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Though he got his start as an actor during the golden age of television in the 1950s, Martin Landau had to wait until the late 1980s until he became a widely recognized commodity. After five years as a cartoonist, Landau switched gears to become an actor, performing in live television productions before graduating to Hollywood features in the 1960s. Toward the latter half of that precarious decade, he landed his first truly memorable role, playing master of disguise Rollin Hand on the hit spy series "Mission: Impossible" (CBS, 1966-1973). Though the show lasted for seven seasons, Landau left after the third because of a contractual dispute, a move that left the actor struggling to find quality roles for almost two decades. Landau had a particularly rough time during the 1980s despite steady work, mainly as a one-dimensional villain in projects more concerned with car chases and explosions than character or story. He finally re-emerged with Oscar-nominated roles in "Tucker: The Man and His Dream" (1988) and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), eventually winning his first Academy Award for his spot-on portrayal of aging silent film star Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood" (1994), all of which paved the way for...
Though he got his start as an actor during the golden age of television in the 1950s, Martin Landau had to wait until the late 1980s until he became a widely recognized commodity. After five years as a cartoonist, Landau switched gears to become an actor, performing in live television productions before graduating to Hollywood features in the 1960s. Toward the latter half of that precarious decade, he landed his first truly memorable role, playing master of disguise Rollin Hand on the hit spy series "Mission: Impossible" (CBS, 1966-1973). Though the show lasted for seven seasons, Landau left after the third because of a contractual dispute, a move that left the actor struggling to find quality roles for almost two decades. Landau had a particularly rough time during the 1980s despite steady work, mainly as a one-dimensional villain in projects more concerned with car chases and explosions than character or story. He finally re-emerged with Oscar-nominated roles in "Tucker: The Man and His Dream" (1988) and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), eventually winning his first Academy Award for his spot-on portrayal of aging silent film star Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood" (1994), all of which paved the way for higher profile projects for an actor always capable of quality performances. Martin Landau continued to work steadily in character roles in film and on television for the rest of his life. His death at the age of 89 on July 15, 2017 was greeted with mourning and fond remembrances from fans and peers around the globe.
Born in Brooklyn, NY on June 20, 1931, Landau was raised by his father, Morris, a machinist in Manhattan's famed Garment District, and his mother, Selma, a homemaker. After graduating James Madison High School in 1946, Landau studied drawing at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, then began work at The New York Daily News as a cartoonist and editorial artist when he was just 17. For five years, Landau illustrated the column "Pitching Horseshoes" and assisted drawing Gus Edson's famed comic strip "The Gumps." But when he was 22, Landau - who had only two stage productions to his name - suddenly announced that he was quitting the paper to pursue acting. In short order, he was among the thousands of struggling actors looking for jobs off-Broadway and in summer stock. In 1955, he was one of two thousand applicants for the famed Actors Studio, lead by acclaimed acting coach Lee Strasberg. Only two were admitted: Landau and Steve McQueen. Meanwhile, he found himself in demand, landing television roles during its heyday of live productions on such anthologies as "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1960), "Kraft Television Theater" (NBC, 1947-1958) and "Studio One" (CBS, 1947-1957).
After a successful tour alongside Edward G. Robinson in the Broadway production of "Middle of the Night" (1957), Landau made his film debut in the Korean War actioner "Pork Chop Hill" (1959), starring Gregory Peck as the leader of an army unit that suffers terrible losses storming a Chinese-held hill. Landau's film career blossomed with his second film, Alfred Hitchcock's legendary suspense thriller, "North by Northwest" (1959), in which he played Leonard, one of the film's more prominent villains. Landau was a main supporting character in "Cleopatra" (1963), the notorious sword and sandal epic that became known for its long and arduous production which included massive cost overruns that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, a near-death experience of star Elizabeth Taylor, and the scandalous affair between her and co-star Richard Burton. Landau's participation in the doomed "Cleopatra" prevented him from working with Federico Fellini on "8 1/2" (1963), but he did memorable television work in sympathetic roles on "The Outer Limits" (ABC, 1963-65) and was equally impressionable as the evil Caiaphas in director George Stevens' reverential biopic of Jesus, "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965).
Although Landau had generally been cast as villains or as serious and often morose types, his versatility found a good showcase in what became one his best-remembered roles, playing master-of-disguise Rollin Hand on the famed spy series, "Mission: Impossible." Landau was then married to actor Barbara Bain, who also starred on "Mission," and after three seasons, both left the series in 1969 after a contract dispute. The series successfully ran on for several more seasons, but Landau found difficulty maintaining a high profile. He did manage to land several features, television movies and series pilots like "A Town Called Hell" (1971), "Black Gunn" (1972) and "Savage" 1973"), but found little in the way of quality work. In the mid-1970s, Landau and Bain moved to England to star in a syndicated television sci-fi series, "Space: 1999" (ITV, 1975-77). Although the series was well-acted and had its merits, the show ultimately was unable to sustain itself, while the pensive, slightly worried-looking Landau failed to live up to the usual adventure hero standards. After the program folded, Landau, handicapped by his previous villain roles and TV fame, did keep busy but was hardly challenged by a decade of roles in films like "Meteor" (1979), "The Being" (1983) and "Cyclone" (1987). He reached his nadir early in the decade, however, with the impossible to imagine television movie, "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island" (NBC, 1981).
