Os­car win­ning ac­tor Martin Lan­dau dies at 89

The Western Star - - Obituaries / World -

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.

“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 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. 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.

Iron­i­cally, Ni­moy re­placed Lan­dau on “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble.’’

Af­ter a brief but im­pres­sive Broad­way ca­reer, 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.’’

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 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 Mis­de­meanours.’’

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 Hun­gar­ian-born 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, 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 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.


In this Nov. 2, 2009, file photo, Martin Lan­dau, left, and Eva Marie Saint, who were fel­low cast mem­bers in Al­fred Hitch­cock’s 1959 film “North by North­west,” pose to­gether at the pre­miere of the film “The Imag­i­nar­ium of Dr. Par­nas­sus” at AFI Fest 2009...

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