Starred in TV’s ‘ Mis­sion,’ won Os­car

Chicago Sun-Times - - REMEMBERING - BY DAISY NGUYEN | SUN- TIMES LI­BRARY PHO­TOS Con­tribut­ing: Miriam Di Nun­zio

As­so­ci­ated Press

LOS ANGELES — Martin Lan­dau, the chameleon­like ac­tor who gained fame as the crafty mas­ter of dis­guise in the 1960s TV show “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble,” then capped a long and ver­sa­tile ca­reer with an Os­car for his poignant por­trayal of ag­ing hor­ror movie star Bela Lu­gosi in 1994’ s “EdWood,” has died. He was 89.

Mr. Lan­dau died Satur­day of un­ex­pected com­pli­ca­tions dur­ing a short stay at UCLA Med­i­cal Cen­ter, his pub­li­cist Dick Guttman said.

“Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble,” which also starred Mr. Lan­dau’s wife, Bar­bara Bain, be­came an im­me­di­ate hit upon its de­but in 1966. It re­mained on the air un­til 1973, but Mr. Lan­dau and Bain left at the end of the show’s third sea­son amid a fi­nan­cial dis­pute with the pro­duc­ers. They starred in the Bri­tish- made sci- fi se­ries “Space: 1999” from 1975 to 1977.

Mr. Lan­dau might have been a su­per­star but for a role he didn’t play — the pointy- eared star­ship En­ter­prise science of­fi­cer, Mr. Spock. “Star Trek” creator Gene Ro­den­berry had of­fered him the half- Vul­can, half- hu­man who at­tempts to rid his life of all emo­tion. Mr. Lan­dau turned it down.

“A char­ac­ter with­out emo­tions would have driven me crazy; I would have had to be lobotomized,” he ex­plained in 2001. In­stead, he chose “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble,” and Leonard Ni­moy went on to ev­er­last­ing fame as Spock.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, Ni­moy replaced Mr. Lan­dau on “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.”

Af­ter a brief but im­pres­sive Broad­way ca­reer, Mr. Lan­dau had made an aus­pi­cious film de­but in the late 1950s, play­ing a sol­dier in “Pork Chop Hill” and a vil­lain in the Al­fred Hitch­cock clas­sic “North By North­west.”

In a 2009 in­ter­view with the Chicago Sun- Times, Lan­dau talked about Hitch­cock’s film­mak­ing method, and the ac­tor’s take on the char­ac­ter of Leonard, which sur­prised and pleased the famed di­rec­tor: “I’d seen the sto­ry­board [ Hitch­cock] had of the film,” Lan­dau said. “I can tell you he didn’t de­vi­ate from those sto­ry­boards one bit. But I wanted a slight de­vi­a­tion from Ernest Lehman’s script in that I chose to play Leonard, how­ever sub­tly, as a gay char­ac­ter. That was how I saw him. Why else would he want to get rid of the Eva Marie Saint char­ac­ter with such vengeance? He was at­tracted to the James Mason char­ac­ter, that’s why. And I was thrilled when Ernie [ Lehman] added a line — not in the orig­i­nal script — and a very dar­ing line in the ’ 50s — for my char­ac­ter right be­fore he ex­poses that the gun shot blanks. My char­ac­ter says, ‘ Call it my woman’s in­tu­ition if you will.’ Hitch­cock loved it.”

He en­joyed far less suc­cess af­ter “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble,” how­ever, find­ing he had been type­cast as Rollin Hand, the top- se­cret mis­sion team’s dis­guise wiz­ard. His film ca­reer lan­guished for more than a decade, reach­ing its nadir with his ap­pear­ance in the 1981 TV movie “The Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters on Gil­li­gan’s Is­land.”

He be­gan to find redemp­tion with a sym­pa­thetic role in “Tucker: The Man and his Dream,” the 1988 Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola film that gar­nered Mr. Lan­dau his first Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

He was nom­i­nated again the next year for his turn as the adul­ter­ous hus­band in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Mis­de­meanors.”

His third nom­i­na­tion was for “Ed Wood,” di­rec­tor Tim Burton’s af­fec­tion­ate trib­ute to a man widely viewed as the worst Hol­ly­wood film­maker of all time.

“There was a 10- year pe­riod when every­thing I did was bad. I’d like to go back and turn all those films into gui­tar picks,” Lan­dau said af­ter ac­cept­ing his Os­car.

In “Ed Wood,” he por­trayed Lu­gosi dur­ing his fi­nal years, when the Hun­gar­i­an­born ac­tor who had be­come fa­mous as Count Drac­ula was ill, ad­dicted to drugs and forced to make films with Ed Wood just to pay his bills. A gifted mimic trained in method act­ing, Mr. Lan­dau had thor­oughly re­searched the role.

“I watched about 35 Lu­gosi movies, in­clud­ing ones that were worse than any­thing Ed Wood ever made,” he re­called in 2001. “De­spite the trash, he had a cer­tain dig­nity about him, what­ever the role.”

So did the New York- born Mr. Lan­dau, who had stud­ied draw­ing at the Pratt In­sti­tute in Brook­lyn and worked for a time as a New York Daily News car­toon­ist be­fore switch­ing ca­reers at age 22.

He had dab­bled in act­ing be­fore the switch, mak­ing his stage de­but in 1951 at a Maine sum­mer the­ater in “De­tec­tive Story” and off-Broad­way in “First Love.”

In 1955, he was among hun­dreds who ap­plied to study at the pres­ti­gious Ac­tors Stu­dio and one of only two se­lected. The other was Steve McQueen.

On Broad­way, Mr. Lan­dau won praise for his work in “Mid­dle of the Night,” which starred Ed­ward G. Robin­son. He toured with the play un­til it reached Los Angeles, where he be­gan his film ca­reer.

Mr. Lan­dau and Bain had two daugh­ters, Su­san and Juliet. They di­vorced in 1993.

OBITUARIES

Ge­orge Romero, di­rec­tor of “Night of the Liv­ing Dead,” dies at 77.

ABOVE: Martin Lan­dau with wife Bar­bara Bain, co- stars in TV’s “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.” RIGHT: Lan­dau’s Os­car- win­ning role in the 1994 film “EdWood.”

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