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RIP: Martin Landau – Space 1999, Mission Impossible, Ed Wood

Martin Landau, 89, passed away July 15, 2017

Martin Landau, 89, passed away Saturday July 15, 2017 from “unexpected complications” at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center as stated by his rep to the Hollywood Reporter. A prolific actor of both the small and big screen, Landau is best remembered for his roles in the 1960’s Mission Impossible, 1970’s Space 1999, and the 1990’s as Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood.  .

Landau began his career working as cartoonist at New York Daily News, a job he walked away from after 5 years and the offer of a promotion to pursue a career in acting. He won a spot in the prestigious Actors Studio. Out of over 2,000 applicants, only he and another student were accepted that year: Steve McQueen. Landau became fast friends with both McQueen and James Dean. His first big screen role came as the evil Leonard, henchmen to James Mason’s  spy Phillip Vandamm in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. He also landed roles in the 1960’s epics Cleopatra, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. About this time, he took on the role of Rollin Hand, the master of disguise in Mission: Impossible. This was a role he took on with his then wife Barbara Bain. In the 1970’s he worked again with her in a series on the British sci-fi program, Space: 1999. After the series, he appeared in a number of films and TV series. 1981 marked the last time he and Bain shared the screen in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.

Landau appeared in such TV series as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Get Smart, the made for TV film Fall of the House of Usher, and then the revival of The Twilight Zone, I Spy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Entourage, and most recently as the 90 year old husband of Anna Nicole Smith in The Anna Nicole Story for Lifetime, and another Lifetime film, Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs.

Landau turned down the role of Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek, letting the role to go to Leonard Nimoy. Later, Nimoy would replace Landau on Mission: Impossible. Speaking about the role of Spock in an interview for the PBS documentary series Pioneers of Television:

“I turned down Star Trek. It would’ve been torturous. I would’ve probably died playing that role. I mean, even the thought of it now upsets me. It was the antithesis of why I became an actor. I mean, to play a character that Lenny (Nimoy) was better suited for, frankly, a guy who speaks in a monotone who never gets excited, never has any guilt, never has any fear or was affected on a visceral level. Who wants to do that?”

Becoming friends with director Tim Burton on the set of Ed Wood. Burton later cast him in Sleepy Hollow, and Landau loaned his voice to Mr. Rzykruski in Burton’s Frankenweenie. It was his role as an aging Bela Lugosi  that garnered Landau the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and also a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Saturn Award.

Landau earned Emmy awards for his roles as the elderly Alzheimer’s-afflicted father of FBI Special Agent in Charge Jack Malone in Without a Trace and his a guest role as a washed up, but engaging Hollywood producer in the series Entourage. 

Not only did Landau act, but he also taught acting. Among his students were Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston, Warren Oates, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Landau’s daughter Susan is a casting director, and Buffy and Angel fans will remember his other daughter, Juliet.

Our hearts go out to Landau’s family and friends. Landau has been one of the people in the backdrop of our lives: The dark brooding figure that is alternately respected and feared in his roles. Our screens will all be a bit dimmer tonight without him.

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