Sunday, November 28, 2010
  Martin Landau, cartoonist

It's well known that Martin Landau was a cartoonist in the late 1940s for the Daily News. He was studying art at Pratt Institute at the same time, but he left the Daily News in 1951 to begin as an actor.

However, I don't recall ever seeing any of his artwork, so I went in search. I failed to find his illustrations for Billy Rose's column, "Pitching Horseshoes". I did learn that Rose's column was ghostwritten by novelist Bernard Wolfe, later author of the acclaimed dystopian sf classic Limbo (1952). Some readers were surprised to find that a supposedly true incident described in one Rose column was identical to the plot of the 1936 Evelyn Waugh short story, "Bella Fleace Gave a Party". Rose, who was probably equally surprised, claimed, "It's one of those stinking, unbelievable coincidences." Sounds like Rose couldn't wait to fire the writer who had put him on the hot seat. One of Rose's "Pitching Horseshoes" research assistants was Milton Subotsky, later the producer of Tales from the Crypt and other horror-fantasy films.

In Nik Fackler's Lovely, Still (2008), Robert Malone (Landau) is shown drawing early in the film. See screen shots above and below. According to Landau, he did not paint the self-portrait he works on later in the film: "The paintings were created by an artist from Omaha—where the movie was shot. He completely captured the feeling of my character, and the film." The painting is by Daniel Boylan, and some of his other expressionistic paintings are seen around Malone's house. For more Boylan, go here.

Landau's job at the Daily News led to work as an assistant to cartoonist Gus Edson on The Gumps. Edson also went to Pratt, so perhaps that was their connection. Interviewed by Mark Evanier, Landau recalled, "I started working at the News in New York doing illustrations in '47... or maybe it was '46. I was working for them while I was still in high school. Gus had a fellow working with him before me named Sam Hale. He was an old United Features cartoonist and he left. So after I'd been at the News for a few years, I became Gus' assistant. I started off lettering and doing backgrounds, and in just a few months, I was drawing whole strips by myself, usually the Sunday page. Gus had a continuity on Monday through Saturday but the Sunday page was an entity unto itself, and he eased me into doing it. At first, he'd write it and maybe rough it out, but pretty soon, I was doing the whole thing. I did it for about a year, maybe a little longer."

So if "a few years" means 1948 or 1949, then we can speculate that the Sunday strip for April 24, 1949 (below) is by Landau. If I've guessed wrong, I'm sure someone will surface to correct. The problem with calculating this is that Landau says he began at the Daily News when he was 17, yet some sources say he was born in 1928 and others say 1931. (See comments for Alex Jay's research confirming 1928 as correct.)

At any rate, a comparison with Edson's daily for December 8, 1952 (at bottom) shows distinctly different art styles.

On NPR, interviewed by Neal Conan, Landau remembered, "I started on the New York Daily News as a kid when I was 17 years old, as a cartoonist and illustrator, and I was being groomed to be the theatrical caricaturist. And I know if I got that job, I'd never quit. So I quit... It was a great job, actually. I'd go to opening nights, and the PR people would give me 8x10s of the dress rehearsal. I would go home, actually - I didn't have to go to the news building - and do a drawing of the cast, which would appear in a Sunday paper. If there were two openings that week, two drawings. The old fellow, Horace Knight, was an old English fellow who had that job was retiring. I had the ability to do that, but I knew I wanted to go into the theater. I mean, I wanted to act. And I knew if I got that job - which was, again, a cushy job and very well-paying job. My style was sort of an art nouveau style, an art deco style, as opposed Hirschfeld's, who had a very flowing line... And it was a different look, but it had a look."

Also see Film Threat and Mike Lynch Cartoons.

Plaque at Gus Edson Park in Stamford, Connecticut 
shows Edson with his character Dondi.

Martin Landau and writer-director Nik Fackler.

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And he also bagged the lovely Barbara Bain!
Excerpt from Bernard Wolfe's 1954 novel The Late Risers (about show business and sleazy press-agentry) and a long blurb (written by Wolfe?) for the book in Billy Rose's column: http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=99
Gary Cooper, too. From Wikipedia bio: He returned to Helena, managing the ranch and contributing cartoons to the local newspaper. In 1924, Cooper's father left the Montana Supreme Court bench and moved with his wife to Los Angeles. Gary, unable to make a living as an editorial cartoonist in Helena, joined them, moving there that same year, reasoning that he "would rather starve where it was warm, than to starve and freeze too."
Wikipedia and the book, Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television: Volume 7, give the names of Martin's parents as Morris and Selma. The couple can be found in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census; they lived at 1024 Halsey Street in Brooklyn, New York. The couple had one child, Elinor, who was 16 months old. Selma's mother and sister, and an elderly woman lived with them. The census revealed that Morris was born in Austria in 1889 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1902.

In 1930 the Landaus lived on 3335 Bedford Avenue, between Avenues L and M, in Brooklyn. Two children joined the household: Constance, age 7, and Martin, 21 months old. The 1930 census was conducted in April. If you count backwards 21 months, beginning with March, you end on July 1928. Martin was born on June 20, 1928 according to the two sources mentioned at the beginning.

I searched the census records at Ancestry.com. Searching the name "Morris Landau", he was quickly found in the 1920 census, however that was not the case for the 1930 census. I located the Landaus by using just the parents names (Morris and Selma), Morris' birthplace, and their residence in Brooklyn. Ancestry.com has the family name as "Landrie". Examining the census record showed that the name, "Young, Sophie" preceded "Landau, Morris". The bottom loop of the "g" in Young touched and went between the letters "au" in Landau. The Ancestry.com transcriber misinterpreted the letters as "rie".

A New York Times article, from August 7, 1988, said Martin "was born in Brooklyn and attended James Madison High School and the Pratt Institute." The high school was located on Bedford Avenue, four blocks from the Landau residence. Presumably the yearbook has a photo of young Martin.

I believe Martin Landau was born in 1928.

Alex Jay
Good research, Alex. Thanks!
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