Marty Feldman

Marty Feldman
Marty Feldman
Born Martin Alan Feldman
8 July 1934(1934-07-08)
London, England, UK
Died 2 December 1982(1982-12-02) (aged 48)
Mexico City, Mexico
Cause of death Heart attack
Spouse 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 who starred in a series of British television comedy shows, including At Last the 1948 Show, and Marty, which won two BAFTA awards and was the first Saturn Award winner for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Young Frankenstein.


Early life

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

A BBC documentary also explained that an operation due to his Graves' disease resulted in his eyes being more protruded, together with a Squint (Strabismus).[3] Leaving school at 15, he worked at the Dreamland fun fair in Margate.[3] By the age of 20, he had decided to pursue a career as a comedian.


In 1954, Feldman formed a writing partnership with Barry Took.[3] They wrote situation comedies such as The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge for British television, and the BBC radio show Round the Horne, which starred Kenneth Horne and Kenneth Williams.[3] This put Feldman and Took "in the front rank of comedy writers" (Denis Norden).[3]

The television sketch comedy series At Last the 1948 Show featured Feldman's first screen performances.[3] The other three performers - Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor (later of The Goodies comedy trio) and John Cleese - needed a fourth 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. The sketch was revived as part of the Monty Python stage show and on Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (both without Feldman).

Feldman was co-author, along with Cleese, Chapman and Brooke-Taylor of the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch, which was also written for At Last the 1948 Show.[3] The "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch was performed during Amnesty International concerts (by members of Monty Python — once including Rowan Atkinson in place of Python member Eric Idle), as well as during Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl and other Monty Python shows and recordings. This association has led to the common misconception that the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch was a Python sketch, with the origin and co-authorship by non-Python writers Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor overlooked or forgotten.[4] Feldman was also script editor on The Frost Report with future members of Monty Python.[3] He wrote the much-repeated Class sketch, in which 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]

Following his At Last the 1948 Show, 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); in 1971 he was signed to a series co-produced by ATV and ABC TV entitled The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine; this show lasted one season. In 1974, Dennis Main Wilson (producer for the UK television show Till Death Us Do Part) produced a short sketch series for Feldman on the BBC 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 1970's Every Home Should Have One.[3]

Feldman spent time in Soho jazz clubs.[3] He found a parallel between "riffing" in a comedy partnership and the improvisation of jazz.[3]

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]

Feldman's performances on American television included The Dean Martin Show and Marty Feldman's Comedy Machine. On film, he was Igor (pronounced "EYE-gore") in Young Frankenstein 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, grins and says, "Too late!"

Feldman met American comedy writer Alan Spencer on the set of Young Frankenstein when Spencer was a teenager. Spencer was a fan of Feldman as a writer and performer. Feldman offered Spencer guidance that led him to create the television show Sledge Hammer![5]

He also made one LP, I Feel a Song Going Off (1969), re-released as The Crazy World of Marty Feldman. The songs were written by Dennis King, John Junkin and Bill Solly (a writer for Max Bygraves and The Two Ronnies).[6] It was re-released as a CD in 2007.

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.

Personal life

Feldman was married to Lauretta Sullivan (29 September 1935 – 12 March 2010) from January 1959 until his death in 1982.[7] She died at age 74 in Studio City, California, according to a story published in the Los Angeles Times on April 15, 2010.

Marty Feldman had a younger sister, Pamela.[8] Contrary to certain rumours he was not related to actress Fenella Fielding (née Feldman).[citation needed]


Feldman died from a heart attack in a hotel room in Mexico City on 2 December 1982, 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:

Martin Feldman - photo by Jim Tipton, curtesy of findagravedotcom.jpg

He smoked sometimes six packs of cigarettes daily, drank copious amounts of coffee, and ate a diet rich in eggs and dairy products. Michael Mileham, who made the behind-the-scenes movie Group Madness about the making of Yellowbeard, said he and Feldman swam to an island 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 as Feldman had used the same knife he also could have been poisoned.[citation needed]

In an anecdotal story, cartoonist Sergio Aragonés was also filming nearby in a different production. While dressed for his role as an armed policeman, Aragonés abruptly encountered Feldman and, in introducing himself, frightened Feldman. Aragonés speculates that this possibly induced Feldman's fatal heart attack later in the evening. Aragonés has recounted the story with the punchline, "I killed Marty Feldman". The story was converted into a strip in Aragonés's issue of DC Comics' Solo.[9]

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


Television series

  • At Last the 1948 Show (1967)
  • Marty (1968)
  • Marty Amok (1970)
  • Marty Abroad (1971)
  • The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971–1972)
  • The Marty Feldman Show (1972)
  • Marty Back Together Again (1974)
  • The Muppet Show (1981)


  1. ^ Marty Feldman biography — Screen Online, United Kingdom
  2. ^ "MOVIE MEMORY Marty Feldman 1977". 2002-08-04. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Marty Feldman: Six Degrees of Separation, BBC4
  4. ^ Morris Bright; Robert Ross (2001). Fawlty Towers: fully booked. BBC. p. 60. ISBN 9780563534396. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  5. ^ It's Good To Be The King: The Seriously Funny Life Of Mel Brooks by James Robert Parrish
  6. ^ "Kettering Magazine Issue #2". Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  7. ^ NNDb profile
  8. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  9. ^ "''I Killed Marty Feldman''; ''Solo'' #11, pp. 4-11, August 2006". 2007-02-19. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 

Further reading

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

External links

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