Veteran character actor Martin Landau was born on June 20 1928, in Brooklyn, New York. He first dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from Brooklyn’s James Madison High School, Landau studied at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League.
Around the age of 17, Landau landed a job with the ‘New York Daily News’ as a cartoonist and illustrator. He made the switch to acting in his early twenties. As Landau explained to ‘Back Stage West’, “I was being groomed to be the next theater cartoonist. But when I looked around the office and saw guys 30 and 40 years my senior doing exactly what I was doing… I knew this wasn’t for me.”
In the mid-50’s, Landau won a coveted spot to train at the Actors Studio in New York City. He was one of two actors accepted at the time, the other new member was Steve McQueen. Through the Actors Studio, Landau honed his craft under the guidance of Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan among others. He later became a teacher at the studio and has served as the co-creative director of the program’s West Coast branch for many years.
In 1957, Landau got his first major break with the help of Paddy Chayefsky, who recommended the young actor for a touring production of his play ‘Middle of the Night’. After that tour, Landau landed some television work. He also married actress Barbara Bain around this time.
Landau made the leap to the big screen in 1959, appearing in the war drama ‘Pork Chop Hill’ with Gregory Peck. That same year, Landau played a killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’, starring Cary Grant. He also appeared in the 1963 historic epic ‘Cleopatra’ with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Two years later, Landau played another villainous character in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ (1965).
In 1966, Landau had a career breakthrough with the television spy drama ‘Mission: Impossible’. He played master of disguise Rollin Hand on the popular series, which also featured his wife, Barbara Bain and Peter Graves. He continued to appear on the show, which made him a bona fide star, for three seasons; he and his wife both left the series in 1969.
Landau found his ‘Mission: Impossible’ image hard to shake for many years, which limited the types of roles he was offered. In the mid-1970s, he landed another TV series, the syndicated science-fiction show ‘Space: 1999’. Produced in Britain, ‘Space: 1999’ also gave the actor another chance to work with his wife. The series has been a cult classic since its initial release.
Landau appeared in many other television shows including ‘The Untouchables’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Maverick’, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’, ‘Wagon Train’, ‘I Spy’ and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ One television role Landau turned down was Mr. Spock on the series ‘Star Trek’, which was famously portrayed by Leonard Nimoy.
Following ‘Space: 1999’, Martin Landau appeared in a number of lackluster film and TV projects. His career seemed at an all-time low in 1981, during which time he appeared in a role in the TV movie ‘The Harlem Globetrotters on Gillian’s Island’. By the end of the 80’s, however, Landau had re-established himself as a serious character actor. He received back-to-back Academy Award nominations, in 1988 and 1989, for his work on Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Tucker: The Man and His Dream’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’.
Landau ultimately took home an Oscar in 1994, for his portrayal of actor Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s ‘Ed Wood’. Johnny Depp starred as famed director Ed Wood. Landau continued to work with Burton on films including ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999) and ‘Frankenweenie’ (2012).
In his later years, Landau continued to work steadily in film and TV. He appeared on the 2006 TV series ‘The Evidence’ and had recurring Emmy-nominated roles on ‘Entourage’ and ‘Without a Trace’. In 2013, Landau played J. Howard Marshall II, the wealthy elderly husband of Anna Nicole Smith in the Lifetime TV movie ‘The Anna Nicole Smith Story’.
Other recent films include ‘Lovely, Still’ (2010), ‘Remember’ (2015), ‘The Red Maple Leaf’ (2016).
Landau was married to actress Barbara Bain from 1957 to 1993. They had two daughters, Susie and Juliet. Before marrying Bain, Landau dated Marilyn Monroe for a time, and he was also a friend of another Hollywood icon James Dean. In addition to acting, he was artistic director of the Actors Studio, and a well respected teacher of fellow notable actors including Angelica Huston, Harry Dean Stanton and Jack Nicholson.
The veteran character actor died on July 15 2017, following a brief hospitalization at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 89 years old.