Barney Martin

Active - 1963 - 1998  |   Born - Mar 3, 1923 in Queens, New York  |   Died - Mar 21, 2005   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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It took the television series Seinfeld and his portrayal of Morty Seinfeld to turn Barney Martin into a pop-culture star, complete with talk-show engagements and personal appearances -- but Martin was a working actor for 40 years before that, in films and television, on Broadway, and in regional theater. Born in New York City in the early '20s, he was the son of the police official in charge of the jail facility known as the Tombs. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, with 42 missions to his credit as a navigator; he joined the police force after the war and won commendations for bravery. Martin had always shown a flair for comedy, and while a member of the police force, he was often asked to add jokes to the speeches of various deputy commissioners. In the early '50s, he began moving into professional entertainment circles, selling his jokes and also writing for Name That Tune, and then was hired as a writer on The Steve Allen Show -- it was while working on that end of the business, and with some encouragement from a new friend, Mel Brooks, that Martin became convinced that he could be as funny as most of the professional comics he was seeing in front of the cameras and on-stage. By the end of the 1950s, he was working as a stand-in for Jackie Gleason. With his hefty frame tipping the scales at well over 200 pounds even in those days, and his slightly befuddled look, he was nearly a dead-ringer for Gleason in one profile, and he ended up working on camera in various sketches. Martin's other early television performances included regular work as a "ringer" on Candid Camera, and work on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Perry Como Show, as well as straight acting performances on such dramatic shows as The Naked City, where his New York accent and mannerisms made Martin a natural. He also turned in an excruciatingly funny performance as Fats Borderman, a hapless professional hood, in the Car 54, Where Are You? episode "Toody Undercover." Martin made his first big-screen appearance in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Wrong Man, as a member of the jury -- he also showed up in uncredited appearances in such movies as Butterfield 8, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and Love With the Proper Stranger. In 1968, he got his first two credited screen appearances, in Mel Brooks' The Producers, portraying Goring in "Springtime for Hitler," and playing Hank in Ralph Nelson's Charly. Most of Martin's acting, however, was on-stage, including Broadway productions of South Pacific, All American, Street Scene, How Now, Dow Jones, and Chicago; in the latter's '70s production, he originated the role of Amos Hart. He also appeared in regional theater productions of Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Fantasticks. Martin also made occasional appearances on television, most notably on The Odd Couple, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, in such episodes as "The Jury Story" and "The Subway Story." His friendship with Randall also carried over to his being cast as a regular when the latter got his own series, The Tony Randall Show, in 1976. Martin might have gone on for the rest of his career as a character actor well known to those in his profession, doing occasional big-screen performances in features such as Stanley Donen's Movie, Movie and Steve Gordon's Arthur, but for the Seinfeld television series. After inheriting the role of Morty Seinfeld from another actor, Martin became a regular on the series, usually working in tandem with Liz Sheridan playing Morty's wife, also playing opposite Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Michael Richards, and Jerry Stiller, and always holding his own in eliciting laughs. Perhaps Martin's best single episode was the one in which his character is defeated in the election as chairman of the condominium board -- the script was filled with little digs aimed at Oliver Stone's movie Nixon, and Martin was able to bring just enough Nixon-like gravitas to his portrayal to make the whole show work.

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