Actor Martin Landau died Saturday, July 15, 2017 of “unexpected complications” following a visit to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was 89, and had a long, varied acting career in diverse roles.
One of Landau’s enduring roles was the master of disguise, Rollin Hand, on the spy show sensation Mission: Impossible in the 1960s. (Landau left the show in 1969 due to a contract dispute.) Landau was nominated three times for an Emmy for this part.
Landau, however, is perhaps better known among science fiction fans for his work on the cult classic Space: 1999. He had previously been offered the role of Spock on Star Trek, which he passed on.
“I turned down Star Trek. It would’ve been torturous,” he said on the PBS documentary series Pioneers of Television in 2011. “I would’ve probably died playing that role. I mean, even the thought of it now upsets me. It was the antithesis of why I became an actor. I mean, to play a character that Lenny (Nimoy) was better suited for, frankly, a guy who speaks in a monotone who never gets excited, never has any guilt, never has any fear or was affected on a visceral level. Who wants to do that?”
The next decade, Landau would join another short-lived science fiction series called Space: 1999 that enjoys cult status to this day. He starred as Commander John Koenig, leader of Moonbase Alpha.
In a somewhat improbable plot, the moon gets thrown off its orbit by a massive explosion of radioactive material. As the moon hurls through space (and even a black hole!) without any means to control or direct it, the inhabitants of the moon base experience all sorts of strange aliens and challenges.
The British sci-fi series was in many respects more serious and stoic than Star Trek. Space: 1999 used Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as a template. The more thoughtful, contemplative tone of 2001 was in stark contrast to cheesy, pulp science fiction of the 1950s and early 1960s.
This more serious tone permeated Space: 1999. The set of Space: 1999 was sparse and white compared to the bright, primary colors of Star Trek. Whereas William Shatner portrayed a passionate, temperamental captain, Landau’s Commander Koenig was cool, sophisticated, and mature.
Landau’s co-star in Space: 1999 was his wife, Barbara Bain, who had also worked with him in Mission: Impossible. Bain also brought a classy, if distant, quality to her role as Doctor Helena Russell, head of Medical Section.
Space: 1999 only lasted for two seasons, but boasted many notable guest stars, including Christopher Lee, Joan Collins, Jeremy Kemp, Peter Cushing, Ian McShane, Leo McKern, and Patrick Troughton.
While Space: 1999 is not well-known to the public, it has influenced science fiction in film and television for decades. For example, the first season’s opening credits of Space: 1999 were the inspiration for the opening credit sequence of the Battlestar Galactica remake. Many guest stars on Space: 1999 also later appeared in the Star Wars franchise.