Martin Landau, the all-purpose actor who showcased his versatility as a master of disguise on the Mission: Impossible TV series and as a broken-down Bela Lugosi in his Oscar-winning performance in Ed Wood, has died. He was 89.
Landau, who shot to fame by playing a homosexual henchman in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 classic North by Northwest, died Saturday of “unexpected complications” after a brief stay at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, his rep confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.
After he quit CBS’ Mission: Impossible after three seasons in 1969 because of a contract dispute, Landau’s career was on the rocks until he was picked by Francis Ford Coppola to play Abe Karatz, the business partner of visionary automaker Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), in Tucker: The Man and His Dream(1988).
Landau received a best supporting actor nomination for that performance, then backed it up the following year with another nom for starring as Judah Rosenthal, an ophthalmologist who has his mistress (Angelica Huston) killed, in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).
Landau lost out on Oscar night to Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, respectively, in those years but finally prevailed for his larger-than-life portrayal of horror-movie legend Lugosi in the biopic Ed Wood (1994), directed by Tim Burton.
Landau also starred as Commander John Koenig on the 1970s science-fiction series Space: 1999 opposite his Mission: Impossible co-star Barbara Bain, his wife from 1957 until their divorce in 1993.
A former newspaper cartoonist, Landau turned down the role of Mr. Spock on the NBC series Star Trek, which went to Leonard Nimoy (who later effectively replaced Landau on Mission: Impossible after Trek was canceled).
Landau also was an admired acting teacher who taught the craft to the likes of Jack Nicholson. And in the 1950s, he was best friends with James Dean and, for several months, the boyfriend of Marilyn Monroe. “She could be wonderful, but she was incredibly insecure, to the point she could drive you crazy,” he told The New York Times in 1988.
Landau was born in Brooklyn on June 20, 1928. At age 17, he landed a job as a cartoonist for the New York Daily News, but he turned down a promotion and quit five years later to pursue acting.
“It was an impulsive move on my part to do that,” Landau told The Jewish Journal in 2013. “To become an actor was a dream I must’ve had so deeply and so strongly because I left a lucrative, well-paying job that I could do well to become an unemployed actor. It’s crazy if you think about it. To this day, I can still hear my mother’s voice saying, ‘You did what?!’ ”
More from: The Hollywood Reporter