Family & Companions
Steve Martin was never interested in finding just one niche and remaining there for his entire life, as evidenced by his career evolution from TV writer to goofy stand-up comic to A-List star of offbeat comedies, family fare, dramas and musicals. His early, rock-star like fame as a comedian influenced a whole generation of performers with its experimental, no- punch-line style that sent-up vaudeville as much as it borrowed from his studies as a philosophy major. As a film actor, Martin's strongest work was generally material he wrote himself - comedies with a palpable heart and poignancy behind the puns, like "Roxanne" (1987), L.A. Story (1991) and the adaptation of his bestselling novella, "Shopgirl" (2005). Despite the iconic status of his 1979 comedy classic, "The Jerk," his film career was spotty however, and through the 1990s and beyond, Martin was mainly known for rote family comedies that relied not on "wild and crazy" antics but on his roles as the straight man exasperated over the wild and crazy antics of kids or unwelcome intruders in his quiet suburban world. Off-screen, enigmatic Martin had a reputation as a spotlight-shunning, quiet intellectual and fine art collector who, well into his sixties, was still full of surprises on the screen, the stage and on the page.
Martin was born on Aug. 14, 1945, in Waco, TX. When he was five years old his mother and real estate agent father - himself, a failed actor - moved the family to Southern California. Five years later, they were living in Garden Grove when Disneyland opened, and 10-year-old Martin found himself neighboring "the happiest place on earth." He was given a striped shirt and straw hat and hired to wander the park selling programs. In addition to the two cents he made per program, he also had free access to park. Even though he was painfully shy and could not yet imagine performing in front of people, he spent even his off-duty hours there, watching and learning from park performers who juggled, played music and did vaudeville acts. He spent so much time in the park's magic shop, Merlin's Cave, that he began working there when he was just 13. From demonstrating magic tricks and making balloon animals for the customers, he went on to get professional gigs as a magician for community groups like the Boy Scouts and Elks Lodge. The professional attitude the teenager took towards his work was remarkable, as he kept copious notes and recordings of his early performances, critiquing them and tweaking them in his drive to perfect his act. After graduating from Garden Grove High School in 1963, Martin studied drama and p try at a community college, while writing and appearing in comedy skits at nearby Knott's Berry Farm amusement park and doing stand-up comedy at local coffee houses.
Martin's academic shift to philosophy led him to Los Angeles where he attended UCLA, eventually landing a job as a writer for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." He and the writing staff won an Emmy Award in 1969, and Martin continued to write and occasionally appear in comedy bits on variety shows like "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1971-74) and "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" (CBS, 1969-1972). And with his philosophy studies still haunting him, Martin experimented with new approaches to his own comedy act. With the same focus and diligence with which he had learned magic tricks at Disneyland and taught himself to play the banjo, he now analyzed what made people laugh and sought to create a stage show that would be funny in an entirely nontraditional way. The result was part vaudeville/part performance art - a juggling banjo player who confidently tossed around absurd non-sequiturs while dressed in three-piece white suit like some square visitor from an alternate universe. He found a receptive audience to his experimental act in places like San Francisco, but he also toughed it out for years on the stand-up circuit playing to empty rooms in small towns. The philosophical performer continually analyzed and adjusted his act, unknowingly ushering in a new era of post-modern comedy. He got bigger gigs, opening for rock concerts, and in time, his appearances on "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1954- ) and the fledgling "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) began to bring him unexpected fame.
