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July 19, 2017

The Consummate Martin Landau

Remembering a talented, beloved performer.

Herbie J Pilato

The consummate actor and the consummate professional, terms seemingly created for actor Martin Landau, who passed away on July 15, 2017 at age 89 after a brief hospitalization at the UCLA Medical Center.

With a refined manner and eloquent style and speech, the multi-award-winning and nominated Landau brought significant realism to each of his roles for television, film and the stage.  Landau ignited his acting career in the 1950s, after he worked as a cartoonist for the New York Daily News.

The theatrically-trained actor was best known to TV viewers for three years as the lead master-of-disguise spy Rollin Hand on the original Mission:Impossible weekly espionage show (CBS, 1966-1973), in which he teamed with his then wife Barbara Bain (wed from 1957 to 1993). 

Accepted into the prestigious Lee Strasberg Actors Studio from among two thousand applicants (with classmates such as Steve McQueen and James Dean), Landau premiered on Broadway in Middle of the Night in 1957.

He and Bain later re-partnered for the syndicated, UK-produced sci-fi series Space:1999 (1975-1977) on which he portrayed Commander John Koenig.  “I’m very proud of Space:1999,” he once said.  “It’s success paved the way for other shows to follow.”

Emmy-nominated three times for each of the consecutive years he appeared on Mission, Landau won the Golden Globe in 1968 for the same leading dramatic role, and in 1994 collected the Academy Award for his Best-Supporting Actor performance as Bela Logasi in the feature film, Ed Wood.

Before, during and after his most famous performances, Landau (born June 20, 1928 in Brooklyn) made hundreds of small-screen, motion picture and live-theatre performances.  His TV guest-spots are the stuff of legends, everything from the ground-breaking initial Goldbergs series (of 1953), to The Untouchables, Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, I Spy, Checkmate, and countless more.

Besides Ed Wood, Landau’s cinematic prowess remains evident in movies like Tucker (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989, both for which he was Oscar-nominated, as well as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and Alfred Hitchock’s North by Northwest (1959), in which he made his feature film debut, among others.

Landau in more recent years appeared in drama TV shows such as Without A Trace (CBS, 2004 and 2005), and the comedy Entourage (HBO, 2007), earning an Emmy nomination for each of these.

According to his good friend, television writer and historian Frankie Montiforte, Landau “abhorred ignorance.  He believed it was your job to know absolutely everything you were talking about and in great detail, whether it was about acting, journalism, or politics.  And if you didn’t know it, he schooled you on it.  He was always the teacher.” 

Of his work as an actor, Landau himself once said, “Everyone can walk and talk.  But your job is to make magic.”  Another time, he said, “Everything that has happened to me is of value.”

It’s that kind of integrity and nobility that will forever remain Martin Landau’s legacy.

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