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Marty Feldman

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Marty Feldman

Marty Feldman
Born Martin Alan Feldman
(1934-07-08)8 July 1934
London, England
Died 2 December 1982(1982-12-02) (aged 48)
Mexico City, Mexico
Cause of death
Heart attack
Occupation Actor, comedian
Spouse(s) Lauretta Sullivan
(m. 1959–82, his death)

Martin Alan "Marty" Feldman (8 July 1934[1] – 2 December 1982) was an English 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.

Early life

Feldman was born on 8 July 1934 in the East End of London, the son of Jewish immigrants from Kiev, Ukrainian SSR.[2] He recalled his childhood as "solitary".[3]

A BBC documentary explained that a botched operation for his Graves' disease resulted in his eyes being more protruded and misaligned (strabismus).[3] Leaving school at 15, he worked at the Dreamland funfair in Margate,[3] 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.[4] Feldman joked that he was "the world's worst trumpet player."[4] By the age of 20 though, he had decided to pursue a career as a comedian.

Early career

Although his early performing career was undistinguished, he became part of a comedy act, Morris, Marty and Mitch, which made their first television appearance on a BBC series called Showcase in April 1955.[5] 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 would eventually form an enduring writing partnership which lasted until 1974.[5] 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.[3] 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.[3]

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).[3]

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 Cleese and future Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor needed a fourth cast member and had Feldman in mind.[3] 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.[6] 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.[3]

Feldman was given his own series on the BBC called Marty (1968);[3] it featured Brooke-Taylor, John Junkin and Roland MacLeod, with Cleese as one of the writers.[3] 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)

After 1970

In 1971, Feldman gave evidence in favour of the defendants in the Oz trial.[3] He would not swear on the Bible, choosing to affirm.[3] Throughout his testimony he was disrespectful to the judge after it was implied that he had no religion for not being Christian.[3] 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 (ABC). 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).[3] Feldman spent time in Soho jazz clubs, as he found a parallel between "riffing" in a comedy partnership and the improvisation of jazz.[3]

Promotional photo for Marty Feldman's Comedy Machine. The programmes were taped at ATV's Elstree studios, near London.

Feldman's performances on American television included The Dean Martin Show. On film, he was Igor (pronounced "EYE-gore" – a comic response to Wilder's claim that "it's pronounced FRONK-EN-SHTEEN") in Young Frankenstein (1974) where many lines were improvised. Gene Wilder says he had Feldman in mind when he wrote the part.[3] 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!"

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 Mel 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).[7] It was re-released as a CD in 2007.

Personal life

Feldman was married to Lauretta Sullivan (29 September 1935 – 12 March 2010) from January 1959 until his death in 1982.[8] She died at age 74 in Studio City, California.[9]

His younger sister, Pamela,[10] who no longer uses her family name, lives in the Belgian town of Sint Niklaas.


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 Marty'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".

Feldman's gravestone in Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Michael Mileham, who made the behind-the-scenes movie Group Madness about the making of Yellowbeard, said that on the day before Feldman died, the two of them had swam to a small island in a lake in Mexico City where a local was selling lobster and coconuts. Mileham and Feldman used the same knife on their lobsters; Mileham claimed he got shellfish poisoning the next day, and theorised that this could also have contributed to Marty's death.

He is buried in Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery near his idol, Buster Keaton, in the Garden of Heritage.[3]


Television series


  1. ^ Marty Feldman biography – Screen Online, United Kingdom
  2. ^ "MOVIE MEMORY Marty Feldman 1977". 4 August 2002. Retrieved 30 August 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Marty Feldman: Six Degrees of Separation, BBC4
  4. ^ a b Martin Chilton "Marty Feldman – The Biography Of A Comedy Legend by Robert Ross: review", Daily Telegraph, 17 November 2011
  5. ^ a b John Oliver "Feldman, Marty (1934–1982)", BFI Screenonline
  6. ^ BBC Radio 2 programme East End Boys, 2014
  7. ^ "Kettering Magazine Issue #2". Retrieved 30 August 2009. 
  8. ^ NNDb profile
  9. ^ according to a story published in the Los Angeles Times on 15 April 2010
  10. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Further reading

  • From Fringe to Flying Circus—Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy 1960–1980 – Roger Wilmut, Eyre Methuen Ltd, 1980.

External links

  • Marty Feldman at AllMovie
  • Marty Feldman discography at Discogs
  • Marty Feldman at the Internet Movie Database
  • Marty Feldman on Myspace (tribute page)
  • Marty Feldman at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
  • Marty Feldman biography page at BBC comedy website
  • Marty Feldman at Comedy Zone
  • article with complete list of television series and discography
  • Angels Don't Swear – a tribute to Marty Feldman presented by Gene Wilder (requires RealPlayer)
  • Marty Feldman: The Radical Comedian at Unsung Films
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