After many memorable performances as a "wild and crazy" Festrunk brother on "Saturday Night Live," Martin released a live comedy album, Let's Get Small (1977) and his fame skyrocketed. The platinum-seller and Grammy winner for Best Comedy Album gave birth to catch phrases like "Well excuuuse me!" and Martin sold out larger and larger venues until he was filling stadiums. By 1978, Martin had become a certified pop culture phenomenon with his arrow-through-the-head persona, releasing a follow-up Grammy winning album, A Wild and Crazy Guy, and a music single "King Tut," which hilariously celebrated the ancient boy king whose remains were hot on the museum circuit that year. Martin also made a cameo in the celebrated "Muppet Movie" (1979) and wrote and starred in "The Jerk" (1979), an expectedly absurdist rags-to-riches-back to rags tale of a hapless dimwit who leaves his poor black family and stumbles into a world of wealth and fame. The film was an instant classic, and also netted the era's hottest star a romantic relationship with cute ukulele-playing co-star, Bernadette Peters. He toured continually and hosted a pair of comedy specials on NBC in 1980, but the following year, at the height of his fame, Martin abruptly quit stand-up. As he saw it, his was a conceptual act, so there was no need to keep showing audiences the same thing over and over. He had made his point and he was ready to move on to a film career.
Martin's follow-up to "The Jerk" threw audiences for a loop, though he proved a capable dramatic player in the off-beat, revisionist musical drama, "Pennies From Heaven" (1981). He stuck close to nontraditional comedy, and in the first of many collaborations with Carl Reiner, Martin pulled off the difficult task of acting opposite clips from classic 1940s films in the film noir send-up, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1983). His role as a doctor who falls in love with a brain in a jar in "The Man with Two Brains" (1983) pleased fans, and Martin went on to give one of his most outstanding performances in Reiner's "All of Me" (1984), in which his physical comedy was a perfect fit for a character who is half-possessed on his body's right side only by a deceased, crotchety millionairess (Lily Tomlin). The 1985 romantic comedy "The Lonely Guy" was a flop, but ironically the next year, the long-time bachelor was wed to British actress and "All of Me" co-star, Victoria Tennant. The following year, Martin co-wrote the successful buddy comedy "Three Amigos!" (1986) and joined Chevy Chase and Martin Short on horseback with amusing results. Martin played a sadistic dentist in the well-received screen adaptation of the musical "Little Shop of Horrors" (1986) and dialed back the zany energy to give a surprisingly touching and graceful performance in "Roxanne" (1987), a modern-day comic revamp of "Cyrano de Bergerac" which Martin also wrote and executive- produced.
In one of the best-loved films of both their careers, Martin played alongside a surprisingly touching John Candy in the John Hughes' holiday classic, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987). Martin was the straight man of two mismatched travelers whose Thanksgiving plans are endlessly ill-fated, resulting in three intolerable days together. Co-star chemistry was again at the center of the successful "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (1988), in which Martin and Michael Caine made for a deliciously deviant team of con artists. Martin maintained a reserved, high-strung persona to portray the father of a young family in "Parenthood" (1989), a huge box office hit beloved for its balance of comedy and heart. In 1991, Martin wrote, produced and starred in "L.A. Story," which was well received as much for its insightful romantic comedy script as for its successful capturing of the essence of certain L.A. character types and lifestyles. Martin returned to drama, playing a film producer in Lawrence Kasdan's ensemble "Grand Canyon" (1991), but went on to spend the majority of the 1990s in box office comedy successes that were disappointingly predictable for an actor whose early work was so exuberant and off-kilter. The first of these lackluster broad comedies were Disney's remake of "Father of the Bride" (1991) and "Housesitter" (1992), where he played an uptight architect whose life is disrupted by a female grifter (Goldie Hawn).
