Won Os­car for ‘Ed Wood’

MARTIN LAN­DAU, 1928 - 2017

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Nar­dine Saad

Martin Lan­dau, the Os­car-win­ning vet­eran who ap­peared in clas­sic films such as Al­fred Hitch­cock’s “North by North­west” and starred in the “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble” tele­vi­sion se­ries in the 1960s, has died. He was 89.

Lan­dau died Satur­day at UCLA Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where he ex­pe­ri­enced “un­ex­pected com­pli­ca­tions” dur­ing a short hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, his pub­li­cist con­firmed.

“We are over­come with sad­ness to report the death of iconic ac­tor Martin Lan­dau,” a state­ment said.

He won his Academy Award for his por­trayal of washed-up Bela Lu­gosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.”

Through­out his pro­lific ca­reer, the tall, lean ac­tor re­mained en­thu­si­as­tic about

his craft, which saw him in­habit roles that in­cluded a mas­ter spy, a space com­man­der, for­mer Hol­ly­wood heavy­weights, the prophet Abra­ham and a wheelchair­bound Holo­caust sur­vivor. Lan­dau’s ded­i­ca­tion was ap­par­ent dur­ing his ten­ure as co-artis­tic di­rec­tor for Ac­tors Stu­dio West with Os­carnom­i­nated di­rec­tor Mark Ry­dell. He re­cently starred in the CBS po­lice pro­ce­dural “With­out a Trace,” play­ing Jack’s fa­ther with Alzheimer’s disease, and HBO’s “En­tourage,” play­ing bum­bling film pro­ducer Bob Ryan.

Lan­dau, who was born in Brook­lyn in 1928, be­gan his ca­reer as a news­pa­per­man at age 17, work­ing for five years at the New York Daily News as a staff car­toon­ist and il­lus­tra­tor while study­ing at the Pratt In­sti­tute in Brook­lyn. Af­ter five years at the News, Lan­dau sud­denly quit to try his hand at act­ing.

“I told the pic­ture edi­tor I was go­ing into the the­ater. I think he thought I was go­ing to be an usher,” he said in a 1989 in­ter­view with The Times.

Lan­dau had few job prospects and lived on $5 a week from his sav­ings as he made the rounds. He was hired for a sum­mer stock com­pany on an is­land off Port­land, Maine, did 12 shows — in­clud­ing mu­si­cals — in 13 weeks, and had a swell time.

While liv­ing in New York in the 1950s, he hung out with pal James Dean and com­peted for roles with the likes of Syd­ney Pollack and John Cas­savetes.

“I would meet them in of­fices and wait­ing rooms be­fore read­ings,” he told The Times.

Shift­ing to the­ater, Lan­dau au­di­tioned with 2,000 other ac­tors for Lee Stras­berg’s pres­ti­gious Ac­tors Stu­dio in 1955. Only he and a young Steve McQueen were ac­cepted.

“Steve and I got in the same night,” Lan­dau said in a 2016 in­ter­view with The Times. “Lee Stras­berg was gen­tle with Steve be­cause he was rough with Jimmy [Dean]. Jimmy stopped work­ing at the stu­dio. He didn’t want that to hap­pen to Steve.”

That wasn’t the case for Lan­dau. Stras­berg be­rated him for an hour in front of famed stu­dio mem­bers Kim Stan­ley, Geral­dine Page, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Pa­tri­cia Neal re­gard­ing act­ing choices he had made in a re­cent TV pro­duc­tion.

“Ret­ro­spec­tively, it was good for me,” Lan­dau said, be­cause Stras­berg taught him that a “cer­tain ac­tor’s ar­ro­gance is needed. Play the truth. Ac­tors need to trust them­selves. If you trust your­self, you can trust oth­ers and leave the di­rec­tor out­side.”

He made his film de­but in “Pork Chop Hill” (1959), but few can for­get his break­out role as Leonard, the vil­lain­ous hench­man stalk­ing Cary Grant in Hitch­cock’s clas­sic thriller “North by North­west” (1959).

“I had tea with Mr. Hitch­cock one af­ter­noon and asked him how he could have cast me in that part, be­cause what I was play­ing in [the play] ‘Mid­dle of the Night’ was so dif­fer­ent,” Lan­dau re­called. “‘My dear Mah-tin,’ ” he said, im­per­son­at­ing the leg­endary film­maker, “‘you have a cir­cus go­ing on in­side you. If you can do that part in the play, you can do this lit­tle trin­ket of mine.’ ”

But Lan­dau be­came wildly pop­u­lar for his role as Rollin Hand, the “Man of a Mil­lion Faces” sleuth on the 1960s hit se­ries “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble,” with then-wife Bar­bara Bain. The ac­tor was not meant to be a reg­u­lar on the show but be­came so pop­u­lar that he went on to re­ceive Emmy nom­i­na­tions for each of the three sea­sons in which he ap­peared, and in 1968 won a Golden Globe for male TV star. He quit the show in a con­tract dis­pute and went on to costar with Bain in Bri­tain’s short-lived sci-fi drama “Space: 1999.” The cou­ple had two daugh­ters to­gether be­fore they di­vorced in 1993.

Though the small screen pro­vided the kind of the in­deli­ble suc­cess some ac­tors dream about, Lan­dau said “it was a night­mare too.”

“If a show is a hit, it’s the kiss of death as far as do­ing any­thing else is con­cerned,” he said.

In the early “golden years” of tele­vi­sion, Lan­dau told The Times in 1992, “no one knew who was in charge yet. There weren’t that many sets and ad agen­cies didn’t butt in.”

