Martin Landau: Five Years Since His Demise

Herbie J Pilato
[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

[Author's Note: All quotes and commentary that appear in this article were culled from interviews the author conducted with those individuals mentioned.]

It's been five years since Martin Landau passed away at age 89.

With a refined manner and eloquent style and speech, the multi-award-winning and nominated actor 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.

A theatrically-trained thespian, Landau 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 future film icons Steve McQueen and James Dean), Landau premiered on Broadway in Middle of the Night in 1957. He and Bain (a former model) later re-partnered for the syndicated, UK-produced sci-fi series Space:1999 (1975-1977) on which he portrayed Commander John Koenig. 

Although Space: 1999 lasted only two seasons and changed formats each year, the series amassed a significant following within and beyond the science-fiction community. Frequently compared to the original and legendary Star Trek television show, and in many ways, considered superior to it, Space: 1999 featured award-winning scripts, directing, and of course, acting. And Landau was quite proud of the series.

Emmy-nominated three times for each of the consecutive years he appeared on Mission: Impossible, 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 Hitchcock'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 Monteforte, 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.” 

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

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, writes for the Television Academy and, and is the host of THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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