Martin Landau 1928-2017

Actor Martin Landau has died aged 89. He was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1928, and worked as a political cartoonist at the New York Daily News before joining the Actors Studio (alongside Steve McQueen) in  1955. His audition piece was a scene from Clifford Odets’ Clash by Night, which had been filmed with a young Marilyn Monroe three years earlier. He became a close friend of fellow student James Dean, and reportedly dated Marilyn for a few months before her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller.

Landau made his theatrical debut in a touring production of Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night, starring Edward G. Robinson, in 1957. Marilyn had attended the Broadway premiere in 1956 (before Landau was cast.) Marilyn was offered the lead in the 1959 movie adaptation, but Kim Novak was eventually cast alongside Marilyn’s sister-in-law, Joan Copeland. Landau did not reprise his role, having been spotted by Alfred Hitchcock during a West Coast performance. His first major film was Hitchcock’s classic thriller, North by Northwest.

He went on to appear in Cleopatra and The Greatest Story Ever Told, finally achieving stardom in TV’s Mission Impossible. An established character actor, he also worked as a drama coach and became an executive director of the Actors Studio. After winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Landau was nominated again for Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), and at last won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994.)

He continued acting and teaching into his eighties, playing elderly billionaire  J. Howard Marshall in a 2013 biopic of Anna Nicole Smith, the tragic model and reality TV star whose bombshell image  was heavily influenced by Marilyn’s. Landau’s last major film was The Red Maple Leaf (2016), with two more currently awaiting release.

Martin Landau died at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre in Westwood, Los Angeles on July 15, after being hospitalised and suffering from complications. He is survived by his former wife and Mission Impossible co-star, Barbara Bain, and their two daughters.

You can read more about his memories of Marilyn here.

Martin Landau on Marilyn, ‘Anna Nicole’

Agnes Bruckner in ‘The Anna Nicole Smith Story’

Actor Martin Landau, who met Marilyn at the Actors Studio – and, he says, dated her for a time – plays oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall  in a Lifetime Channel movie, The Anna Nicole Smith Story, which aired on Saturday. (Anna is played by Agnes Bruckner, and the film is directed by Mary Harron, whose credits include American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol and The Notorious Bettie Page.)

Anna Nicole Smith – a glamour model turned reality TV star, who first found notoriety when she married the elderly Marshall – was a huge fan of MM. She emulated her blonde bombshell allure, and even lived in her last Brentwood home for a few months.

Sadly, Anna would also die young, and in mysterious circumstances. ‘Anna Nicole Smith dreamed of living large,’ writes Linda Stasi in the New York Post. ‘She dreamed of being Marilyn Monroe. What Smith probably never understood is that her tragic idol wanted to live smaller — or at least smaller than the creation she became.’

Martin Landau discussed the similarities – and differences – between the two women in an interview with Reuters.

“Q: Anna idolized and emulated Marilyn Monroe, which is shown throughout the film. Did working on this movie stir up memories of Monroe for you? I’ve heard you were romantically involved with the actress in the 1950s.

A: Marilyn was unique, which is not to say that Anna Nicole wasn’t. I got to meet Anna Nicole once. Hugh Hefner (Playboy founder) introduced me to her. She was a big girl. When I say big, I mean big. She was big-boned. Everything about her was big, but she was proportioned perfectly.

Marilyn was very complicated. There was a different arc (to their lives) although they both died tragically.

Q: How did you come to be involved with Marilyn Monroe?

A: When she came to New York to study with Lee Strasberg (former Actors Studio artistic director), I was at the Actors Studio. She was in Lee’s private classes, and was also coming to the Studio. She saw me act, and wanted to do a scene with me.

Q: And you started seeing her then? Isn’t the Actors Studio where you also met James Dean?

A: I don’t usually talk about Marilyn or James Dean. I never wanted to use either of them to pump up my career. I didn’t want to be known as ‘Jimmy Dean’s friend’ or ‘Marilyn Monroe’s boyfriend,’ but I saw her just before (she met) Arthur Miller.”

Martin Landau Remembers Marilyn

Veteran character actor Martin Landau, who appeared in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), and the classic TV series Mission: Impossible, is currently featured in Tim Burton’s latest movie, Frankenweenie. 

Now 84, Landau has spoken to The Guardian about his memories of Marilyn. They met at the Actor’s Studio, and, Landau claims, dated for a while in 1955.

