Martin Landau, whose role as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood earned the popular player an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, died Saturday at 89 following “unexpected complications” after a brief stay at the UCLA Medical Center, his publicist Dick Guttman confirmed Sunday.
In a career spanning more than half a century of roles on television and film, Landau may have been best known for his run as undercover operative Rollin Hand in the Mission: Impossible TV series that initially ran from 1966 to 1973 on CBS. The show co-starred Landau’s wife at the time, Barbara Bain.
Also known for his varied roles in classic films from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Landau was not only one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood but also one of the most highly regarded character actors in the business. “Martin Landau is living proof that Hollywood will find great roles for great actors at any stage of their careers,” said Guttman in confirming his client’s death.
Landau was born in Brooklyn, NY June 20, 1928 and went on to study at the Pratt Institute. The year he auditioned for the Actors Studio, he and Steve McQueen were accepted out of 2000 applicants. This was the start of both his careers and his lifelong devotion to the Studio, the center of American method acting that he eventually headed up as artistic director with actor and director Mark Rydell. His students there included Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston.
‘Ageism is something that does exist. I don’t like to do what I call “the grunters” — a character who sits at a table and grunts, and young people make fun of. I turn a lot of those down. I like a character that is still alive, and is necessarily thinking, and either grows or diminishes, or whatever.’ – Martin Landau
Landau made his big screen debut in the Gregory Peck war film Pork Chop Hill in 1959, but his first major film appearance was in North by Northwest, a role he nabbed when Hitchcock after he saw his stage performance with Edward G. Robinson in Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night.
He starred opposite Jeff Bridges in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man His Dream in 1988, for which he received his first Oscar nomination. The following year he earned his second Oscar nod for his role as Judah Rosenthal in Allen’s bitter drama Crimes and Misdemeanors. His performance in Ed Wood also earned him a Golden Globe Award the Screen Actor Guild’s first annual award, The American Comedy Award, The New York Film Critics Award, The National Society of Film Critics Award, The Chicago Film Critics Award, The Los Angeles Film Critics Award, and every other award for Best Supporting Actor in 1994. He collaborated with Burton again as a voice actor for his animated features 9 and Frankenweenie.
More recently, he starred opposite with Paul Sorvino in the dramedy The Last Poker Game, which bowed earlier this year at Tribeca Film Festival. Deadline had the honor of interviewing him for the film which centered on the challenges and complexities of old age but emphasizing that life must be lived fully at any age.
“Ageism is something that does exist,” Landau acknowledged then. “As a young actor, I was working much more readily, and being offered more things. I don’t like to do what I call ‘the grunters’—a character who sits at a table and grunts, and young people make fun of. I turn a lot of those down. I like a character that is still alive, and is necessarily thinking, and either grows or diminishes, or whatever.”
He also starred with legendary actor Christopher Plummer in the 2015 indie Holocaust drama Remember from director Atom Egoyan. He also starred in The Red Maple Leaf with Kris Kristofferson and James Caan as well as the critically acclaimed Lovely with Ellen Burstyn.
‘If one could examine his DNA, it would read ACTOR. He embraced every role with fire and fierce dedication. Playing Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” was his loving tribute to all actors and garnered him a well-deserved Academy Award. His work was his joy and his legacy.’ —Barbara Bain
Landau’s versatile talents shined on TV as he made appearances on the small screen after his memorable role on Mission: Impossible. He nabbed six Emmy nominations including two for guest starring appearances on Without A Trace as well as the HBO comedy Entourage.
As a writer, Landau was working on a yet-untitled memoir which detailed his accomplishments in theatre, film and television. He also wrote the foreword of Life magazine’s book on his friend and fellow Hollywood icon James Dean. In addition a documentary entitled An Actor’s Actor: The Life of Martin Landau was in development.
He is survived by his daughters Susie Landau Finch and Juliet Landau, his sons-in-law Roy Finch and Deverill Weekes, former wife and co-star Barbara Bain, godson Dylan Becker, friend Gretchen Becker, sister Elinor Schwartz and his 8-year-old granddaughter Aria Isabel Landau Finch.