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Martin Landau and Leonard Nimoy: One degree of separation.

Martin Landau at the Hollywood Show in 2014.
Serge Rocco

James Coburn and Steve McQueen, Sean Connery and Michael Caine or Peter Falk and John Cassavetes are some of the few pairs of performers whose careers are interwoven. It is almost impossible not to mention their counterpart when evoking their careers. Martin Landau and Leonard Nimoy both became TV stars during the same era (60’s) and reached cult status over the years. They both thrived during the golden age of television.

From his beginnings in North by Northwest (MGM, 1959) and landmark role in Mission: Impossible (CBS, 1966-1972) to his Oscar win for Ed Wood (Touchstone Pictures, 1994), Martin Landau’s career went through three decades of ups and downs before he was finally acknowledged for his acting genius. He remains one of the most versatile performers in Hollywood. He was one of 2000 applicants who auditioned for Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio in 1955 - only he and Steve McQueen were accepted. It was during his years spent at the Studio that he befriended film icon James Dean. Landau would later himself teach acting in California and can be credited for honing the crafts of future stars Jack Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton, two of his most renowned students. When asked to comment on his former teacher’s Oscar speech in 1995, which had been rudely interrupted by the orchestra for dragging on, Nicholson replied: “It’s probably the shortest speech he ever made”.

While Martin Landau worked with a wide array of great filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen, the actor’s breakthrough is closely connected to that of TV star Leonard Nimoy. Landau had been originally tapped by Desilu Productions (later bought out by Paramount Pictures) to play Spock on the cult TV show Star Trek (NBC, 1966-1969). He turned down the part, which was eventually offered to Leonard Nimoy, and chose the one of Rollin Hand instead in Mission: Impossible (CBS, 1966-1972), another Desilu production. The show, which costarred his then-wife Barbara Bain, would reach cult status and later spawn a blockbuster franchise with Tom Cruise. Landau remained on the show for three seasons (1966-1969) before dropping out for an alleged salary dispute, and being replaced by no other than… Leonard Nimoy! The two actors also appeared in the second season of Columbo (NBC, 1971-1977) as guest murderers. Nimoy would later become a successful director.

From the small to the big screen, two legends were born.

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