“In his youth, Landau was good friends with James Dean and briefly dated Marilyn Monroe. Was there a sense that the two were somehow ill-starred, pointed towards disaster, destined to die young?

‘No, no, no, he says with uncharacteristic emphasis. ‘Jimmy never talked about dying; Jimmy talked about living. Jimmy’s only concern was that he would become an old boy, like Mickey Rooney. When Kazan tested actors for East of Eden, Paul Newman and Jimmy auditioned on the same day. Paul looked like a man when he was 20, whereas Jimmy was still playing high-school kids at 23. So that bothered him a bit. But Jimmy did not want to die. And there’s always a lot of conjecture about Marilyn’s death. It’s still a mystery; no one seems to know exactly what happened. Yes, there were ongoing issues with Marilyn, but they did not support the idea of suicide in any way, shape or form.'”

In an interview with The Australian, Landau talks in more detail about Marilyn:

“He recalls taking classes with Monroe, a couple of years his senior, under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York.

‘She was there because she was dissatisfied. People perceived her as a Hollywood blonde bimbo. She was very needy and would go from being on top of her game to absolutely bereft of any self-belief or confidence. She seesawed between those two personalities.’

When they went to the theatre she’d change her outfits many times. ‘We’d never see the first act of the play.’ Did he desire her? ‘She was terrific … I don’t talk about those things,’ he says, quietly. Did he have a relationship with her? ‘I had a relationship with her. It was just before Arthur (Miller, the playwright whom she married in 1956). It was an interesting relationship, I look at it very differently than the way I did then. She was incredibly attractive but very difficult.’

How did he cope with that? ‘You can’t. That’s why I didn’t.’ It lasted? ‘Several months.’ He couldn’t cope with the poles of her personality? ‘Yeah, you didn’t know which one would show up in the middle of something.’ Did he end the relationship? ‘I did, by becoming more busy.’ Was she upset by that? ‘I don’t know, probably. I didn’t want to upset her.’

After the relationship ended, Landau and Monroe saw each other ‘a couple of times in passing’ in New York and Los Angeles.

Was he in love with her? ‘I don’t know if I was in love with her or fascinated by her or flattered by her. She was incredibly attractive and fun to be with much of the time. When she wasn’t she wasn’t. I mean, that was the problem. She could get very withdrawn.’ Did he want to marry her? ‘No, no. It was almost a form of purgatory. I never knew who (that is, which Marilyn) I was going to be with.’

Landau was changing planes in Rome in 1962 when he read that Monroe had died. ‘I was heartbroken. As the mystery unfolded I was more and more shocked. It didn’t seem possible that she killed herself intentionally. It was possible she took more barbiturates than necessary, just losing count, or possibly it was foul play. Nobody knows.'”

In his new book, They Knew Marilyn Monroe, author Les Harding also mentions Martin Landau. This anecdote is attributed to Paddy Chayevsky’s biographer, Shaun Considine.

“After a class at the Actor’s Studio, Landau, with Ben Gazzara and Elia Kazan, escorted Marilyn to the window table of a Times Square restaurant. Landau noticed that Marilyn’s attention seemed to be somewhere else. Following her gaze, Landau glanced across the street which housed the office of the theatrical producer working on Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From the Bridge’. High up in the building, framed in the window, was Miller himself. ‘He stood there for the longest time, with his foot on the windowsill, looking down at her,’ said Landau. ‘I was the only one who noticed, and nothing was said. Only later did I put it all together.'”

Marilyn Among Actors

With Don Murray. Photo by Milton Greene

The Los Angeles Times has interviewed several actors who worked with Marilyn, including co-stars Don Murray and Mitzi Gaynor, and Actors Studio colleagues like Louis Gossett Jr.

“She was trying to prove she was an actress of substance, and in my opinion she certainly did…She was a very experienced film actress, but she could forget so many of the mechanical techniques. She would constantly miss her marks so she would be out of focus or out of the light or in a shadow. I think it was a lack of confidence. For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.” – Don Murray

“I never saw anybody work so hard. She did such a good job and personally, I think she stole the whole damn show. I just think she was thrown into a nest of vipers.” – Mitzi Gaynor

“So I am at the Actors Studio and there’s Brando and Marty Landau up front. She had Arthur Miller’s shirt on tied at the waist with some jeans and flip-flops. She says ‘Where’s Lou?’ Everybody starts giggling at me. I think it was a joke [by his classmates]. There is no way I could sit next to her. That’s the effect Marilyn Monroe had on me.” – Louis Gossett Jr