Marty Feldman

Martin Alan Feldman (8 July 1934[1] – 2 December 1982) was a British actor, comedian and comedy writer, known for his prominent, misaligned eyes.[2][3][4][5] 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 also co-created the BBC Radio comedy programme Round the Horne.

Marty Feldman
Feldman in 1969
Martin Alan Feldman

(1934-07-08)8 July 1934
University College Hospital, Camden, England
Died2 December 1982(1982-12-02) (aged 48)
Mexico City, Mexico
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills), California, U.S.
OccupationActor, comedian, comedy writer
Years active1948–1982
Lauretta Sullivan (m. 1959)
AwardsBAFTAs: Best Light Entertainment Performance
1968 Marty
Best writer
1968 Marty

Feldman was part of an ensemble cast of British comic actors that appeared in The Bed Sitting Room (1969), his film debut. He starred in the comedy Every Home Should Have One, one of the most popular comedies at the British box office in 1970.[6] Feldman was the first Saturn Award winner for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Igor in Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy horror film Young Frankenstein.

Early life

Feldman was born on 8 July 1934 in at University College Hospital, Camden and raised in Islington, the son of Cecilia (née Crook) and Myer Feldman, a gown manufacturer,[7][8] who were Jewish immigrants from Kiev, Ukraine. He recalled his childhood as "solitary".[9]

Feldman suffered from thyroid disease and developed Graves' ophthalmopathy, causing his eyes to protrude and become misaligned. A childhood injury, a car crash, a boating accident, and reconstructive eye surgery may also have contributed to his appearance.[2][4][9][10][11] He later described his appearance as a factor in his career success: "If I aspired to be Robert Redford, I'd have my eyes straightened and my nose fixed and end up like every other lousy actor, with two lines on 'Kojack'. [sic] But this way I'm a novelty."[12]

Leaving school at 15, he worked at the Dreamland funfair in Margate,[9] 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.[13] Feldman joked that he was "the world's worst trumpet player."[13] By the age of 20 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—that made its first television appearance on the BBC series Showcase in April 1955.[1] Later in the decade, Feldman worked on the scripts for Educating Archie in both its radio and television incarnations with Ronald Chesney and, later, Ronald Wolfe.

In 1954, Feldman first met Barry Took while both were working as performers, and with Took he eventually formed an enduring writing partnership which lasted until 1974.[1] 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.[9] (The last season of Round the Horne in 1968 was written by others.) This work placed Feldman and Took "in the front rank of comedy writers", according to Denis Norden.[9]

Feldman then 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).[9]

The television sketch comedy series At Last the 1948 Show raised Feldman's profile as a performer. The other three participants (future Monty Python members Graham Chapman and John Cleese, and future The Goodies member Tim Brooke-Taylor) needed a fourth cast member and had Feldman in mind.[9] In a sketch on 1 March 1967, Feldman's character harassed a patient shop assistant (played by Cleese) regarding a series of fictitious books, achieving success with Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying. His character in At Last the 1948 Show was often called Mr Pest, according to John Cleese.[14] 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.[9]

Feldman was given his own series on the BBC called Marty in 1968;[9] it featured Brooke-Taylor, John Junkin and Roland MacLeod, with Cleese as one of the writers.[9] Feldman won two BAFTA awards. The second series in 1969 was retitled 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 obscenity trial for Oz magazine.[9] He would not swear on the Bible, choosing instead to affirm.[9] Throughout his testimony, he mocked the judge after it was implied that he had no religion because he was not Christian.[9] By this time, The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971–1972) 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 season.

In 1974, Dennis Main Wilson produced a short BBC sketch series for Feldman titled Marty Back Together Again—a reference to reports about the star's health—but it 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).[9] Feldman spent time in Soho jazz clubs, as he found a parallel between "riffing" in a comedy partnership and the improvisation of jazz.[9]

On film, in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974), he was Igor (pronounced "EYE-gore", a comic response to Gene Wilder's claim that "it's pronounced FRONK-EN-SCHTEEN"). Many lines in Young Frankenstein were improvised. Wilder says he had Feldman in mind when he wrote the part.[9] 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 two LP records, Marty (1968) and I Feel a Song Going Off (1969), re-released in 1971 as The Crazy World of Marty Feldman. The songs on his second album were written by Denis King, John Junkin and Bill Solly (a writer for Max Bygraves and The Two Ronnies).[15] It was later 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.[16] She died, aged 74, in Studio City, Los Angeles.[17] Feldman's peers have reported, in a number of biographies, that he was highly attractive to women in spite of his unconventional facial appearance.[18]

His younger sister, Pamela,[8] who no longer uses her family name, lives in the Tereken district of the Belgian town of Sint-Niklaas.

