Sunday, July 16, 2017
Tribute: Martin Landau (1928 - 2017)
This has been a dreadful day.
I just learned of the passing, at age 89, of Martin Landau (1928 - 2017), an actor who was a staple of popular television in the 1960's, the star of Space:1999 in the '70s, and an acclaimed, award-winning talent in the '90s and beyond.
I grew up watching (and admiring) Martin Landau on Space:1999, and his performances as Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha are etched permanently in my memory.
When I think of my earliest childhood heroes, in act, I think specifically of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Roddy McDowall in the Planet of the Apes films, and, Martin Landau's Koenig.
Indeed, to this day, Commander Koenig is still one of my most important heroes and role models.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Landau on the phone once, about Space: 1999 (for a Cinescape article celebrating the year 1999), and I still remember how incredible it was to listen to his voice, and experience his intelligence. Even twenty-some years after the end of the series, he was passionate and engaged about it.
What set apart Landau's character, Koenig, perhaps, from other space heroes of the tube, was the sense that the character was a man of science and reason, and not just a typical "adventurer" in space. Landau's human approach to the character resonated with me as a child, and still does, forty years later. Koenig was strong but fallible, decisive and accountable. He was sometimes desperate, and yet he clung to hope, and to his moral barometer.
Of course, John Koenig is only a tiny piece of Landau's impressive career.
Martin Landau appeared as a guest on literally every 1960's American prime time series you can think of.
He was on Gunsmoke, The Untouchables, The Wild, Wild West, The Rifleman, I Spy, and more. Many fans first encountered him as Rollin Hand, the master of disguise on Mission: Impossible. He played that role opposite his then-wife, Barbara Bain, for three seasons (1966-1969).
Landau also gave memorable performances on The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) in "Mr. Denton on Doomsday," and "The Jeopardy Room," and on The Outer Limits (1963-1964) in "The Man Who Was Never Born," and "The Bellero Shield."
After years which saw him star in efforts such as Meteor (1979), Landau achieved more acclaim for dramatic roles in films such as Tucker: A Man and His Dream (1987), and Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).
He won an Academy Award for his (loving) portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's masterpiece, Ed Wood (1994).
Landau's career stretches back to films such as Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) and includes films of great historical import (Cleopatra , for instance).
But Martin Landau will always be Commander John Koenig to me; a man of courage and decency fighting for the survival of his people on Moonbase Alpha, and among the stars.
That universe seems so much dimmer without his presence, tonight.