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Updated: April 24, 2024

Martin James Landau ( June 20, 1928 " July 15, 2017 ) was an American actor, acting coach, producer, and editorial cartoonist. His career began in the 1950s, with early film appearances including a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest ( 1959 ). His career breakthrough came with leading roles in the television series Mission: Impossible ( 1966"1969 ) and Space: 1999 ( 1975"1977 ).

Landau earned Academy Award nominations for his performances in Tucker: The Man and His Dream ( 1988 ) and Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors ( 1989 ). He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood ( 1994 ). Other notable roles include in Cleopatra ( 1963 ), The Greatest Story Ever Told ( 1965 ), Rounders ( 1998 ), Sleepy Hollow ( 1999 ), and Remember ( 2015 ). He headed the Hollywood branch of the Actors Studio until his death in July 2017.

Early Life and Education:

Landau was born on June 20, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Selma ( Nee Buchman ) and Morris Landau. His family was Jewish. His father was an Austrian-born machinist who tried to rescue relatives from the Nazis.

After attending both James Madison High School and Pratt Institute, he found work at the New York Daily News. There he spent the next five years as an editorial cartoonist and worked alongside Gus Edson to produce the comic strip The Gumps. He quit the Daily News when he was 22 to concentrate on theater acting. "I told the picture editor I was going into the theater," he recalled. "I think he thought I was going to be an usher."

After auditioning for the Actors Studio in 1955, Landau and Steve McQueen were the only applicants accepted out of 500 who applied. While there, he trained under Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, and Harold Clurman, and eventually became an executive director with the Studio alongside Mark Rydell and Sydney Pollack.


1957"1965: Rise to prominence Cary Grant, James Mason, Eva Marie Saint, and Landau in North by Northwest Influenced by Charlie Chaplin and the escapism of the cinema, Landau pursued an acting career. While at the Actors Studio, becoming good friends with James Dean. He recalled, "James Dean was my best friend. We were two young would-be and still-yet-to-work unemployed actors, dreaming out loud and enjoying every moment ... We'd spend lots of time talking about the future, our craft and our chances of success in this newly different, ever-changing modern world we were living in."

In 1957, he made his Broadway debut in Middle of the Night. Landau made his first major film appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest ( 1959 ) starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. Landau portrayed Leonard, the right-hand man of a criminal portrayed by James Mason. Variety praised Landau's performance writing, "[ His performance ] creates individuality and excitement." That same year he acted in the Korean War film Pork Chop Hill starring Gregory Peck and directed by Lewis Milestone, and the black comedy The Gazebo starring Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds and directed by George Marshall. He appeared on television in "Wanted: Dead or Alive" S2 E19 "The Monster" as Khorba, a rogue elephant trainer who uses his elephant to rob miners of their gold. The series starred Steve McQueen; the episode first aired on 1/14/1960. In 1962 he acted in the Western film Stagecoach to Dancers' Rock. In 1963 he plays a survivor of a post-pandemic world in The Outer Limits episode, "The Man Who Was Never Born".

He had featured roles in two 1960s epics: Rufio in the Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed Cleopatra ( 1963 ) and Caiaphas in the George Stevens directed The Greatest Story Ever Told ( 1965 ). The latter was an historical epic which cost a reported $20 million and featured performances from stars such as Charlton Heston, Max Von Sydow, Claude Rains, Dorothy McGuire, Jose Ferrer, Roddy McDowell, and Angela Lansbury. The following year he played a ruthless killer in the Western action adventure prequel Nevada Smith ( 1966 ) starring Steve McQueen.

1966"1969: Mission: Impossible and acclaim:

Landau in his role as Rollin Hand in Mission: Impossible Landau played the supporting role of master of disguise Rollin Hand in the first three seasons of the US television series Mission: Impossible, from 1966 to 1969, for which he received three straight Emmy nominations. Landau at first declined to be contracted by the show because he did not want it to interfere with his film career; instead, he was credited for "special guest appearances" during the first season. He became a full-time cast member in the second season, although the studio agreed to Landau's request to contract him only on a year-by-year basis rather than the then-standard five years. The role of Hand required Landau to perform a wide range of accents and characters, from dictators to thugs, and several episodes had him playing dual roles"not only Hand's impersonation, but also the person whom Hand is impersonating. In the series Landau acted alongside his then-wife Barbara Bain, who won an Emmy for her performances each year for all three years. He was replaced by Leonard Nimoy, playing a very similar role but not exactly the same character, for the next two seasons of the series after Landau and Bain left the show.

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