Feldman in 1969
|Born||Martin Alan Feldman
8 July 1934
|Died||2 December 1982
Mexico City, Mexico
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
(m. 1959–82, his death)
|Awards||BAFTAs: Best Light Entertainment Performance
Martin Alan "Marty" Feldman (8 July 1934 – 2 December 1982) was a British comedy writer, comedian, and actor, easily identified by his bulbous and crooked eyes. He starred in several British television comedy series, including At Last the 1948 Show and Marty, the latter of which won two BAFTA awards. He was the first Saturn Award winner for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Young Frankenstein.
Feldman was born on 8 July 1934 in the East End of London, the son of Jewish immigrants from Kiev, Ukraine, Cecilia (née Crook) and Myer Feldman, a gown manufacturer. He recalled his childhood as "solitary".
A BBC documentary explained that a botched operation for his Graves' disease resulted in his eyes being more protruded and misaligned (strabismus). Leaving school at 15, he worked at the Dreamland funfair in Margate, but had dreams of a career as a jazz trumpeter, and performed in the first group in which tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes was a member. Feldman joked that he was "the world's worst trumpet player." By the age of 20, though, he had decided to pursue a career as a comedian.
Although his early performing career was undistinguished, he became part of a comedy act, Morris, Marty and Mitch, who made their first television appearance on a BBC series called Showcase in April 1955. Later in the decade, Feldman worked on the scripts of Educating Archie, in both its radio and television incarnations with Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe.
In 1954, Feldman first met Barry Took, while they were both working as performers, and with Took he eventually formed an enduring writing partnership which lasted until 1974. They wrote a few episodes of The Army Game (1960) and the bulk of Bootsie and Snudge (1960–62), both situation comedies made by Granada Television for the ITV network. For BBC radio they wrote Round the Horne (1964–67), their best-remembered comedy series, which starred Kenneth Horne and Kenneth Williams. (The last series of Round the Horne in 1968 was written by other hands.) This work placed Feldman and Took "in the front rank of comedy writers" according to Denis Norden.
Feldman became the chief writer and script editor on The Frost Report (1966–67). He co-wrote the much shown "Class" sketch with John Law, in which John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett faced the audience, with their descending order of height suggesting their relative social status as upper class (Cleese), middle class (Barker), and working class (Corbett).
The television sketch comedy series At Last the 1948 Show raised Feldman's profile as a performer. The other three participants (future Pythons, Graham Chapman and John Cleese, and future Goody, Tim Brooke-Taylor) needed a fourth cast member and had Feldman in mind. In one sketch on 1 March 1967, Feldman's character harassed a patient shop assistant (played by Cleese) for a series of fictitious books, achieving success with Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying. His character in At Last the 1948 Show seems often to be called Mr Pest, according to John Cleese. Feldman was co-author, along with Cleese, Chapman, and Brooke-Taylor of the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch, which was written for At Last the 1948 Show.
Feldman was given his own series on the BBC called Marty (1968); it featured Brooke-Taylor, John Junkin, and Roland MacLeod, with Cleese as one of the writers. Feldman won two BAFTA awards. The second series in 1969 was renamed It's Marty (the second title being retained for the DVD of the show)
In 1971, Feldman gave evidence in favour of the defendants in the Oz trial. He would not swear on the Bible, choosing to affirm. Throughout his testimony, he was disrespectful to the judge after it was implied that he had no religion for not being Christian. By this time, The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971–72) was in preparation, a TV series co-produced by Associated Television (ATV) and the American Broadcasting Company which was produced at ATV's Elstree Studios, near London. This show lasted for one series.
In 1974, Dennis Main Wilson produced a short BBC sketch series for Feldman entitled Marty Back Together Again – a reference to reports about the star's health, but this never captured the impact of the earlier series. The Marty series proved popular enough with an international audience (the first series won the Golden Rose Award at Montreux) to launch a film career. His first feature role was in Every Home Should Have One (1970). Feldman spent time in Soho jazz clubs, as he found a parallel between "riffing" in a comedy partnership and the improvisation of jazz.
On film, in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974), he was Igor (pronounced "EYE-gore" – a comic response to Wilder's claim that "it's pronounced FRONK-EN-SHTEEN"). Many lines in Young Frankenstein were improvised. Gene Wilder says he had Feldman in mind when he wrote the part. At one point, Dr Frankenstein (Wilder) scolds Igor with the phrase, "Damn your eyes!" Feldman turns to the camera, points to his misaligned eyes with a grin and says, "Too late!"
