Martin Landau, probably best known for his roles in the TV dramas “Mission Impossible” and “Space 1999” died on Saturday at UCLA Medical Center after a short hospitalization. He was 89 years old.
Born in Brooklyn he began his work career as a cartoonist and illustrator for the New York Daily News. After five years of that he was suddenly inspired to take up acting instead of drawing. In 1955 he auditioned for The Actor’s Studio, run by Lee Strasburg. He was one of only two to be admitted from among more than 2,000 candidates. The other was the late Steve McQueen.
His first feature film was 1959’s Pork Chop Hill, in which he played a young U.S. Army officer fighting in the Korean War. The film is noteworthy for its raw depiction of what some consider the uselessness of ground combat, and for its impressive cast. Aside from Mr. Landau, Robert Blake, Clarence Williams III, Norman Fell, Harry Dean Stanton and Harry Guardino were in this movie. But Martin Landau’s breakthrough came later that year for his performance as “Leonard” in Hitchcock’s brilliant film North by Northwest.
He was offered the role of “Spock” during the preproduction of the original “Star Trek” but turned it down. He would go on to achieve even more fame playing the master of disguise “Rollin Hand” on “Mission Impossible.” Ironically, after the cancellation of Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy replaced Landau on Mission Impossible.
After he left Mission Impossible, Landau worked steadily but his star was fading until he was cast in 1988’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream as the real-life Abe Karatz. The role earned him the first of his three Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor. He was nominated again the following year for Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.
After making Sliver and Intersection (among others) he was cast in 1994’s Ed Wood by director Tim Burton. He would win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year for portraying Bela Lugosi. His research was intense as he actually viewed more than two dozen of Lugosi’s movies in preparing for the role. Johnny Depp would later say that working with Martin Landau “…rejuvenated his love for acting.”
After that he appeared as a millionaire in B*A*P*S, a law professor in Rounders and as the step-father of Matthew McConaughey in EdTV, all of which were flops. He went on to make a number of other movies, among them The Majestic, Hollywood Homicide, Lovely Still, Frankenweenie and 2015’s Entourage. He starred in The Last Poker Game with Paul Sorvino and Maria Dizzia, which debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in April.
Martin Landau was married to actress Barbara Bain for more than 35 years before they divorced in 1993. He is survived by their two daughters, Susan Bain Landau Finch and Julie Landau. Julie co-starred with her father in Ed Wood.