JUF's Jewish Celebrities

Martin Landau

Martin Landau

Most actors who are mostly famous for a TV show or two back in the 1960s or 1970s do not go on to win Oscars in the 1990s. But Martin did!

His two action-packed shows were the sci-fi cult favorite Space 1999— about Moon Base Alpha, which as you might guess was the first base on the Moon— and Mission: Impossible, now a movie series starring Tom Cruise. Now he's a regular on Without a Trace and Entourage.

Martin's Oscar is for Ed Wood, in which Johnny Depp (no, he's not Jewish. Oh well!) plays the title character, a real person who directed some of the worst movies ever. Martin played Bela Lugosi, another real person who was one of the great early horror-film actors, especially in the Dracula movies; Bela, now an old guy, is so hung up for work he'll even work with Ed! (Martin also has an uncredited cameo in another one of Johnny's movies: Sleepy Hollow.)

Martin's now a pretty old guy himself... he was born in 1931. But unlike Bela, he's not hungry for work— He''s in 5 movies in 2011!

You might like You'll Never Amount to Anything, about high school in the late 1970s. Also 20% Fiction, about an LA acting coach who gives up La-La Land for a small town. Amd Mysteria is about a screenwriter framed for murder, but who figures he might as well write a movie script about it! Also about an artist is Latin Quarter, about a young Picasso in Paris (That one has several TV stars in it, including ones who played Superman and Hercules!).

And then you will definitely want to see Frankenweeine. It's about a kid who brings his weiner dog back to life after an accident!

Martin had five movies coming out in 2008 alone! One is called David and Fatima, and it was filmed in Israel. It's about a Jewish guy in love with a Palestinian girl. And you thought Romeo and Juliet had problems! Martin is a rabbi in that. Another amazing Jewish actor from Martin's day named Tony Curtis is in it, too, as are Sascha Knopf and rising Israeli star Benjamin Maccabee.

Martin's other new films include City of Ember, based on the hit books about kids escaping a secret community living in underground tunnels, and 9 with Jennifer Conelley, an animation about a sci-fi world where people don't have names, just numbers: "Hi, 5!"

Then there's one about a guy who believes the TV show Wheel of Fortune is sending him secret messages in its puzzles. Sounds like he needs to buy a vowel or two! Oh, you might have seen Martin in episodes of Entourage and Without a Trace, too.

Here are some other movies of Martin's, from his loooong career, that we think you'll like: The nostalgic The Majestic (with Jim Carrey and Jewish actors Bob Balaban and Ron Rivkin); the reality TV parody EdTV (with Rob Reiner and Adam Goldberg); the gambling thriller Rounders with Josh Mostel and Catskills legend Mal Z. Lawrence; and the race-crime drama They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (but first you should see the first part of the story in In the Heat of the Night).

Three of Martin's earliest films are real classics. Elizabeth Taylor starred in Cleopatra, then the most expensive movie ever made! He was the main baddie in one of Alfred Hitchcock's best suspense dramas, North by Northwest. And he was in the Korean War film Pork Chop Hill, which inspired many later Vietnam movies.

Aside from the new David and Fatima, Martin has been in a number of other Jewish projects. He played a Jewish man named Joseph in The Aryan Couple; he has to hand his hugely successful business to the Nazis to save his family. But he got back at the Nazis, sorta, by later playing famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal! In Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, Martin plays a Jewish man who does something bad, then something worse to cover it up. He plays the first Jew ever, Abraham, in a TV movie about the Torah called In the Beginning; earlier, he played Jacob in the TV movie about Joseph.

Martin has been in a lot of TV before making it in movies. He was on a whole posse of great Western shows: Gunsmoke, The Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, The Rifleman, Bonanza, Wagon Train and Rawhide. He was also in spy and crime shows like Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Defenders, The Untouchables... and in the goose-bump shows The Twilight Zone (created by Jewish writer Rod Serling, BTW!) and The Outer Limits.

Ever hear of "off-Broadway"? The expression means exactly that— a bunch of smaller, riskier theaters off of Broadway, an actual street in New York where many of the major theaters are. One of the first productions that made critics first notice off-Broadway was Martin's version of Chekhov's classic Uncle Vanya.

