Monday, July 17, 2017

R.I.P. Martin Landau (1928-2017)

Martin Landau
On July 15, 2017, actor Martin Landau died at the age of 89 in Los Angeles, California. He is an actor whose career spanned 60 years and featured great work both in film and TV. On the small screen, he received a Golden Globe for his performance in Mission: Impossible as Rollin Hand. On the big screen, his career was even more expansive and featured roles that varied from a supporting role in North by Northwest and Cleopatra to Oscar nominations for Crimes and Misdemeanors and Ed Wood (the latter of which he won for). No matter where he went, he brought a charisma that reflected his graceful acting style, of which he also taught in the Actors Studio (of which he was the head of the Hollywood branch until his passing). He left behind an impressive body of work, and one that is unmatched by anyone.

Landau was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 20, 1928. His family was Jewish and his father helped to rescue relatives from Nazis. At the age of 17, he began work at the New York Daily News, working on the comic strip The Grumps alongside Gus Edson. After working there for five years, he retired at the age of 22 to focus on theater acting. He was inspired by Charles Chaplin and the escapism of cinema. In 1955, he auditioned for the Actors Studio and became only one of two (out of 500 applicants) to be accepted. The other was Steve McQueen, of whom he sometimes worked with. He also befriended James Dean, whom he became close with and claimed to be "dreaming out loud" during their conversations of the future. At the advice of Lee Strasberg (his other teachers included Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman), he went on teaching other actors there (he would eventually coach Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Houston). He would go on to make his Broadway debut in 1957 with Middle of the Night. 

It didn't take long for him to transition to film. Along with starring in Pork Chop Hill and The Gazebo, Landau's first big movie came out in 1959 with the Alfred Hitchcock thriller North by Northwest where he starred alongside James Mason as a criminal. Other noteworthy films included the epics Cleopatra and The Greatest Story Ever Told. He also starred alongside McQueen in Nevada Smith. He transitioned to TV through Mission: Impossible. For the first season, he was listed as a guest actor due to not wanting it to interfere with his movie career. By the second season, he became a regular member and won a Golden Globe as well as earned an Emmy nomination for his work. He also worked with his then-wife Barbara Bain duriing production. He would also appear in the sci-fi series Space: 1999, which was cancelled after two seasons.

While he maintained steady work, Landau's career waned over the next few decades. He would eventually make a comeback in the 1980's with a series of memorable roles. He received his first Oscar nomination for Tucker: The Man and His Dream in 1988, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He would follow it up a year later with another nomination for the Woody Allen drama Crimes and Misdemeanors. However, it would be another five years before he would get his third Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. This time it came for Ed Wood, where he starred as Bela Lugosi in a dramatized version of defamed director Edward D. Wood Jr.'s life. Landau claimed that he watched 25 of Lugosi's movies to learn the Hungarian accent and found him to be a tragic actor. To some extent, he viewed Ed Wood as a chance to give Lugosi the great final role that he never received. 

He received his Oscar from Anna Paquin at the ceremony:

His speech was very gracious and managed to include everyone from his cast and crew to his family. Among other memorable moments was concern regarding the play-off music. He suggested that if they played the Mission: Impossible theme, he would be very angry. Still, with a lengthy career to his credit, he accepted the Oscar with gratitude towards The Academy. It was a nice speech, which came in an incredible year that saw him beat other heavyweights for the award. In some ways, it perfectly embodied his general reputation as an actor. He was an underdog who triumphed.

He continued to work for the rest of his career, appearing in both film and TV. His roles ranged from dramas like The Majestic to TV cameos like the animated Spider-Man series and the HBO comedy Entourage. He would receive another Emmy nomination for playing an Alzheimer's character on Without a Trace. He also continued to teach acting through the Actors Studio. With help of Mark Rydell and Lye Kessler, he produced the educational Total Picture Seminar, which was a two day event that covered the disciplines of acting, directing and writing for film. Even as he grew older, his passion for acting was prevalent and helped to inspire generations to follow in his footsteps. No matter where he went, he left behind an impressive body of work that showed off his charisma. One can only hope to be as talented and giving as Landau was throughout his impressive career. 

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