TV, movie ac­tor Lan­dau, 89, dies

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Martin

Lan­dau, the chameleon-like 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 Ed Wood, has died. He was 89.

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

Lan­dau’s seven-decade ca­reer fea­tured ver­dant artis­tic peaks — in­clud­ing his work for direc­tors Al­fred Hitch­cock, Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, Woody Allen and Tim Bur­ton — and long stretches of arid desert.

The New Yorker once de­scribed him as “a sur­vivor of B-movie hell,” not­ing his long mid-ca­reer run of dis­as­ter films, blax­ploita­tion movies and fright flicks.

“None of them were porno,” the ac­tor once quipped, “though some were worse.”

Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble, which also starred Lan­dau’s wife, Bar­bara Bain, be­came an im­me­di­ate hit upon its de­but in 1966. It re­mained on the air un­til 1973, but 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. Lan­dau might have been a su­per­star but for a role he didn’t play — the star­ship En­ter­prise’s pointy-eared science of­fi­cer, Mr. Spock. Star Trek cre­ator Gene Rod­den­berry had of­fered him the role of the half-Vul­can, half-hu­man who at­tempts to rid his life of all emo­tion. Lan­dau turned it down.

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

Iron­i­cally, Ni­moy re­placed Lan­dau on Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.

Af­ter a brief but im­pres­sive Broad­way ca­reer, Lan­dau made his film de­but in the late 1950s, play­ing a sol­dier in Pork Chop Hill.

Hitch­cock, an early ad­mirer, cast him in his most mem­o­rable early role, as espionage ring­leader James Ma­son’s clos­eted gay minion Leonard in 1959’s North by North­west.

The film starred Cary Grant as a New York ad­man ac­ci­den­tally en­snared in an in­ter­na­tional spy ring.

Lan­dau had pro­posed mak­ing Leonard covertly gay and worked with screen­writer Ernest Lehman to craft a line about his “woman’s in­tu­ition” — to be de­liv­ered be­fore the char­ac­ter demon­strates how Ma­son’s girl­friend, played by Eva Marie Saint, has be­trayed them.

“It was quite a big risk in cinema at the time,” Lan­dau told the Lon­don Daily Tele­graph in 2012. “My logic was sim­ply that he wanted to get rid of Eva Marie Saint with such a vengeance, so it made sense for him to be in love with his boss, Van­damm. … Ev­ery one of my friends thought I was crazy, but Hitch­cock liked it.”

Af­ter Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble, how­ever, he en­joyed far less suc­cess, 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 film by Cop­pola that gar­nered Lan­dau his first Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

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

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

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