In Memoriam: Martin Landau

The world of cinema has lost another great with the passing of award-winning actor Martin Landau on July 15, 2017. Landau passed away at the age of 89 and leaves behind a legacy on both the big and small screen that many actor can only dream of, even at the height of their careers. In honor of the man whose talent spans generations and numerous films and television programs its time to take a look at the career of Landau, an icon among icons.

Landau was born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York to a Jewish family of Austrian descent. After high school and higher education at the Pratt Institute Landau found work at the New York Daily News as an editorial cartoonist at the young age of 17 and spent five years working for the paper before deciding to explore a theater career at the age of 22. Landau auditioned for the Actors Studio in 1955 and was accepted, along with Steve McQueen, out of 500 who applied. It was the start of a long career for Landau whose star was barely beginning to shine.


Landau was heavily influenced by the work of Charlie Chaplin and saw the beauty of escapism in cinema. While attending the Actors Studio he became good friend with James Dean and the two often talked about their craft and the future of film. Landau made his Broadway debut in 1957 in “Middle of the Night” and eventually made his feature film debut, his first major one at least, in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” in 1959. Landau’s acting career took off and he appeared in six more movies throughout the 1960s. He also dabbled in television appearing in one-off episode roles on numerous shows in the late 50s and early 60s before landing a role that would make him a true household name in 1966.


Landau took the role of Rollin Hand and became one of the most well-known stars of “Mission: Impossible” after its debut in 1966. At first Landau didn’t want to become a permanent part of the series, but after season one he agreed to commit and became a full-time cast member, agreeing to a year-by-year contract renewal to prevent the series from interrupting his film career. He held that role until 1969, earning a Golden Globe for his work and earned numerous Primetime Emmy nominations as well.


In 1970 Landau continued his film acting career appearing in “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!”, “Operation Snafu”, “Black Gunn”, “Strange Shadows in an Empty Room”, and “Meteor” throughout the next ten years. He also continued his television career on the side, mainly as a leading cast member in “Space: 1999” for 47 episodes. He also appeared in television films including “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Death of Ocean View Park” in that time.


Landau found new legitimacy in the 1980s. Over those ten years he appeared in 12 different films with one of his biggest being “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” in 1988 as Abe Karatz, a performance that landed Landau numerous nominations and awards, including a Golden Globe win and an Academy Award nomination. In the 1990s Landau continued to films success. The year 1994 saw the actor portray Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood” earning him even more award nominations and many supporting actors wins including his long awaited Academy Award, another Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.


By the 2000s Landau began to slow down, but continued to be an important role model and icon that many looked up to in the business as he himself continued to grow as an artist even late into his career. He became a regular guest star on the television program “Without a Trace” from 2004 until 2009, earning another Primetime Emmy nomination, and even provided his first voice over roles in film in 2009’s “9” and 2012’s “Frankenweenie” after making his debut as a voice actor in the mid-90s on the animated “Spider- Man” television show as recurring villain The Scorpion. He served as a regular guest star in the series “Entourage”, which earned him even more Primetime Emmy attention, and even provided his voice for an episode of “The Simpsons” before finally retiring for television in 2014. Martin Landau’s final film role was in “The Last Poker Game”, a Tribeca Film Festival entry that debuted earlier this year.


Landau’s contributions to his craft go well beyond his acting. Over the years Landau followed in the footsteps of his own mentor, Lee Stradberg, and tutored fellow actors looking for their own moment in the spotlight. Jack Nicholson is one of his most famous students and one of many whose careers were helped by input and training from Landau. In 2009 he helped coordinate a two-day event called Total Picture Seminar to help up an coming actors and film-makers network and learn more about the craft. He headed the Hollywood branch of the Actors Studio until his death, continuing his devotion to an organization that so many years ago helped launch his career.


Martin Landau was a true talent and a man many came to respect. Whether you were a fan of his work or one of many who looked to him for advice and saw him and a role model teaching other actors the tools of the trade, there were few who failed to respect Landau’s contributions to an art he enjoyed so much. For many he will always be the master of disguise Rollin Hand while others will see him as Bela Lugosi or any of his other many film roles that earned him the distinction as one of the best and most respected in his trade. Regardless of how you remember him, Marty was a true star and craftsman in front of the camera. To Mr. Landau I say thanks for the memories. You’re mission is complete and I wish you rest after a wonderful and celebrated career.

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