Martin Balsam

Active - 1952 - 2017  |   Born - Nov 4, 1919 in Bronx, New York, United States  |   Died - Feb 13, 1996   |   Genres - Drama, Thriller

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Bronx-raised actor Martin Balsam was the oldest of three children of a ladies' sportswear salesman. "Actors are bums" was dad's reaction when Balsam announced his intention of going into show business; still, young Martin took full advantage of lunch breaks from his "real" jobs to rehearse for amateur theatricals. After World War II, Balsam joined New York's Actors Studio, supporting himself by waiting on tables and ushering at Radio City Music Hall. During his formative years he was briefly married to actress Joyce Van Patten; their daughter Talia Balsam would later become a successful film and TV performer. Working steadily if not profitably in nightclubs and TV, Balsam made his first film, the Actors Studio-dominated On the Waterfront, in 1954. Averaging a movie and/or a play a year starting in 1957 (among his best-known film roles were Juror #1 in Twelve Angry Men [1957] and the unfortunate detective Arbogast in Psycho [1960]), Balsam went on to win a Tony for the Broadway play I Know You Can't Hear Me When the Water's Running, an Obie for the off-Broadway production Cold Storage, and an Academy Award for his performance as Jason Robards' older brother in the 1965 film version of A Thousand Clowns. Unfortunately for Balsam, the Oscar was as much a curse as a blessing on his career, and soon he was playing little more than variations on his Thousand Clowns role. In 1979, he was engaged by Norman Lear to play "lovable bigot" Archie Bunker's acerbic Jewish business partner Murray Klein on the CBS sitcom Archie Bunker's Place; he remained with the series until 1981. In 1991, Balsam appeared in Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear, the remake of a film in which Balsam had co-starred (in an entirely different role) in 1962.

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  • Served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
  • One of the original members of the Actors Studio, he had a steady stream of roles on stage and TV before making his film debut in On the Waterfront (1954).
  • Appeared in both versions of Cape Fear, the 1962 original and the 1991 remake.
  • Divided his time between films and theater; his movies included Psycho (1960) and A Thousand Clowns (1965), and plays included Death of a Salesman and Camino Real.
  • Costarred in the sitcom Archie Bunker's Place from 1979 to '81.
  • A highly respected and successful character actor, he worked steadily in films and television until 1994, just two years before he died of a stroke while vacationing in Rome, Italy.