Oscar winner best known for versatile TV role

Martin Landau in a photo taken in February 2012.
Martin Landau in a photo taken in February 2012.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK •Martin Landau, the actor best known for his role in television series Mission: Impossible and his Oscar-winning portrayal of Bela Lugosi in 1994 film Ed Wood, died last Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 89.

He starred in the hit CBS suspense drama Mission: Impossible as a versatile covert-operations agent from its debut in 1966 until 1969.

Because his character was a master of disguise, morphing into a different character every week, casting people began to think of him for a variety of roles, not only the villains he had so often played earlier in his career.

Almost two decades later, after some lean years, Landau enjoyed a career revival in feature films.

His hustler role in Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man And His Dream (1988) earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

He received another nomination the next year for Woody Allen's Crimes And Misdemeanors, in which he played a family man who gets away with the arranged murder of his mistress.

In 1994, he played Lugosi, a faded horror star, in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, bagging an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Landau, who was born on June 20, 1928 in Brooklyn, made his stage debut in 1951. By 1955, he was accomplished enough to be admitted to the Actors Studio in New York.

He often told interviewers that 2,000 people applied that year, but only two got in. The other person was Steve McQueen.

Interviewers often asked Landau to reflect on his early years as an actor.

"There was a lot of pain, a lot of angst," he told The New Yorker in 1995. "I felt like the pinch-hitter, who had all the equipment, a great bat and the manager just kept skipping me. Or I was getting up to bat and no one was pitching to me.

"And I just said to myself: 'One day I'm going to get up to bat and I'm gonna hit a home run.'

"It's as simple as that."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2017, with the headline 'Oscar winner best known for versatile TV role'. Print Edition | Subscribe