LOS ANGELES At 85, Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau is writing his memoirs, teaching at the famed Actor's Studio, and will soon appear on TV as octogenarian oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall who married the late Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith.
Landau, who won an Oscar in 1994 for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood," will be seen in Lifetime's "The Anna Nicole Smith Story," premiering on June 29.
Landau sat down with Reuters in Los Angeles to discuss his illustrious career, dating Marilyn Monroe and conversations with James Dean.
Q: What drew you to the "The Anna Nicole Smith Story?"
A: Everyone thinks of Marshall as an old geezer who just picked up Anna Nicole Smith in a strip club, but nobody knows that much about him. He was a Yale Law School graduate and trusted advisor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I wanted to portray the fact that she actually gave him life. He was ready to die before he met her and then she rejuvenated him, until she started going downhill.
Q: Anna idolized and emulated Marilyn Monroe, which is shown throughout the film. Did working on this movie stir up memories of Monroe for you? I've heard you were romantically involved with the actress in the 1950s.
A: Marilyn was unique, which is not to say that Anna Nicole wasn't. I got to meet Anna Nicole once. Hugh Hefner (Playboy founder) introduced me to her. She was a big girl. When I say big, I mean big. She was big-boned. Everything about her was big, but she was proportioned perfectly.
Marilyn was very complicated. There was a different arc (to their lives) although they both died tragically.
Q: How did you come to be involved with Marilyn Monroe?
A: When she came to New York to study with Lee Strasberg (former Actors Studio artistic director), I was at the Actors Studio. She was in Lee's private classes, and was also coming to the Studio. She saw me act, and wanted to do a scene with me.
Q: And you started seeing her then? Isn't the Actors Studio where you also met James Dean?
A: I don't usually talk about Marilyn or James Dean. I never wanted to use either of them to pump up my career. I didn't want to be known as "Jimmy Dean's friend" or "Marilyn Monroe's boyfriend," but I saw her just before (she met) Arthur Miller.
I remember a day at Childs restaurant on 46th Street and Broadway, after a session at the studio. Marilyn and I went there for sandwiches and coffee with (actor) Ben Gazzara and (director) Elia Kazan. We were across the street from (theatrical producer) Kermit Bloomgarden's office, and we saw Arthur Miller there. We waved to him. Shortly after that, I stopped seeing her and Arthur started seeing her.
Q: What was Dean like? You were both young, in your twenties?
A: One of the things he was concerned about was being (seen as) an old boy, because he had that youthful thing going. A lot of the biographies about him have been written by gay guys who wanted him to be gay. He wasn't gay. There was a rock in Central Park, we liked to sit on. We'd talk about girls and the future. It was before Jimmy got big. I've got thousands of stories.
Q: You probably have some great stories about "Cleopatra," the film that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, and starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
A: Yes. I was probably one of the first to become aware that they were having an affair. Richard Burton and I were shooting a scene one day. So I get to the studio early that morning and Elizabeth Taylor's sitting there, even though she wasn't working that day. I sat down in the make-up chair and then Richard Burton walks over to her and kisses her. It was a nice healthy kiss. And then I said to myself, "Oh My God."
Q: Will you share some of these stories in your memoirs?
A: I'm writing my own autobiography, which is becoming too thick. I've got so many stories about every film and show I've ever been in. It's rich and I've got hours and hours and hours (of recordings) and will transcribe it onto paper. I've been working on it for six months and I've already got enough for two books.
(Reporting By Susan Zeidler, Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy)