Martin Landau passed from this earth on Saturday at age 89.
To those over 55 who watched TV growing up, he was well-known from the Mission Impossible TV series. To more recent TV viewers, he will be remembered from his “last of his breed” producer character on Entourage.
To film afficionados, he was well-known as James Mason’s right-hand man in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, as Woody Allen’s murdering eye-doctor in Crimes and Misdemeanors and for his Oscar-winning role as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.
To most people, his death came as no surprise and was just a minor event in a busy week, hardly noticed.
But to those who had the privilege of working with him at the Actors Studio West, it is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.
Yes, that’s right, a tragedy. And my heart goes out to them.
I had the pleasure of watching Marty moderate many a scene-work session on Friday mornings at 11 AM between 2002-9, and he was simply a genius at working with actors, breaking down the beats of a scene and finding the truth of behavior and character. I had the privilege of watching Stella Adler and Sandy Meisner conduct their classes, and with both, it was a spiritual experience. But the only other teacher I’ve ever observed who LOVED acting as much as Marty did was the Open Theatre’s Joseph Chaikin before his stroke in 1984. But even Joe didn’t LOVE actors as much as Marty did. He was not interested in being a director or writer; he was completely an actor and completely professional. He loved the talent, the impulse to act, and his comments were always very specific and to the point. They were always interesting, because they always came out of his fascination with expressing the truth of behavior.
I never observed Marty Landau do anything trivial, superfluous or vindictive. While certainly not a saint – he was a chain-smoker from the old school, he enjoyed life and enjoyed attention – there was something almost other-worldly about his sense of calm, the combination of detachment and engagement that was uniquely his own. He was a great storyteller – a great one, with an endless number of stories – but he was also an excellent listener. He was everything that the actors he was working with wanted to be.
But there was and always will be only one Marty Landau.
Best friend of James Dean in the early-mid ’50s, he kept doing what he loved to do on through the years, and there never seemed to be any reason for that to stop. If anyone was going to live forever, it would be Marty.
But he didn’t, alas.
Sending along my condolences to Barbara Bain, to Marty’s two daughters, Susan and Juliet, and to the large extended family of those whose lives he has deeply affected.
You will be remembered, Marty, for as long as there are actors roaming the earth.