Light on his feet, if ultimately joyless and opaque, Martin played a charlatan faith healer in the moderately successful drama, "Leap of Faith" (1992). The following year, Martin - who was known off-screen as an intellectually-inclined art collector - made his playwriting debut with "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," a comic fantasy about a meeting between the celebrated painter and Albert Einstein in 1904 before both achieved worldwide fame. The play premiered in Chicago and went on to become a hit in Los Angeles and off-Broadway. "WASP and Other Plays" followed at New York's Public Theater and further confirmed Martin's broad talent. Back in Hollywood, Martin returned to Disney's Touchstone division as executive producer and scripter of "A Simple Twist of Fate" (1994), a polished yet problematic adaptation of George Eliot's "Silas Marner." He was effective as a gloomy recluse who reconnects with life by raising an abandoned infant, but audiences detected a downer and steered clear. Off-screen, Martin was feeling a bit down himself, when he and wife Tennant divorced in 1994 after a decade of marriage, though he rebounded with a two-year relationship with considerably younger actress, Anne Heche. In 1995, Martin returned to successful if unremarkable comedy with the sequel "Father of the Bride II" and "Mixed Nuts," a tiresome holiday offering that flopped, despite an all-star cast and script and direction from romantic comedy gold-spinner, Nora Ephron.
After the forgettable effort "Sgt. Bilko" (1996), Martin delivered a strong supporting turn as a mysterious businessman in David Mamet's psychological drama, "The Spanish Prisoner" (1997). He lent his voice to the wily servant Hotep in DreamWorks' animated Moses musical "The Prince of Egypt" (1998), and finally revisited his sorely missed "zany" persona in "Bowfinger" (1999), a successful Hollywood satire where Martin (who also penned the script) played a producer alongside co-star Eddie Murphy as an action film hero. Martin enjoyed further critical kudos that year for his book Pure Drivel, a collection of humor pieces he had previously published in The New Yorker magazine. A lackluster remake of the 1960s screwball classic "The Out-of-Towners" (1999), however, missed the mark and Martin detoured into new territory with director Stanley Tucci's serious-minded "J Gould's Secret" (2000), as well as the dramatic thriller, "Novocaine" (2001), where he played a dentist suspected of murdering a patient. Martin's first novella, Shopgirl, about a depressed glove saleswoman at a Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus, was released that year and became a bestseller. In a semi-return to stand-up, Martin was cheered for taking over hosting duties of the Academy Awards ceremonies in 2001 and 2003.
In an intentionally unexpected pairing that delivered mega box office returns, Martin co-starred opposite rapper-turned-actress Queen Latifah in "Bringing Down The House" (2003), a contrived "opposites comedy" about a lonely attorney who looks for love on the Internet and finds an escaped convict who wreaks havoc on his life. There were more genuine laughs to be had with "Looney Tunes: Back In Action" (2003) - a live action/animation mix starring the Warner Bros. cast of cartoon icons and Martin, throwing off his well-worn uptight act and cutting loose as the villainous Chairman of the Acme Corporation. He further banked on family fare, reprising his "exasperated suburban dad" in the remake of "Cheaper By the Dozen" (2003), an enormous box office hit that held little interest for critics. Conversely, Martin's screen adaptation of "Shop Girl" (2005) only received limited release but garnered resoundingly positive reviews for its smart, subtle, and sometimes painfully honest portrayal of a May-December romance. Martin reprised his role as overburdened parent in the sequel "Cheaper By the Dozen 2" (2005) and then seemed like a safe bet to take on the iconic role of the classic Peter Sellers character, Inspector Clouseau, in "The Pink Panther" (2006) reimagining. Audiences anticipated Martin's return to more physical comedy, but even the actor's valiant efforts onscreen were not enough to salvage the bad script.
In 2007, Martin released the heartfelt memoir Born Standing Up, a well-reviewed chronicle of his early years in show business, and followed it up with the children's book, The Alphabet From A to Y with the Bonus Letter Z, which was illustrated by fellow New Yorker contributor Roz Chast. He also took the plunge again, wedding longtime girlfriend (and former New Yorker staffer) Anne Stringfield before returning to the screen with a supporting role in the unexpected summer comedy hit "Baby Mama" (2008). The following year, Martin reprised his take on the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in "The Pink Panther 2" (2009), a box office dud that threatened to undermine a third installment to the series. Meanwhile, he was in fine form as an agoraphobic millionaire who tries to woo Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) on an episode of the critical darling, "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006-13). The role earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 2009. Martin's connection to the show did not end there. Perhaps due in part to their onscreen chemistry, Martin and "30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin were announced as co-hosts of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards - an announcement that sent ripples of excitement through the public and industry at large.
