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Young Frankenstein's Igor, And More: The Marty Feldman Story

Icons | July 7, 2019

Feldman as Igor in Young Frankenstein. Source: (imdb)

With his bulging eyes, Marty Feldman was one of the most distinctive faces in entertainment, with an unforgettable appearance as Igor in Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein. During the '70s, Feldman was a rising star, having succeeded in British TV alongside members of Monty Python and broken into movies with The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) and another Mel Brooks film, Silent Movie (1976). Unfortunately, Feldman died before he reached 50, just as he was trying to establish himself as a director. 

While we might remember Marty Feldman as that guy with the bugged-out eyes, he was actually one of the leading comedy writers in Britain in the '60s -- before his eyes began to change. His eyes protruded as a result of Graves Ophthalmopathy and a botched operation, and his nose was slightly crooked. However, his lasting impact was his writing and his gift for comedy.

The Early Days And A Stint As A Criminal

Left: Feldman in Young Frankenstein. Right: Feldman in The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother. Source: (IMDB)

Feldman was born in London on July 8, 1934, to Jewish immigrants from Kiev. He did not excel in school, except in English. He wrote poetry from a young age. He wrote one poem that was so good that he was accused of plagiarism. Then, when asked to write an essay about what he did on a half-day vacation, he fabricated the story; when he got in trouble for making the story up, he explained that what he actually did was boring. He was repeatedly kicked out of schools because of his rebellious nature and left school at the age of 15 to travel. He found his way to Paris, where he did what he could to survive, sometimes engaging in dubious and often criminal acts. At one point he even worked with a traveling nude revue show called Saucy Girls.

Venturing Into Entertainment

Marty Feldman, prior to his diagnosis with Graves disease. Source: (imgur)

Feldman joined a musical comedy act, Marty, Morris, and Mitch, and though he loved music, he was, according to his own accounts, “the worst trumpeter in the world.” Back in London, he found himself drawn back to writing, and after meeting Barry Took in 1954, began a writing partnership which lasted until 1974. In the early days, the duo wrote for some of the UK's most successful radio shows. They also began writing for television, a show called Bootsy and Snudge. After Feldman had an operation for his overactive thyroid, he and Took returned to radio, writing for a show called Round the Horne. He then worked as a writer with John Cleese on the Frost Report.

In 1959, he married Lauretta Feldman.

Connections To Monty Python's Flying Circus

The cast from At Last the 1948 Show: John Cleese, Marty Feldman, Graham Chapman, and Tim Brooke-Taylor. Source: (BFI)

Feldman worked again with Cleese, as well as Graham Chapman, on At Last the 1948 Show, for which he co-wrote the “Four Yorkshiremen” skit often associated with Monty Python. At Last the 1948 Show was actually a precursor to Python. As John Cleese has explained, when they were writing for Monty Python, there were certain characters that they wrote with Feldman in mind.

Feldman was given his own show, It’s Marty. He worked on the Marty Feldman Comedy Machine in the 1970s, which was aired in America as well as Britain.

In 1971, he appeared at the Oz trial; the magazine was being tried for obscenity and Feldman testified as part of the defense.

Becoming A Film Actor

Left: Dom DeLuise, Mel Brooks and Marty Feldman in 'Silent Movie.' Right: Sivi Aberg and Marty Feldman in 'Silent Movie.' Source: (IMDB)

Feldman's first venture into film was Every Home Should Have One. Although he played an ad executive in the film, it did afford him the opportunity to incorporate physical stunts, seemingly inspired by Buster Keaton. He admired and was influenced by the actors of the silent films, in particular, Buster Keaton, whom he emulated in some of his more physical comedy.

In 1974, Feldman had the role he may be best remembered for: Igor. Gene Wilder was a fan of the Marty Feldman Comedy Machine and wrote the character of Igor in Young Frankenstein specifically for Feldman. After this movie, Feldman worked again with Gene Wilder (in The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother) and Mel Brooks (in Silent Movie). He was then asked to direct and act in The Last Remake of Beau Geste; this film was a bit of a debacle.

Marty Feldman, The Director

Left: The poster for 'The Last Remake Of Beau Geste.' Right: Marty Feldman, Ann-Margret, and Michael Yourk. Source: (IMDB)

By the mid-'70s, Marty Feldman had established himself as a talented comedian and writer -- Universal Pictures figured he was a comedy auteur with a big future ahead of him. His directorial debut was The Last Remake Of Beau Geste (1977), using a script he wrote himself and featuring a star-studded cast. Ann-Margret, Michael York, Peter Ustinov, and James Earl Jones joined Feldman in Spain and Ireland for a shoot that was plagued with issues and would run way over schedule and over budget. In Spain, heavy rains delayed shooting, and a case of chickenpox sidelined Feldman for a time.

After Feldman turned in his cut of the film, Universal did their own, which had a different score, followed a more linear structure, and eliminated the more Monty Python-esque elements (John Cleese's performance as Sherlock Holmes was deleted altogether). Both cuts were shown to audiences, and Feldman's actually tested higher, but Universal's cut was the one released in theaters. Critics were split on the movie, with some finding it to be a clever parody of an old Hollywood subject, and others panning it as second-rate Mel Brooks.

Nonetheless, Beau Geste was commercially successful, and Feldman went on to write, direct and star in In God We Trust (1980), which also featured Peter Boyle, Andy Kaufman, and Richard Pryor.

Marty Feldman's Final Role

John Cleese and Marty Feldman in Yellowbeard. Source: (IMDB)

In 1981, he was invited to work on Yellowbeard with Graham Chapman. They were filming in Mexico when Feldman died of a heart attack after getting food poisoning. However, Feldman smoked excessively and consumed significant amounts of coffee daily to keep his energy levels high. Despite the fact that he was a vegetarian, he ate a lot of dairy and eggs. All of these factors, as well as the high altitude of Mexico City probably contributed to his death. A jazz band played “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” at his funeral. He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, near his idol, Buster Keaton.

Prior to his death, he returned to the thing he loved most: writing. In 2016, his autobiography, eYE Marty, was released. He had completed it just before his death.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Gene Wilder | Marty Feldman | Mel Brooks | Monty Python | What Did He Do?... | Young Frankenstein

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!