Martin Landau, M:I’s disguise artist, dies

Martin Landau as Rollin Hand in an IMF dossier photo

Martin Landau, who gained fame as Mission: Impossible disguise expert Rollin Hand, has died at 89, the TMZ website said.

Landau died Saturday at the UCLA Medical Center “after a short hospitalization where he suffered unexpected complications,” TMZ said.

Landau enjoyed a long career that began in the early 1950s. It included a number of espionage-related stories, including portraying Leonard, a henchman in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed North by Northwest (1959); a Cold War themed episode of The Twilight Zone; and playing Thrush operative Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

But he was most famous for Mission: Impossible, where he appeared during the show’s first three seasons.

M:I producer Bruce Geller wrote the part of Rollin Hand (originally named Martin Land) in his pilot script especially for Landau. Landau didn’t want to sign a series deal. Geller wanted the actor for the pilot badly enough he proceeded anyway.

It would be a decision that would have a major impact on the series.

Initially, the idea was Rollin would only appear occasionally. However, series star Steven Hill, for religious reasons, insisted on leaving work at sundown on Friday.

Count Zark (Martin Landau) menaces Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Bat Cave Affair

As a result, scripts were revised to de-emphasize Hill’s Dan Briggs and to keep bringing back Rollin. Throughout the first season, Landau was listed as either a guest star or making a “special guest appearance.”

After the first season, Hill was fired, with Peter Graves replacing him as a new Impossible Missions Force mastermind, Jim Phelps. Landau was now joint star with Graves.

However, Landau would only agree to do one season at a time. This gave him enormous leverage in his contract negotiations.

After three seasons, Paramount executives wanted to cap costs on Mission: Impossible. The studio had tough negotiations with Landau.

According to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Paramount offered a small raise (to $7,000 an episode from $6,500 in the third season) while the actor wanted $11,000 per episode for the fourth season and $12,500 for season five.

Meanwhile, according to the book, Peter Graves had a clause in his contract that nobody else on the show could be paid more than he was. A raise for Landau also meant a raise for Graves.

Eventually, Landau departed, replaced by Leonard Nimoy as a new disguise expert, Paris. That led to Barbara Bain, Landau’s real-life spouse, exiting the series as well.

Landau and Bain years later starred in Space: 1999, a syndicated Gerry Anderson science fiction series that ran two seasons. The couple divorced in 1993.

Landau eventually secured three nominations for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, with one win for 1994’s Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi. His turn as Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair decades earlier (where he spoke with the same Lugosi accent) was a sort of warm up.

Neverthless, Landau retained his association as Rollin Hand. In 2014, the MeTV cable channel produced promos for M:I with Landau urging viewers to “watch me on Me…MeTV,” while it was running the series as part of a Sunday night block of spy shows.

Remembering that 1989-95 007 hiatus

GoldenEye’s poster

Our post the other day about the anniversary of Licence to Kill’s release got the blog to thinking about what followed: The six-year hiatus in James Bond film production.

Like the earlier post, this is more of a personal take on the events.

The thing is, in those pre-internet days, the news was much slower in getting around. During much of this period, I saw a number of items in The Wall Street Journal. I had a subscription at the time.

Also, the extent of what was going on wasn’t immediately evident.

There were reports in the trade press that director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum wouldn’t be returning to the series. This was the first indication (at least to me) that a big makeover, rather than minor tweaks, was in store.

There were occasional stories about potential new directors and screenwriters. Things got more serious when it was announced that Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions, was putting itself up for sale. Eventually, no sale occurred, but seeing the original announcement was an eye-opener.

What’s more, the soap opera at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, went into overdrive. MGM was bought and sold again, with a bank (Credit Lyonnais) taking over the operation. Bond fans now needed to read the business pages of newspapers just to keep things straight.

Also, Danjaq/Eon filed a lawsuit related to what was going on with MGM. It was clear the next James Bond film wouldn’t be made soon. Even when the lawsuit was settled (I had a chance to read the press release at my office), it still wasn’t clear when production would resume.

Timothy Dalton

During this period, there were questions about what would happen with the incumbent 007, Timothy Dalton. Geraldo Rivera had a syndicated U.S. television show at the time and one broadcast was devoted to Bond. Some Bond experts participated. Rivera asked if Dalton would be back. The experts said they expected him to return.

Finally came the announcement that Dalton was gone. What was going to happen next?

Attention turned to Pierce Brosnan, who lost out on his chance to play Bond in 1986, when Dalton got the nod.

Eon maintained in a 1987 television interview that Dalton was always its No. 1 choice. In that interview, Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond.

Brosnan had been signed (and it’s detailed in the Inside The Living Daylights documentary that’s part of home video release), but NBC reacted by ordering more episodes of Remington Steele. That, of course, was what gave Dalton his opportunity to play Bond.

In 1994, shortly before the casting decision was announced, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a long front-page story about the Bond search and that it was not a clear-cut choice.

Regardless, Brosnan got the node. Many fans, no doubt, thought, “Finally!”

Advertisement for 1994 James Bond convention

Still, Bond had been away from theater screens for quite a while. Eon did something it had never done — having an official James Bond fan conventions in the fall of 1994 and 1995 (the latter days before the premiere of GoldenEye).

That was part of an effort to revive interest in Bond. For hard-core fans, they were anxiously waiting all along. Still, both conventions were interesting to attend. For some fans, it was a chance to meet like-minded people they had never had a chance to encounter before.

In the end, Bond resumed production. 007 even maintained an every-other-year schedule until the end of the 1990s.

Still, looking back at the hiatus, it’s a reminder that film franchises — for fans, for productions companies, for studios — can’t be taken for granted.