Legendary film and television actor Martin Landau died Saturday in California after a short hospitalization where he suffered unexpected complications. Landau was 89.
Landau, who appeared in more than 200 films and TV shows, died at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after an illustrious career in show business.
The X-Files star, who played Alvin Kurtzweil in the cult series, leaves behind his ex wife, actress Barbara Bain, 85, and their daughters, actress Juliet Rose Landau, and Susan Landau Finch.
As a Swiss army knife of acting, Landau showcased his versatility from his roles in the Mission: Impossible the TV series and as a broken-down Bela Lugosi in his Oscar-winning performance in Ed Wood in 1994.
A gifted mimic trained in method acting, Landau had thoroughly researched the role of Lugosi.
‘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.’
Landau was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1928. His first career job was as a newspaper cartoonist with the Daily News. Landau quit five years later, much to the chagrin of his mother, to pursue acting.
He had dabbled in acting before the switch, making his stage debut in 1951 at a Maine summer theater in ‘Detective Story’ and off-Broadway in ‘First Love.’
In 1955, he was among hundreds who applied to study at the prestigious Actors Studio and one of only two selected. The other was Steve McQueen.
On Broadway, Landau won praise for his work in ‘Middle of the Night,’ which starred Edward G. Robinson. He toured with the play until it reached Los Angeles, where he began his film career.
He rose to fame when he was plucked off Broadway by Alfred Hitchcock to play a homosexual killer in Hitchcock’s 1959 classic North by Northwest.
Landau’s career would span decades. He played a master of disguise in the television series Mission Impossible, and was allotted a special contract which let him to work year to year so he could opt out to take on movie roles that came along, as opposed to doing a standard five year contract.
‘Mission: Impossible,’ which also starred Landau’s wife 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.
He and his wife played opposite each other during Mission Impossible. They were married from 1957 and divorced in 1993.
Landau also landed a role in Cleopatra, the 1963 classic directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, playing the loyal Roman, Rufio.
Tributes from the Hollywood elites came pouring in including Alec Baldwin who tweeted he was ironically on a flight to London to shoot Mission Impossible when he heard the news on Landau’s passing.
Actors William Shatner, Marlee Matlin and Patricia Arquette also paid tribute.
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.’
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 the sympathetic role in ‘Tucker: The Man and his Dream,’ in the 1988 Francis Ford Coppola film that garnered Landau his first Oscar nomination.
The actor also had a run with the television series the X-Files playing Doctor Alvin Kurtzweil alongside actor David Duchovny as Special Agent Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Agent Dana Scully.
Landau finally won an Oscar, after being beaten out twice before, for his portrayal of a broken-down Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood in 1994.
‘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.
He received a second best supporting actor nomination in 1989, for his role as Judah Rosenthal, an ophthalmologist who has his mistress killed, in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Landau’s publicist says funeral services will be private followed by a memorial service in August or September.
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