Oscar-winning character actor Martin Landau dead at 89

Actor Martin Landau poses for a portrait
Rich Polk/Getty Images
Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau has died at the age of 89, passing away on Saturday, July 15 after a brief hospitalization. His career spanned more than six decades, with his final film appearance coming in The Last Poker Game, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017.

Landau was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1928, and when he was 17 he embarked upon a career as an illustrator for the New York Daily News. By the age of 22, he had been bitten by the acting bug, and he made his stage debut the following summer in a production of Detective Story.

In 1955, Landau successfully auditioned for the Actors Studio in New York; he and Steve McQueen were reportedly the only two candidates from the 2,000 hopefuls that made the cut. At this time, he crossed paths with another legendary actor, becoming firm friends with James Dean as they honed their craft.

One of Landau’s first big roles came in 1959, when he played a henchman in North by Northwest. Although this was a relatively small part, the actor added some depth by portraying the character as being in love with his employer — a decision that director Alfred Hitchcock loved, according to a report from The New York Times.

Television was also a major source of work in the early part of Landau’s career. He rose to prominence as covert agent Rollin Hand in the first three seasons of Mission: Impossible, which he starred in opposite his wife, Barbara Bain. The couple would once again appear on-screen together in the British sci-fi series Space: 1999 in the 1970s.

By his own admission, Landau suffered through some lean years in the middle stretch of his career, where he was typecast in unfulfilling roles in projects of varying quality. Fortunately, things turned around with a series of film roles that came his way in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1994, Landau played Dracula actor Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a role which earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his efforts, among a host of other plaudits.

Despite continuing to take on roles in film and television projects, Landau spent more and more time teaching in recent years. He served as the co-artistic director of the Hollywood branch of the Actors Studio, coming full circle on his own education.

Landau is survived by two daughters, Susan and Juliet, from his marriage to Bain.

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