Martin Landau, Oscar Winner Who Coached Jack Nicholson, Dies

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  • Won best supporting actor Oscar for role in 1994 movie Ed Wood
  • Started career at 17 as cartoonist for New York Daily News

Martin Landau, the Oscar winner who starred in the “Mission Impossible” television series in the 1960s after an early career teaching students such as Jack Nicholson how to act, has died. He was 89.
Landau died Saturday at 1:30 p.m. of unexpected complications during a short hospitalization at the UCLA Medical Center, according to an emailed statement from his publicist.

Martin Landau in 2015

Photographer: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Appearing in almost 100 series, Landau was a regular on American television for six decades and made his name as the master of disguise Rollin Hand in “Mission Impossible.” In the 1970s, he and his then wife, Barbara Bain, starred in the British science-fiction series “Space: 1999.”

Later pursuing a career in Hollywood movies, Landau won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of “Dracula” actor Bela Lugosi in the biographical film “Ed Wood” (1994).

Landau was awarded the Golden Globe for best TV star in 1968 and received three Emmy nominations for “Mission Impossible” (1966-73), a show about an elite group of government agents given covert missions. While he failed to win an Emmy, Bain won three in a row for her role as agent Cinnamon Carter on the same show, which they quit in 1969 over a pay dispute.

During the 1970s, the couple moved to England to get work and landed the lead roles in “Space: 1999,” an adventure drama about a moon-base crew who get into strife when an explosion sends the moon out of Earth’s orbit and into deep space. Landau played Commander John Koenig, while Bain played the base’s medical chief.

Acting Skills

The former Broadway performer was also a renowned coach at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, where he and Steve McQueen were the only ones accepted out of 2,000 applicants to study in 1955. While Landau was in his 20s, he was asked to pass on his acting skills, teaching Jack Nicholson for three years. Harry Dean Stanton and Angelica Huston were among his other students.

“I had him do a bunch of exercises that would connect his voice, his body, and emotions,” Landau said of Nicholson in a 2012 interview with the entertainment website Movieline. “A lot of actors lead with their voices and their bodies follow.”

Landau’s notable film appearances included “North by Northwest” (1959), in which his bad-guy character is shot on Mount Rushmore while fighting with lead actor Cary Grant; “Cleopatra” (1963), in which he portrayed Julius Caesar’s right-hand man, Rufio, and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965). He received Oscar nominations for supporting roles in “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” (1988) and Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989).

Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in ’Space: 1999’ in 1976.

Photographer: Silver Screen Collection via Getty Images

Newspaper Cartoonist

Martin Landau was born on June 20, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish parents Selma and Morris Landau, who was a machinist of Austrian origin.

Landau attended James Madison High School and Pratt Institute, both in Brooklyn. At age 17, he worked as a cartoonist at the New York Daily News, where he remained for five years.

“At the age of 22 I was offered a promotion,” Landau wrote in the Telegraph newspaper in October 2012. “But I knew if I took that job I would never leave, so I quit. Subliminally, I had always wanted to act.”

He then pursued an acting career, making his stage debut in 1951 in “Detective Story” at the Peaks Island Playhouse in Maine and in “First Love” in New York.

During the 1950s, he appeared in television plays, attended the Actors Studio -- where he became a close friend of James Dean -- and had a major role in the off-Broadway production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” His Broadway debut came in 1957 with the play “Middle of the Night” and his first movie was “Pork Chop Hill” in 1959.

In addition to the 76 episodes of “Mission Impossible” in which he appeared and 48 episodes of “Space: 1999,” he had parts in “Gunsmoke,” “The Twilight Zone,” and “Murder She Wrote.” He also had a voice role in “The Simpsons.”

Landau had two daughters, Susan and Juliet, with Bain, whom he divorced in 1993. He lived in West Hollywood, California.

(Updates with statement from Landau’s publicist in second paragraph.)
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