Feldman's performances on American television included The Dean Martin Show.
In 1976, Feldman ventured into Italian cinema, starring with Barbara Bouchet in 40 gradi all'ombra del lenzuolo (Sex with a Smile), a sex comedy. He appeared in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother and Brooks' Silent Movie, as well as directing and starring in The Last Remake of Beau Geste. He guest-starred in the "Arabian Nights" episode of The Muppet Show with several Sesame Street characters, especially Cookie Monster with whom he shared a playful cameo comparing their eyes side by side.
During the course of his career, Feldman recorded one LP, I Feel a Song Going Off (1969), re-released as The Crazy World of Marty Feldman. The songs were written by Denis King, John Junkin, and Bill Solly (a writer for Max Bygraves and The Two Ronnies). It was re-released as a CD in 2007.
Feldman was married to Lauretta Sullivan (29 September 1935 – 12 March 2010) from January 1959 until his death in 1982. She died, aged 74, in Studio City, Los Angeles. Feldman's peers have reported, in a number of biographies, that he was highly attractive to women in spite of his unconventional facial appearance.
Politically, Marty Feldman has been described as an "avowed socialist" telling one interviewer "I'm a socialist by conviction, if not by lifestyle" and another "I'm a socialist from way back but in order to pay my back taxes I have to live in America to earn enough money to pay the back tax I owe to the socialist government that I voted in." He joked later that when a Labour cabinet minister said to him "Of course you vote Labour," Feldman replied, "No I don't because I'm a socialist!" However, he generally did not seriously discuss politics in public. An exception was when during a promotional tour for The Last Remake of Beau Geste he denounced Anita Bryant's campaign against homosexuality. He was an atheist.
Feldman died from a heart attack in a hotel room in Mexico City on 2 December 1982 at age 48, during the making of the film Yellowbeard. On the DVD commentary of Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks cites factors that may have contributed to Feldman's death: "He smoked sometimes half-a-carton (5 packs) of cigarettes daily, drank copious amounts of black coffee, and ate a diet rich in eggs and dairy products".
- The Bed-Sitting Room (1969)
- Every Home Should Have One (1970)
- Young Frankenstein (1974)
- The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)
- Silent Movie (1976)
- 40 gradi all'ombra del lenzuolo (Sex With a Smile) (1976)
- The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977)
- In God We Tru$t (1980)
- Slapstick of Another Kind (1982)
- Yellowbeard (1983)
- At Last the 1948 Show (1967)
- Marty / It's Marty (1968–69)
- Marty Amok (1970)
- Marty Abroad (1971)
- The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971–72)
- The Flip Wilson Show (1971, 1973)
- The Marty Feldman Show (1972)
- Marty Back Together Again (1974)
- The Muppet Show (one episode, 1981)
- Oliver, John. "Feldman, Marty (1934–1982)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
- "Movie Memory: Marty Feldman 1977". New York Daily News. 4 August 2002. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
- Took, Barry (September 2004). Feldman, Martin Alan [Marty] (1934–1982), comedian and scriptwriter. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8.
- "Marty Feldman: Six Degrees of Separation". BBC Two. 13 August 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
- Chilton, Martin (17 November 2011). "Marty Feldman – The Biography Of A Comedy Legend by Robert Ross: review". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 19 November 2015.
- BBC Radio 2 programme East End Boys, 2014
- "Marty - The Whowrotewhat Wotnot (series 1)". The Kettering (4). Retrieved 30 August 2009.
- "Marty Feldman". Nndb.com. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
- "Lauretta Sullivan Feldman". Los Angeles Times. 15 April 2010.
- Ross, Robert (25 October 2011). Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend. Titan Books. p. 252. ISBN 978-0-85768-602-2.
- "Marty Feldman versus the Suits" by Mike Kuhlenbeck, Jewish Currents, June 29, 2016
- "Feldman has 'ideal equipment'", The Pittsburgh Press, January 11, 1976
- Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend by Robert Ross, chapter 15, footnote 17
- Wilmut, Roger (1980). From Fringe to Flying Circus — Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy 1960–1980. Eyre Methuen. ISBN 978-0-413-46950-2.
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