Martin Landau, the actor whose gaunt, hangdog features graced films by film-makers as varied as Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen and Tim Burton has died. He was 89, and his death was confirmed by his publicist “following a short hospitalisation”.
Arguably Landau’s career high point arrived in 1995, when he won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, the Burton-directed biopic of the infamous director of Plan 9 From Outer Space and other notorious films. In Lugosi, the washed-up former star of 1930s horror films such as Count Dracula, Landau found a forerunner he could relate to. “Lugosi … had a palpable intensity and a presence that you can’t buy,” Landau said, just prior to his Oscar win. “But this fuckin’ town shat on him … And I can relate to that. I’ve seen it happen a lot. I’ve seen it happen to me.”
The Hollywood coronation crowned a comeback that decades earlier might have seemed implausible. Born in Brooklyn, NY to a family of Jewish immigrants in 1928, he joined the New York Daily News as a cartoonist as a 17-year-old. Five years later he left to study as an actor, auditioning for the celebrated Actors Studio run by Lee Strasberg in 1955 and becoming one of only two actors accepted; the other was Steve McQueen.