Martin Landau

Active - 1959 - 2019  |   Born - Jun 20, 1931 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Died - Jul 15, 2017   |   Genres - Spy Film, Drama, Science Fiction

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Saturnine character actor Martin Landau was a staff cartoonist for the New York Daily News before switching to acting. In 1955, his career got off to a promising beginning, when out of 2,000 applicants, only he and one other actor (Steve McQueen) were accepted by Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio.

Extremely busy in the days of live, Manhattan-based television, Landau made his cinematic mark with his second film appearance, playing James Mason's henchman in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). In 1966, Landau and his wife Barbara Bain were both cast on the TV adventure/espionage series Mission: Impossible. For three years, Landau portrayed Rollin Hand, a master of disguise with the acute ability to impersonate virtually every villain who came down the pike (banana-republic despots were a specialty). Unhappy with changes in production personnel and budget cuts, Landau and Bain left the series in 1969. Six years later, they costarred in Space: 1999 a popular syndicated sci-fi series; the performances of Landau, Bain, and third lead Barry Morse helped to gloss over the glaring gaps in continuity and logic which characterized the show's two-year run. The couple would subsequently act together several times (The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island (1981) was one of the less distinguished occasions) before their marriage dissolved.

Working steadily in various projects throughout the next few decades, Landau enjoyed a career renaissance with two consecutive Oscar nominations, the first for Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), and the second for Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). Landau finally won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 Ed Wood; his refusal to cut his acceptance speech short was one of the high points of the 1995 Oscar ceremony. He would continue to work over the next several years, appearing in movies like City of Ember and Mysteria, as well as on TV shows like Without a Trace and Entourage.

Movie Highlights

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  • Began a five-year stint as a staff cartoonist for the New York Daily News at 17.
  • Of the 2,000 actors who auditioned in 1955 for admittance into Lee Strasberg's prestigious Actors Studio, only two were selected — Landau and Steve McQueen.
  • Starred in a failed 1973 NBC pilot called Savage that was directed by Steven Spielberg.
  • Played the title role in a touring production of Dracula in the mid '80s. In 1994, he played cinema's most famous Dracula, Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood.
  • In 2008, he appeared in the family fantasy adventure film City of Ember and the forbidden romance drama David & Fatima.
  • Was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2009.