hour,’ and ‘Wagon Train.’
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In 1960, he played a supporting role in one of the most known films of his acting career. He appeared as a private investigator named ‘Milton Arbogast’ in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho.’ The film went on to become a huge hit. It is known as one of the best American films ever made.
In 1965, he starred in the comedy–drama film titled ‘A Thousand Clowns.’ His performance as ‘Arnold Burns’ in the film earned Martin an ‘Academy Award’ for the ‘Best Supporting Actor.’
In the 1968 epic science-fiction film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ Martin provided his voice for an AI computer named ‘HAL.’ His voice role and the film were both appreciated. The film has earned a cult following and is considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made.
In the 1970s, Martin continued to appear in films such as ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ ‘The Anderson Tapes,’ and ‘Mitchell.’ By the late 1970s, he had become a well-known face in the crime-drama genre, both in films and on TV.
He began the 1980s with a slew of TV films such as ‘I Want to Live!,’ ‘Cold Storage,’ and ‘Murder in Space.’
In the 1990s, Martin slowed down due to health concerns and appeared only in a few noted films such as ‘Cape Fear’ and ‘The Silence of the Hams.’
Family & Personal Life
Martin Balsam married Pearl Somner in 1952. They got divorced in 1954. He then married actor Joyce Van Patten in 1957. His second marriage was also short-lived, and the couple divorced in 1962. In 1963, Martin married Irene Miller. They divorced in 1987.
Martin had three children: Talia Balsam from Joyce and Adam and Zoe Balsam from Irene. Talia is also an actor.
On February 13, 1996, Martin died of a stroke in his hotel room in Rome, Italy, where he was vacationing. He was 76 years old at the time of his death. He was interred at the ‘Cedar Park Cemetery’ in New Jersey.