Childhood & Early Life
Martin James Landau was born on June 20, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, to Morris Landau and Selma. His father was a machinist.
Martin completed his schooling from James Madison High School and enrolled in the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League.
When he was around 17 years old, he took up the job of a cartoonist and illustrator with the New York Daily News. In his tenure of five years, he worked on several columns and comic strips such as ‘The Gumps’ and ‘Pitching Horseshoes’.
At the age of 22, he quit his job as a cartoonist and forayed into theatre.
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Martin Landau’s first stage performance was for the drama ‘Detective Story’ at the Peaks Island Playhouse in Peaks Island, Maine in 1951. In the same year, he made his off-Broadway debut with ‘First Love’.
In 1955, Landau confirmed a place with the Actors Studio in New York City making him one of the two applicants selected out of the 500 that applied for the spot. At the training academy, he got the opportunity to be trained under Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, and Harold Clurman.
He went on to work as an executive director and co-creative director of the program's West Coast branch.
His venture into Broadway proved to be successful as he replaced the famous star Franchot Tone in the 1956 off-Broadway show ‘Uncle Vanya’.
Landau then got his major breakthrough after he was cast for a touring production of Paddy Chayefsky’s play ‘Middle of the Night’ in 1957. His performance caught the eye of several casting agents that helped him bag multiple television projects.
He went on to appear in television shows such as ‘Armstrong Circle Theatre’, ‘Schlitz Playhouse’, ‘The Big Story’, ‘Maverick’, and ‘Rawhide’.
He made his entry onto the big screen with the movie ‘Pork Chop Hill’ in 1959. However, it was his role as the notorious henchman in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller ‘North by Northwest’, which released in the same year, that earned him fame and recognition.
Landau’s portrayal of a Roman general in the blockbuster movie, ‘Cleopatra’ in 1963 won him accolades for his performance.
He was also seen in two episodes of the science-fiction television series, ‘The Outer Limits’ in 1963.
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In 1965, he appeared in another negative role as Caiaphas in the movie ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ and in a comical role as Chief Walks-Stooped-Over in ‘The Hallelujah Trail’.
Martin Landau’s careers’ biggest highlight would be his appearance as Rollin Hand in the television spy series ‘Mission: Impossible’ in 1966. His character was meant to be make occasional appearances in the show but his character was so well-received by the audience that the producers decided to have him as a regular cast member.
He worked on ‘Mission: Impossible’ for around three years before exiting it in 1969 following salary issues. Landau was displeased that the new star, Peter Graves was paid a higher remuneration than him despite having signed a contract which stated that Landau would have parity with any other actor on the show who was paid more than him.
Landau’s decision to quit Mission: Impossible proved to be a bad one as the show went on for another four years while his career seemed to be struggling. In 1970, Landau appeared as the preacher and murder suspect, Logan Sharpe, in the crime drama film, ‘They Call Me Mister Tibbs!’.
He was a part of the cast of the TV movie ‘Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol’ in 1972 and also co-starred in the English sci-fi TV show ‘Space: 1999’ in 1975. Thereafter, Landau featured mostly in minor or straight-to-DVD films or made guest-appearances in television shows.
He took up the titular role in the Broadway play of ‘Dracula’ which was a touring production that ran from 1984 to 1985.
Landau’s career revived after he was cast in a crucial supporting role in the movie ‘Tucker: The Man and His Dream’ in 1988. His good performance earned him a nomination for the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and bagged him the Golden Globe award.
In 1989, he featured as an adulterous husband in ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’. This role earned him his second consecutive Oscar nomination for the ‘Best Supporting Actor’.
He eventually bagged the Oscar for the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for his role of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's biopic ‘Ed Wood’ in 1994. The role also earned him his third Golden Globe award.
There onwards, Landau continued to work in television and films. He was seen in the TV movie ‘The Anna Nicole Smith Story’ in 2013 in which he played the role of Anna’s husband J. Howard Marshall II.
Personal Life & Legacy
Martin Landau married actress Barbara Bain on January 31, 1957, and had two daughters Susan and Juliet. They divorced in 1993.
Landau passed away due to hypovolemic shock with metabolic acidosis, intra-abdominal haemorrhage and diffuse atherosclerotic vascular disease on July 15, 2017, at the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, Los Angeles, California. He was 89 years old.