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Remembering The Life And Career Of Martin Landeau

Written by  Published November 29, -0001 07:00
The entertainment world lost two icons of pop culture over the course of a single weekend. The first casualty is Mr. Martin Landau. Many know Martin Landau from (of course) his star turn as the character of "Rollin Hand" on the hit TV series: "Mission: Impossible", or perhaps they remember him as "Commander John Koenig" on the TV series: "Space: 1999". Both were great roles and Landau played them to perfection. But Landau did much more than just those two roles in his acting career. He started his working life as a staff cartoonist and illustrator for the New York Daily News at the young age of only 17 years old! Landau was there for seven years. During which, he served as illustrator on Billy Rose's "Pitching Horseshoes" column, as well as doing work for Gus Edson on his famous comic strip  "The Gumps". But Landau really wanted to be an actor.

landau artistSo, in 1951 Landau made his stage debut in "Detective Story" at the Peaks Island Playhouse in Peaks Island Maine. Landau also performed Off-Broadway that same year in a production called: "First Love". Landau was one of over TWO THOUSAND applicants to audition for Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio in 1955. Landau was one of only TWO applicants to be accepted, the other was a young actor named -- Steve McQueen and both men had a mutual friend in James Dean!! When asked how McQueen knew that Landau was a friend of Dean's, he confessed that he had seen Landau on the back of Dean's motorcycle when they rode into the New York City garage where McQueen was working as a mechanic at the time.

During the mid 1950's, Landau found acting work in the television anthology series that were prevalent at that time. Landau appeared in "Playhouse 90", "Studio One In Hollywood", "The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse", "The Kraft Theater" and "Omnibus". Landau replaced Franchot Tone as the star of the Off-Broadway play "Uncle Vanya", written by Anton Chekhov. It was a starring role and it got Landau noticed ("Uncle Vanya" was a famous production that put "Off-Broadway " on the theatrical map).

Landau made the leap from "Off-Broadway" to "Broadway" in 195. Landau was very well received in his role and acting ability. This was in the play "Middle Of The Night". Landau was part of a touring company with Edward G. Robinson. This is how Landau left New York and headed for the coast. He made his debut in 1959's "Porkchop Hill" and played the role of a "Heavy" ( i.e. a badguy) in the 1959 classic thriller "North By Northwest ". Landau played the villain who is shot while on Mount Rushmore; stepping on Cary Grant's fingers as his character held on for dear life. In 1963, Landau starred alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film "Cleopatra" (however, the film became overshadowed due to Taylor's affair with fellow actor Richard Burton). Despite all of that, Landau's star performance in the key role of "Rufio" brought Landau both fame and popularity.

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Landau then landed a role in two episodes of TV's "The Outer Limits". The first is "The Man Who Was Never Born" in 1963. The second was in 1964's: "The Bellero Shield". Here is an interesting piece of trivia that most people are unaware of--Martin Landau was Gene Roddenberry's FIRST choice for the pivotal role of "Mr. Spock" on the 1966 TV series "Star Trek"! The part later went to Leonard Nimoy (ironicaly, Nimoy would later replace Landau on the "Mission: Impossible" TV series)! Originally, Landau's character was not supposed to be a main character. He was only to be a reoccurring character. But producers were having problems with Steven Hill, the show's star. And Landau was used in order to take up the slack. Landau proved to be so popular with the show's audience that he was quickly made a regular. Landau's wife , Barbara Bain, played the role of Cinnamon Carter on the show. Landau received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series for each of the three years that he played on Mission: Impossible. Landau (and Barbara Bain as well) left the show in 1969, thanks to a salary dispute concerning the new lead Peter Graves. Leonard Nimoy, fresh from Star Trek, replaced Landau as a new character-Paris. 

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Landau and his wife eventually moved to England to star in the new series "Space: 1999". After that show was cancelled, Landau and Bain appeared on "The Harlem Globetrotters on Giligan's Island". Landau's career and marriage ended after this. Landau's comeback started slow. He had a reoccurring role on Dabney Coleman's "Buffalo Bill" TV series. Landau returned to Broadway as the title character in the production of "Dracula". Finally, Francis Ford Coppola cast him in "Tucker: The Man And His Dream" in 1988. Landau received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1994 for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in the film "Ed Wood". His performance also netted Landau his third Golden Globe, plus honors from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society Of Film Critics.

Landau continued to act in film and television. and received his fourth Emmy nomination in 2004 for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series for his work in "Without A Trace". Landau was honored with his own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Landau's star is at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.

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Martin Landau died from multiple organ failure brought on by intra-abdominal hemorrhage on July 15th, 2017. He was 89 years old.

I dedicate this column to the memory of Mr. Martin Landau. R.I.P. June 20th, 1928-July 15th, 2017.

Bryan Frazier

Bryan W. Frazier has been reading and collecting comic books for the past forty years! He has a love and fondness for the Vintage Comic Books, Comic Strips, Magazines, Books, Toys, TV Shows and Movies, and even radio shows  of the past (paying particular loving attention to the Pop Culture of the 70’s and 80’s! His personal “glory days”). He has two little poochies named Leyna and Layla, and an as yet unfinished novel  that he hope to turn into a series someday. His column is "Old School" and so is he!! He is Bryan W. Frazier -- Mr. Bronze Age!

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