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First acting role was playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in his second-grade play
Worked at part-time at Disneyland, performing magic tricks at Merlin's Cave and appearing in Wally Boag's "It's Vaudeville Again"
Wrote for various comedy-variety shows beginning with "The Summer Smothers Brothers Comedy Show" (CBS)
TV debut as a regular on ABC's variety hour "The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show"; also wrote for the show
Made first appearance on "The Tonight Show" (NBC)
First time as host of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
Wrote and acted in the short film "The Absent-Minded Waiter"; produced through his company The Aspen Film Society; earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Live-Action Short
Feature acting debut, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
First film as co-writer, "The Jerk"; also played the lead role
Hosted the NBC TV specials "Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty" and "All Commercials - A Steve Martin Special"
First dramatic performance, "Pennies From Heaven"
First collaboration with director Carl Reiner, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"
Portrayed a lawyer whose body is possessed by a millionairess (Lily Tomlin) in Reiner's "All of Me"
First film as producer, "Three Amigos!"; also co-wrote and co-starred
Played a memorable role as a sadistic dentist in "Little Shop of Horrors"; first collaboration with Rick Moranis
Wrote and starred in the modern day remake of "Cyrano de Bergerac" entitled "Roxanne"
Starred onstage with Robin Williams in the Lincoln Center Theater production of "Waiting for Godot"
Joined an ensemble cast for Ron Howard's "Parenthood"
Co-starred with Rick Moranis in the comedy "My Blue Heaven"
Appeared as a Joel Silveresque film producer in "Grand Canyon"
Teamed with Diane Keaton in the remake of "Father of the Bride"
First screen pairing with Goldie Hawn, "Housesitter"
Playwriting debut, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile"
Updated "Silas Marner" as "A Simple Twist of Fate"; wrote, produced and starred
Re-teamed with Keaton for the sequel "Father of the Bride II"
Delivered a strong supporting turn as a mysterious businessman in David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner"
Voiced Hotep in the animated feature "The Prince of Egypt"
Wrote and starred in the comedy "Bowfinger"
Re-teamed with Hawn for the remake of "The Out-of-Towners"
Played himself in "The Venice Project," starring Lauren Bacall and Dennis Hopper
Had featured role in Stanley Tucci's drama "Joe Gould's Secret"
Published first novella <i>Shopgirl</i>
Hosted the annual telecast of the Academy Awards; received an Emmy nomination
Wrote the English-language adaptation of Carl Sterheim's "Die Hose," retitled "The Underpants"; performed at NYC's Classic Stage Company
Starred as the father of twelve children in the comedy "Cheaper by the Dozen"
Co-starred alongside Queen Latifah as a lonely attorney in "Bringing Down the House."
Received a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken word for "The Pleasure of My Company"
Co-starred with Claire Danes in the feature adaptation of his novella "Shopgirl"
Reprised role for "Cheaper By the Dozen 2"
Portrayed Inspector Clouseau, in prequel to the 1964 Peter Sellers original film "The Pink Panther"; also co-wrote the screenplay
Earned a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word for the album <i>Born Standing Up</i>
Co-hosted the 82nd Academy Awards with Alec Baldwin; earned an Emmy nomination in 2010 for Outstanding Special Class Programs (shared with Adam Shankman, Bill Mechanic, Michael B. Seligman, and Baldwin)
Released his first all-music album <i>The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo</i>
Reprised role of Inspector Clouseau for "The Pink Panther 2"
Co-starred with Meryl Streep in the comedy "It's Complicated"; directed by Nancy Meyers
Earned an Emmy nomination for his guest-starring role on NBC's "30 Rock" as eccentric businessman Gavin Volure
Co-starred opposite Owen Wilson and Jack Black in the comedy feature "The Big Year"