In 1955, legendary Jewish acting teacher Lee Strasberg auditioned 2,000 potential students, and only two made the cut: Martin and a guy named Steve McQueen. Martin was also friends with hotshot actor James Dean. Later, Martin taught acting himself; his students include Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston. But before any of this, Martin's first job— when he was only 17— was as a cartoonist!

Martin has a weird connection to another one of our celebs. Seems Martin was the producer's ideal for the role of Mr. Spock on Star Trek; the part, of course, was taken by Leonard Nimoy. Later, Martin would leave Mission: Impossible to go into movies. Who took over that role from him? Leonard! But the movies were not kind to Martin, so he went back to TV, and a sci-fi hit of his own, Space 1999.

Martin is one of our tallest celebs, standing 6-foot-3. He was born in Brooklyn. And when he moved back in 1992, he was named King of Brooklyn at a festival in his honor!

Martin's daughter, Juliet, is also an actor... and yet another Jewish actor in Buffy! She played Spike's girlfriend, the sleazy vampire Drusilla. Which was kinda cool, considering Martin won his Oscar for playing the guy who first made Dracula a film star!

But the guy who played Jason in the first Friday the 13th movie was named Ari Lehman, and he's Jewish. He plays in two bands, now. One is a thrash-rock band that plays at horror-movie fan conventions and is called, what else, FIRSTJASON. But as Ari Ben Moses, he plays Jewish reggae... for real! See what he looks like!


Another star of Mission: Impossible was Steven Hill. He is best known today as District Attorney Adam Schiff, a ten-year veteran of Law & Order. The role is based on real-life Jewish New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

Steven started on TV... back in 1949! So he’s been on TV for more than 60 years now! Some of the hits he’s appeared on include Route 66, The Untouchables, Rawhide, The Fugitive, and the medical shows Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. In the earliest days, TV was live, too! But after many years, Steven needed a break from acting. So he took one... for 10 years!

Steven came back to do movies, with many hits in the 1980s and ’90s. Some were thrillers like Tom Cruise’s The Firm, Legal Eagles with Debra Winger, and Jewish author E.L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate with Dustin Hoffman. Some were family stories, like Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs with Jonathan Silverman, Running on Empty, with Jewish TV vet Judd Hirsch and River Phoenix (Joaquin’s brother), and Garbo Talks, with Jewish actors Ron Silver, Carrie Fisher, Harvey Fierstein (see this Bonus), and Howard DaSilva (see this Bonus)! Then there’s one of Nora Ephron’s more serious movies, Heartburn. His most Jewish role was as a rabbi in Yentl, one of our Movies of the Month!

Steven’s real name is Solomon Krakovsky, which means his family is from Krakow, a major city in Poland. He was born in Seattle, and his New York stage debut was in a show by Jewish writer Ben Hecht called A Flag is Born, about the founding of Israel! Marlon Brando was in that, and the two were among those who founded the famous Actors Studio with Jewish acting coach Lee Strasberg.

Steven is Orthodox and is very serious about Shabbat. He once left the set of Mission: Impossible when filming ran long on a Friday afternoon! Interestingly, it was a part in a play about Freud that got Steven thinking seriously about Judaism. Today, he keeps kosher, prays regularly, and doesn’t try for stage roles that would make his work on Shabbat. He also wears tzitzit, which is like mini version of a tallit that you wear under your shirt.

Bonus Bonus:

In the bio-pic Tucker, Martin plays an on-screen role and also the voice of Jewish radio and newspaper legend Walter Winchell. And one of Martin's earliest projects was in a show called The Walter Winchell File

Walter, who was Jewish, was a superstar reporter who covered everything from crime to business to entertainment. His bio in the Radio Hall of Fame says: "In an era dominated by sober analysis, Winchell was colorful, emotional, and fiercely opinionated, and his top-rated show brought him an unprecedented celebrity and power." Sounds like the pundit shows of today! 

Walter later narrated a hit show called The Untouchables, about federal agents who take on the Mafia. Martin was in an episode of that! Maybe he got to finally meet Walter...? 

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