Academy Award-winning actor Martin Landau, known for his leading roles in North By Northwest and the 1960s Mission: Impossible TV series, has died. He was 89.
He died on Saturday of “unexpected complications” at the UCLA Medical Center, his publicist confirmed.
In his seven-decade acting career, Landau worked with a cast of Hollywood director greats, including Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Tim Burton.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 film Tucker: The Man and His Dream won Landau a Golden Globe Award as well as an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. The following year, he was nominated for the same Oscar category for portraying philandering ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal in Woody Allen’s Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989).
It was his role as the haunting Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s biopic, Ed Wood, that finally scored him the Oscar for best supporting actor in 1994.
But he was probably best known for his three-season run as spy agent Rollin Hand in TV’s Mission: Impossible, from 1966-1969.
Hand’s character, billed as “The World’s Greatest Impersonator,” also pinned Landau as a master of disguise in the eyes of casting directors, who saw him suited to play a variety of roles, notes the The New York Times.
Landau also notably turned down the role of science officer, Mr. Spock, leading Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry to cast his second choice, Leonard Nimoy.
At age 17, the Brooklyn-born actor got his first job as a newspaper cartoonist at the New York Daily News. As he told Talk Of The Nation Host Neal Conan in 2010, he quit the News five years later to give acting a shot.
“I was being groomed to be the theatrical caricaturist. And I know if I got that job, I’d never quit. So I quit,” Landau said. “I knew I wanted to go into the theater … I wanted to act.”
In the same interview, the alumnus of the prestigious Actors Studio told an NPR listener that he had never had much trouble learning lines because “I think of them as thoughts and ideas” that the character wants to express.
Told by Conan that he lights up the screen with his wonderful smile, “Oh, that’s so nice to hear. I mean, I always thought it looked like a piano.”