As time went by, how­ever, tele­vi­sion lost its abil­ity to be orig­i­nal, he said. “It copy­cats it­self so much. The sense of ad­ven­ture and risk-tak­ing is much less.

“I’d worked for the gi­ants at the be­gin­ning — Ge­orge Stevens, Hitch­cock,” Lan­dau said. “And then it all stopped be­cause I was a tele­vi­sion ac­tor.”

He spent a year work­ing on Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1963 epic “Cleopa­tra,” play­ing the loyal right-hand man to Julius Cae­sar (Rex Har­ri­son) and Marc Antony (Richard Burton). When the film marked its 50th an­niver­sary in 2013, Lan­dau re­called the mon­u­men­tally medi­ocre movie’s other head­lin­ing scan­dal: Elizabeth Tay­lor’s adul­ter­ous af­fair with Burton.

On a day that only he and Burton were sched­uled to work, Lan­dau was shocked to see Tay­lor when he showed up to have his makeup ap­plied.

“I am sit­ting there look­ing in the mir­ror and Burton comes in in a half-tu­nic, goes to Elizabeth and kisses her on the fore­head and then says ‘good morn­ing’ to me. I said to my­self, ‘Oh, my God.’ They had not gone to their re­spec­tive homes that night. Around 11 a.m., [Tay­lor’s hus­band] Ed­die Fisher shows up,” Lan­dau said. Thirty min­utes later, Burton’s wife, Sy­bil Burton, ar­rived: “They came to see what hap­pened to their spouses. Mankiewicz and I were rolling our eye­balls a lit­tle bit.”

TV curse aside, Lan­dau went on to play nu­mer­ous roles in film, in­clud­ing the wheeler-dealer Abe Karatz in Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” (1988), for which he was nom­i­nated for an Os­car and won a Golden Globe for sup­port­ing ac­tor.

The next year, he was lauded for his role as the phi­lan­der­ing Ju­dah Rosen­thal, the doc­tor who has his mis­tress mur­dered and gets away with it, in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Mis­de­meanors” (1989). He was nom­i­nated for his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive sup­port­ing ac­tor Os­car.

“In any age range, there are some lim­i­ta­tions in terms of good, good parts,” Lan­dau said in 1992. Af­ter the Os­car nods, the “good, good parts” for ac­tors in their late 50s and early 60s came his way. How­ever, many of his pay­checks came from cheap, direct-to-video movies and over­seas tele­vi­sion. Which, co­in­ci­den­tally, was one of the rea­sons why Burton wanted him to play mor­phine-ad­dicted “Drac­ula” star Lu­gosi in 1994’s “Ed Wood,” star­ring Johnny Depp as the me­morably in­ept, low-bud­get film­maker Ed­ward D. Wood Jr. (Lan­dau’s daugh­ter Juliet also ap­peared in the film.)

“It’s weird,” Lan­dau told The Times about Lu­gosi in 1994. “Tim called me out of the blue. He said, ‘You’ve worked with every­body, you’ve done very good movies with ma­jor di­rec­tors, you’ve done tacky, rot­ten movies with aw­ful di­rec­tors. You have a pres­ence and there are a lot of things that co­in­cide [with Bela].’ That’s how he came to me. I was shocked. He said, ‘You popped into my head and I couldn’t get you out.’ ”

The 63-year-old Lan­dau played the ag­ing 1930s star as a col­or­ful, feisty old man crip­pled by a pro­found sad­ness. De­spite the fact that Bela Lu­gosi Jr. de­cried the film’s por­trayal of his fa­ther, Lan­dau said: “I don’t ridicule him. If any­thing, it’s al­most a love let­ter to him. I never talked to his son, and from what I hear, he did not ap­prove of some of the lan­guage. But that’s not the point. I don’t think I de­mean him at all. I salute him.”

For the role, Lan­dau fi­nally won the sup­port­ing ac­tor Os­car and his third Golden Globe Award. Dur­ing his Os­car speech, he hit the podium and shouted “No!” when the orches­tra at­tempted to trun­cate his speech. He also re­ceived top hon­ors from the New York Film Crit­ics Cir­cle and the Na­tional So­ci­ety of Film Crit­ics for his per­for­mance.

He fol­lowed up his Os­car win play­ing wood­carver Gep­petto in 1996’s “The Ad­ven­tures of Pinoc­chio,” which landed a se­quel in 1999. He also voiced Woodrow Wil­son in the minis­eries “1914-1918,” Scor­pion in the an­i­mated “Spi­der-Man,” and #2 in the an­i­mated “9.” He re­united with Burton in 2012 to voice science teacher Mr. Rzykruski in “Franken­wee­nie.”

Lan­dau re­ceived his star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame and the Is­rael Film Fes­ti­val’s Ca­reer Achieve­ment Award in 2013.

Lan­dau is sur­vived by daugh­ters Juliet Lan­dau and Su­san Lan­dau Finch.

CBS via Getty Im­ages

A PRO­LIFIC CA­REER Martin Lan­dau played sleuth Rollin Hand on “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.”

Suzanne Ten­ner Touch­stone Pic­tures

‘YOU HAVE A PRES­ENCE’ Martin Lan­dau, right, won an Academy Award for sup­port­ing ac­tor for his por­trayal of a washed-up Bela Lu­gosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.” Johnny Depp, left, played the me­morably in­ept ti­tle char­ac­ter.

CBS via Getty Im­ages

COSTARS AND SPOUSES Lan­dau and his real-life wife, Bar­bara Bain, in a scene from a 1966 episode of “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.”

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