Actor Martin Landau dies at 89, Oscar winner for ‘Ed Wood’

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Eamonn McCormack /

Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau, most closely associated with
scene-stealing character turns in such films as “North by
Northwest,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Ed Wood
as well as the classic TV series “Mission: Impossible,” died Saturday in
Los Angeles, according to his publicist. He had been hospitalized
at UCLA where he experienced complications. He was 89.

The lanky, offbeat-looking veteran of the Actors Studio, for he
which he was currently West Coast co-artistic director, had many
ups and downs in his career.  His greatest successes (three
Oscar nominations and one win) came later in life when he
returned to character roles like the one that first won him
notice, as James Mason’s sinister gay henchman in Alfred
Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

He was Emmy-nominated five times, and most of his leading man
roles came on television, most notably as Rollin Hand, a master
of disguise on “Mission: Impossible.” He later spent a couple of
years starring in syndicated sci-fi series “Space: 1999,” on
which, as with “Mission: Impossible,” he co-starred with
then-wife Barbara Bain.

After a dry spell, his career roared back to life in the late
1980s when Francis Ford Coppola cast him in “Tucker: The Man and
His Dream,” which brought Landau the first of three supporting
noms. It was, he reminded one journalist, the first time this
“Jewish kid from Brooklyn” took a role that called for him to
play Jewish.

An even more impressive turn as a successful Jewish
ophthalmologist haunted by a secret in Woody Allen’s drama
“Crimes and Misdemeanors” brought him an Oscar nomination for the
second year in a row.

In 1994 came the part of a lifetime for a character actor, the
dying, once-famous screen ghoul Bela Lugosi, in Tim Burton’s
whacked-out “Ed Wood.” Landau won the supporting actor Oscar.

Landau made his first bigscreen impression in Alfred Hitchcock’s
action suspenser “North by Northwest,” playing the villain who
does Mason’s dirty work. The role led to a major supporting role
in the epic “Cleopatra,” on which Landau spent a year, only to
find most of his role as General Rufio on the cutting-room floor.
“What could I do?” he later lamented. “They couldn’t cut Richard
Burton or Elizabeth Taylor.”

During the 1960s he had character roles in “The Greatest Story
Ever Told,” “Nevada Smith” and “The Hallelujah Trail.”

Landau had been doing television work since the 1950s but got
busy in TV in the mid-’60s, with several guest appearances on
sci-fier “The Outer Limits” and spy skein “The Man From
U.N.C.L.E.” He was producer Gene Roddenberry’s first choice for
the role of Spock on “Star Trek,” but the role wound up going to
Leonard Nimoy after Landau opted for “Mission: Impossible.”
(Nimoy would later take a recurring role on “Mission:

On the enormously successful “Mission: Impossible,” Landau and
Bain played well off one another and with the rest of the regular
ensemble, which included Peter Graves. Landau stayed with the
series for three years, through 1969, drawing Emmy nominations
three years in a row. He said his reason for leaving (and Bain’s
as well) was artistic differences over the general direction of
the show, though others claim salary demands were the real

 However, roles in “A Town Called Hell,” “Operation Snafu”
and another villain role in “They Call Me Mister Tibbs” didn’t
result in major acclaim.

Television came to the rescue again with the two-year run of
“Space: 1999” in the mid-’70s. Numerous TV movie turns reached a
nadir with “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” in

He and Bain divorced, and Landau spent the ’80s in roles in
mostly obscure films. He also worked as an acting teacher.

After the successes of “Tucker,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and
“Ed Wood,” Landau had a steady stream of mostly supporting work
on the bigscreen from the mid-’90s through the late 2000s.

He brought poignancy to his role as a judge in “City Hall” and
played Gepetto in “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” He contributed a
memorable turn to “The X-Files” movie in 1998, worked for Burton
again in “Sleepy Hollow” and took roles in “Rounders,” “The
Majestic” and “Hollywood Homicide.”

He had a series of roles in small films including 2006’s “David
and Fatima” and starred in 2008’s “Harrison Montgomery.”

There was also higher-profile work: Landau starred with Judy
Parfitt in 2004 Holocaust drama “The Aryan Couple.” He also had a
role in “City of Ember” and did voicework for the 2009 animated
feature “9” and 2012’s “Frankenweenie.”

Landau provided voices for the 1997 Oscar-winning documentary
“The Long Way Home” and appeared as himself in the docus “Off the
Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s,” “Cannes: Through the Eyes of
the Hunter” and “Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who
Were There” (2003) as well as a 2011 “American Masters”
documentary on Woody Allen.

He kept his hand in on the smallscreen as well, starring in the
miniseries “Bonanno: A Godfather’s Story” and appearing as a
series regular on the brief ABC series “The Evidence.” He
recurring notably on “Without a Trace” as Anthony LaPaglia’s
father with Alzheimer’s and on “Entourage” as a washed-up
producer, drawing Emmy nominations in 2004 and 2005 for the
former and in 2007 for the latter. Most recently he appeared in
“The Last Poker Game” with Paul Sorvino, which screened at the
Tribeca Film Festival, and in “Remember” for director Atom

Also in the 2000s, Landau worked as an acting coach in a venture
with director Mark Rydell and screenwriter-playwriter Lyle

The Brooklynite started out as a cartoonist, spending four years
with the New York Daily News from 1948-51, then turned his
attentions to acting. He claimed that he and Steve McQueen were
the only two among 2,000 applicants whose auditions gained them
admittance to the Actors Studio (of which Landau later became an

Landau did some stage work, most notably touring with the Paddy
Chayefsky play “Middle of the Night” in 1956-57. He married one
of the understudies, Bain, whom he met in Curt Conway’s acting

His film debut came in a small role in “Pork Chop Hill” in 1959,
followed by a larger role in “The Gazebo.” Then he drew attention
for his role in “North by Northwest.”

He is survived by two daughters, writer-producer-casting director
Susan Landau Finch and thesp Juliet Landau of “Buffy the Vampire
Slayer” fame, a sister and a granddaughter.

Donations may be made to Actors Studio West, Attn:
Helen Sanders, 8341 DeLongpre Ave., West Hollywood, Calif. 90069.

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