“Comedy, like sodomy, is an unnatural act“. Marty Feldman
Mel Brooks describes Marty Feldman as definitely the most complicated human being he has ever met. A young writer who had always wanted to be a poet or at least a trumpet player. An Englishman who hated his own race and considered British people unnatural, uptight and passionless creatures. An actor who smoked six packets of cigarettes a day and drank nothing but coffee. A vegetarian who stood up for animal rights and who had openly declared he would never eat anything that has intelligent life, but he would gladly eat a network executive or a politician. A director who was diagnosed with hyperthyrodism at the age of 27. A condition which gave him his famous bulging eyes that became his trademark appearance and gave him the part of Igor In Young Frankenstein. A manic depressive who on his 21st birthday was attacked in Cardiff by a Scottish dwarf. A comedian who swam to another island while filming in Mexico, in order to find fresh lobster and coconuts, and died of food poisoning once he had found them and eaten them.
Marty was born in London with a hunger for rebellion. He kept getting thrown out of schools, until he eventually threw schools and teachers out of his world. Soon afterwards he left home as well and little by little grew to hate the English people, their country, their “cold showers and mathematics”, “their bald, bony heads”, their “dash lenses and raincoats” and repeatedly referred to them as “passionless mass murderers” and “little bank clerks”. As a teenager Marty left the UK and travelled to Paris, where at the age of 15 he supported himself through petty crime.
But although angry with everyone and unimpressed by everything, he was extremely energetic, ambitious, a hard working writer and a passionate lover of jazz. He was writing constantly while listening to music. Novels, stories, poems, sketches, jokes, commentaries. And in 1954, he returned to the UK where he met Barry Took. Together, they formed a comedy writing duo and wrote The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge for British television. At the same time they worked on the BBC radio show titled Round the Horne. The scripts made Marty one of the biggest comedy writers of the 1950s.
His first appearance on the screen was in At Last The 1948 Show, where he worked with two Monty Pythons (Graham Chapman and John Cleese) and a Goodie (Tim Brooke-Taylor). He was invited to write and perform with the other three by Cleese, who was at the time looking for a fourth person to join his team. During the making of this project, the team also wrote the Four Yorkshiremen sketch which became famous mainly after the Monty Python formed as a group, leading to the misconception that it is a Monty Python sketch.
After this, Marty went on to do his own show for the BBC called Marty, the script of which he wrote together with John Cleese, who didn’t appear in the series despite his association. The program became extremely popular and appealed to an international audience, which led to him being offered film roles during the late 1960s and early 1970s. His first movie role was in Every Home Should Have One.
In 1974, he landed the role of Igor in Mel Brooks‘ Young Frankenstein, a part that made him an international star. Most of his lines as Igor were improvised, and as Gene Wilder has said, he had Marty in mind when he was creating Igor’s part, so he and Mel Brooks gave the actor absolute freedom as he would sure do it better than the writers ever could, since they were merely trying to recreate this comedian’s strangeness and wittiness.
In 1975, Marty Feldman teamed again with Gene Wilder for The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and the next year he starred in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, which earned him a Golden Globe Nomination. In 1982 he died in Mexico City of food poisoning while filming Yellowbeard. Marty was buried next to Buster Keaton, his one and only idol.
His role as Igor gave him international success and allowed him to move to Beverly Hills and have a real shot in Hollywood. However he was never happy there, as his hunger for rebellion never left him alone. He hated the rich and preferred to keep to himself than dream of befriending any of the celebrities he was being introduced to. As a football fanatic, he was spending most of his time in Beverly Hills playing football with a group of Italian waiters that he had gotten to know. When he was invited to meet Frank Sinatra, he firmly refused, saying he didn’t approve of his politics. And when he was told by the judge to be silent during the Oz trial, Marty replied “Why? Am I waking you up”?
Never self conscious about his looks, he made fun of his eye condition whenever he’d be given the chance, saying he was the only actor to have ever appeared in a horror film without makeup. Exceptional in all his performances, with impeccable comical timing and rare writing skills, Marty Feldman is definitely one of the funniest and most talented radicals the world has ever known.