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Our Jewish Hollywood: 5 facts about Marty Feldman, the young Frankenstein

The author and screenwriter who was a vegetarian, smoked five packs of cigarettes a day and could act with his eyes

Marty Feldman (1934 – 1982) was born into a family of Jewish emigrants from Kiev, lived in London and died in Mexico. He was an excellent screenwriter who came to this profession with no qualifications, but with a rich life experience (including living on the street). In his short but striking acting career, Marty, who had an extremely eccentric appearance, with unique eyes that pointed in different directions, appeared in 10 films.

“I’m too old to die young, and too young to grow up,” Feldman told a journalist one week before his death.
Marty’s life took so many different turns – success, failures and various transformations – that it deserves to be made into a film itself. His memoirs, which could serve as the basis for a film, were found quite recently.

1. Marty Feldman tried out many professions

The son of a poor tailor was not distinguished by his love of learning – at the age of 15 he left school and decided he would become a great jazz musician. He performed in London clubs, but soon gained the reputation of the “worst trumpeter in the world”, and had to give it up. To earn a living, Marty also found a job at a racetrack, was a pupil of an Indian fakir, worked as a kitchen assistant, and even at an advertising agency.

Marty was surprised to discover that he could write well. Combing this talent with his wonderful sense of humor, Feldman began to write poems, and also scripts for comedy programs on TV and radio.

In the late 1950s, Feldman began his career as a scriptwriter of radio sketches and comedies on the BBC, and even inspired the future members of Monty Python. Thanks to his unusual appearance Feldman also began appearing on screen – he did not play romantic lovers, of course, but simple-minded fools, but he acted brilliantly.
The BBC gave him his own show, “Marty”. He wrote the scripts (co-authoring them with other writers), and played the lead role. This show was so successful that it won two BAFTA awards.

2. Marty Feldman suffered from a disease of the thyroid gland

Marty Feldman stood out for his extremely unusual appearance – he had a crooked nose and enormous bulging eyes that pointed in different directions. And if his nose was just a consequence of his interest in boxing as a youth, his strange eyes had a serious medical explanation.

“I didn’t look like this as a child,” Marty admitted in 1976. “The incredible exhaustion I suffered, writing scripts for 39 episodes of the show every year for 3 years, plus 2 radio shows a week, led to chronic problems with my thyroid gland. I was operated on, and I was promised that my eyes would soon become normal again. This was 14 years ago. I’m still waiting. Now I look at life crookedly – not with anger, but with suspicion. In fact, both of my eyes are ideal – but they don’t work together… A person gets used to everything and can benefit from everything that happens to him. You’ve got what you’ve got – and as you can see, I am quite good at recovering from the blows of fate.”

It was his eyes that helped Marty Feldman to succeed in film – he had no trouble in securing the role of Igor in Mel Brooks’ Hollywood film “Young Frankenstein”. The film, which was a parody of the old film “Frankenstein” (1931), has a scene where the actor in the leading role, Gene Wilder (who also wrote the screenplay) says to Igor (Marty): “Damn your eyes”, and Marty turns to the camera and says “Too late”. Evidently this episode was written especially for Marty – it’s hard to imagine that anyone else would have looked so perfect in this scene.

“I could have fixed my eyes and nose, but that would have been a mistake,” Marty said. “Comedians are too eager to play lead roles. They force the thin man inside the fat one to act unnaturally and lose the connection with their real talents.”

3. Feldman was proposed to, and he accepted

Martin Feldman and Loretta Sullivan were married in January 1959. But the wedding might not have taken place if Loretta hadn’t been so bold. She was the one who proposed to Martin, rather than the other way around. They met every day for nine months, but he couldn’t summon up the courage to propose to her. In the end, Loretta took the initiative, and they lived long and happily – and as their wedding vows put it, until death did them part. The death of Martin.

After Feldman passed away, Loretta found his memoirs, but she took his death so hard that she did not tell anyone about the book. She realized that there was a strong interest in publishing the book, but she wanted to avoid the publicity. The memoirs were found in the family archive in 2010, and they were only published in November 2015.

4. Marty Feldman didn’t eat meat and was a heavy smoker

Marty Feldman did not eat meat, but he did eat dairy products and eggs, and also sometimes ate fish. However, he also drank coffee by the liter and smoked 4-6 packs of cigarettes a day, so you couldn’t say that he had a healthy lifestyle.

5. According to one theory, Marty Feldman died of food poisoning

At the end of 1982 Marty Feldman went to Mexico to appear in the film “Yellowbeard”, but did not return. The official reason for his death was a heart attack – the doctors and the police decided to settle for this obvious explanation and did not hold an autopsy.

The old problem with his thyroid gland seriously affected his heart, but Feldman always pretended that everything was fine, and didn’t take much care of his health (just take his love of coffee). Friends remember that before he died, the famous animator Sergio Aragones gave Feldman a terrible fright, and he started feeling bad. According to another theory, Mexico is located too far above sea level and the air there is heavily ionized, which could also have caused Marty to feel bad. A third theory has it that he may have been poisoned by seafood – the friend he dined with also felt ill, but he recovered from the poisoning, but for Feldman the meal had a tragic end.


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