Landau began a career revival at the end of the 1980s when he had a quality supporting turn as Abe Karatz, the sympathetic money man in Francis Ford Coppola's "Tucker: The Man and His Dream" (1988), which netted him a first-ever Oscar nomination. He scored a second consecutive Oscar nod with his splendid work as a morally troubled eye doctor who, with the help of his criminally-connected brother (Jerry Orbach), plots to murder his mistress (Anjelica Huston) in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989). Landau continued enjoying his renaissance with fine roles in television movies, including "Max and Helen" (TNT, 1990) and "Legacy of Lies" (USA, 1992). He received some of the finest notices of his uneven, but distinguished career for his portrayal of faded film star Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's affectionate biopic "Ed Wood" (1994). Nominated for Best Supporting Actor once again, this time Landau left the Academy Awards ceremony with an award in hand, receiving validation at long last.
After his Oscar triumph, Landau suddenly found himself in serious demand and played a wide range of characters, including an honest judge in the political corruption drama "City Hall" (1996) and a restrained turn as the woodcarver Geppetto in a live-action version of "The Adventures of Pinocchio" (1996). The comedy "B.A.P.S" (1997) cast him as a wealthy man who takes two waitresses with big dreams (Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle) under his wing, while in the feature version of the hit television show, "The X-Files: Fight the Future" (1998), Landau offered an incisive performance as a conspiracy theorist offering assistance to Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). He followed with turns as the mentor to Matt Damon's card sharp in "Rounders" (1998) and as Matthew McConaughy's wheelchair-bound stepfather in Ron Howard's "EDtv" (1999). Landau also portrayed the titular figure in his advanced years in the two-part miniseries, "Bonanno: A Godfather's Story" (Showtime, 1999), a true-to-life biopic on the lesser-known Mafioso who returns to his native Sicily in his advanced years to reflect on his life.
Turning to classics of myth and legend, Landau next took the role of Geppetto in "The New Adventures of Pinocchio" (1999) and reunited with Tim Burton for an uncredited cameo in "Sleepy Hollow" (1999). The veteran actor then appeared in wrestling comedy "Ready to Rumble" (2000), cool crime indie "Very Mean Men" (2000), and barely-seen "King Lear"-inspired boxing drama "Shiner" (2000) opposite Michael Caine. Landau found better roles in the miniseries "In the Beginning" (2000), playing the biblical Abraham, and director Frank Darabont's earnest, if not-quite-Capraesque effort "The Majestic" (2000), opposite Jim Carrey. He also appeared in a small role in the action-comedy bomb "Hollywood Homicide" (2003) with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett. After a two-decades absence from the small screen, Landau returned with a recurring role on the hit crime drama "Without A Trace" (CBS, 2002-09), playing Jack Malone's (Anthony LaPaglia) Alzheimer's-ridden father. Returning to the feature world, he starred in the World War II drama "The Aryan Couple" (2005), playing a wealthy Jewish man who, along with his wife (Judy Parfitt), is granted immunity from the death camps if he allows the Nazis to confiscate everything he owns. As a requisite for safe passage, however, the elderly couple must dine with both Heinrich Himmler and Adolph Eichmann.
In 2006, Landau made his first foray into regular series work since "Space: 1999" as the head of forensics on "The Evidence" (ABC, 2005-06), a procedural about two homicide detectives (Orlando Jones and Rob Estes) piecing together seemingly disparate clues to solve a crime. Landau next appeared in a three-show arc during the third season of the popular HBO series, "Entourage" (2004-2011), as a thinly-veiled caricature of infamous producer Robert Evans. Evans gave the producers of "Entourage" the okay to film at his extravagant Beverly Hills mansion, but was later miffed with Landau's characterization of him as an old, bumbling wash-up who constantly utters the tagline, "Is that something you might be interested in?" Executives from HBO countered by saying there was no intention to mock Evans. Intentional or not, Landau's comedic turn earned the actor an Emmy nod for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. Following turns in little seen features like "City of Ember" (2008) and "David & Fatima" (2008), Landau played an elderly grocery store clerk who discovers romance for the first time in "Lovely, Still" (2010). Following an episode of "In Plain Sight" (USA Network, 2008-2012), Landau starred in "Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith" (ABC, 2011), where he played an aging rabbi who asks Albom (Bradley Whitford) to pen his eulogy since he knows he will soon die. After reuniting with Burton for a voice role in "Frankenweenie" (2012) and reprising his role as Bob Ryan in the big-screen reboot of "Entourage" (2015), Landau co-starred in the made for TV movie "The Anna Nicole Story" (Lifetime 2013), Atom Egoyan's thriller "Remember" (2015) and played the lead in end-of-life comedy-drama "The Last Poker Game" (2017). Martin Landau died of unspecified natural causes in Los Angeles on July 15, 2017. He was 89.
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