Politically, Marty Feldman has been described as an "avowed socialist"[19] telling one interviewer "I'm a socialist by conviction, if not by lifestyle"[20] 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."[9] 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!"[21] 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.[22]

Feldman was a vegetarian. In a 1979 interview, when asked how long he had been one, he stated: "I was about five and a half or six when I converted; I'm forty-three now, so it's been approximately thirty-eight years."[23]


Feldman died from a heart attack,[12] in a hotel room in Mexico City on 2 December 1982 at age 48, during the making of the film Yellowbeard; the film was subsequently dedicated to him. 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."

He is buried in Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery near his idol, Buster Keaton, in the Garden of Heritage.[9]



Year Title Role Notes
1969The Bed Sitting RoomNurse Arthur
1970Every Home Should Have OneTeddy Brown
1971The Magnificent Seven Deadly SinsGuest Appearancesegment "Sloth"
1974Young FrankensteinIgor
1975The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter BrotherSgt. Orville Stanley Sacker
Closed Up-TightCat Burglar
197640 gradi all'ombra del lenzuolo (Sex With a Smile)Alex, the "Bodyguard" male(segment "La guardia del corpo")
Silent MovieMarty Eggs
1977The Last Remake of Beau GesteDagobert 'Digby' Geste
1980In God We Tru$tBrother Ambrose
1982Slapstick of Another KindSylvester
1983YellowbeardGilbert(final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1967At Last the 1948 ShowVarious Characters
1968–1969Marty / It's Marty
1970Marty AmokTV movie
1971Marty AbroadTV movie
1971–1972The Marty Feldman Comedy MachineHimself
1971–1973The Flip Wilson Show
1972The Marty Feldman ShowVariousTV movie
1974Marty Back Together AgainVarious Characters
1981The Muppet ShowHimselfTV series, one episode

Radio series


  1. Oliver, John. "Feldman, Marty (1934–1982)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  2. "Marty Feldman: "Damn your eyes!"". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  3. Doonan, Simon (2 November 2009). "Marty Feldman: Dead Cool". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  4. "The mad world of Marty Feldman". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  5. Heathcote, Charlotte (13 November 2015). "Book reviews: eyE Marty, Number 11 and Things That Nobody Knows". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  6. Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 269.
  7. "Movie Memory: Marty Feldman 1977". New York Daily News. 4 August 2002. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  8. Took, Barry (September 2004). Feldman, Martin Alan [Marty] (1934–1982), comedian and scriptwriter. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8.
  9. "Marty Feldman: Six Degrees of Separation". BBC Two. 13 August 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  10. "Marty Feldman: My looks are my comic equipment". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  11. "The Unorthodox Comedian - The Official Marty Feldman website!". 4 January 2016. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  12. Lawson, Carol (4 December 1982). "Marty Feldman, Film Comic, Victim of Heart Attack at 48". The New York Times.
  13. 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.
  14. BBC Radio 2 programme East End Boys, 2014
  15. "Marty - The Whowrotewhat Wotnot (series 1)". The Kettering (4). Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  16. "Marty Feldman". NNDB. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  17. "Lauretta Sullivan Feldman". Los Angeles Times. 15 April 2010.
  18. Ross, Robert (25 October 2011). Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend. Titan Books. p. 252. ISBN 978-0-85768-602-2.
  19. "Marty Feldman versus the Suits" by Mike Kuhlenbeck, Jewish Currents, June 29, 2016
  20. "Feldman has 'ideal equipment'", The Pittsburgh Press, January 11, 1976
  21. Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend by Robert Ross, chapter 15, footnote 17
  22. "Marty Feldman versus the Suits" by Mike Kuhlenbeck, Jewish Currents, June 29, 2016
  23. Berry, Rynn (1979). "Marty Feldman". The Vegetarians. Brookline, MA: Autumn Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-394-73633-8.

Further reading

  • 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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