Marty Feldman was a comic genius who never missed an opportunity to make fun of himself. The Brit got his big breakthrough in Mel Brooks’ 1974 film Young Frankenstein, where his character’s name, Igor, was pronounced: “Eye-Gor.”
Unfortunately, Feldman suffered from thyroid eye disease – also known as Graves’ disease – which made his eyes both misaligned, and meant that they stuck out.
Despite Feldman having no problem poking fun at himself, his eye condition made his life tough. He was bullied as a young man, and when he made his way into show business, he was even taunted by his own boss. However, Feldman resolved to never let it get him down, and he perfected his writing and acting skills in the knowledge that his differences would be noticed by all.
Ultimately, Feldman’s career was a huge success story – though, sadly, his life ended tragically. Here’s all you need to know about the iconic Marty Feldman!
When one thinks about Hollywood, it’s impossible not to imagine glamor, notable celebrities, big, lavish houses, and magnificent galas. Most people think of Hollywood stars as amongst the most beautiful people on the planet, a carefully selected bunch that have one thing in common: they won the jackpot on the genetic lottery.
However, that isn’t always the case, and incredibly good looks certainly don’t have to be present if one wants to become a star.
We’ve witnessed many Hollywood stars with distinct looks over the years, some down to different conditions or disabilities. Take Michael Berryman – famous from The Hills Have Eyes – for example, who has become something of a role model for others dreaming of pursuing a career as an actor.
Being comfortable in one’s skin is vitally important. Likewise, self-confidence is crucial, regardless of what perceived flaws you might have.
Marty Feldman – the unique Hollywood star
Now, we all have things we’re perhaps not one-hundred percent happy with, but in the end, feeling comfortable and accepted for who you are is crucial in life. The trick is to accept yourself, not chase acceptance from others, though that’s obviously easier said than done.
While some deal with their perceived flaws by changing hairstyles, going to the gym, or even having surgery, others feel that change at a more fundamental level is needed.
Now, we want to reiterate that you should always do whatever makes you happy and comfortable. That said, we’d advise seeing a legitimate specialist if you’re ever considering surgery – no matter what it’s for. Your body is on the line, so do your research well.
As stated, specific individuals alter their bodies or appearance because they are uncomfortable, while others accept who they are without caring what people think. That was the case for Marty Feldman, the famous comedian and actor who got his big breakthrough in the 1974 film Young Frankenstein.
Feldman had thyroid eye disease, which made his eyes bulge out, giving him a rather unique look. This look was far from beneficial in the beginning, but as Feldman began to accept his distinct appearance, he was able to instead take advantage of his situation.
Marty Feldman – early life
Marty Feldman was born Martin Alan Feldman on July 8, 1934, in London, England. Growing up in the East End neighborhood of Canning Town, his parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. He recalled they were poor and “always slipping out of digs” because they couldn’t pay the rent.
Marty was usually the only Jewish student when he went to school, and attending classes wasn’t his favorite thing. As The Jewish Daily Forward reported, he both ran away from schools he attended and got expelled several times.
“I didn’t do Bible class because I was a Jew,” Marty recalled in the autobiography eYE Marty. “They didn’t know what to do with me, so they would just give me extra Maths. The Bible must have been hard work because God knows Maths was.”
At an early age, Feldman had already found comedy very interesting. It became something of an escape for him, a way to soften the blows dealt by the bullying that came at the hands of his classmates and teachers. He had seen comedian Danny Kaye perform at the London Palladium, and after that decided to give it a go.
Feldman began appearing at bar mitzvahs, attempting to start his own comedy career. However, when he stole material from Jack Carson and Mickey Rooney, the audience wasn’t left impressed.
“I didn’t see anything incongruous in a 12-year-old smoking a cigarette and talking about my wife,” Feldman recalled. “I couldn’t understand why they’d got annoyed with me!”
From the very beginning, Feldman had a unique look. He had a thyroid problem which was later diagnosed as Graves’ disease.
Graves’ disease – eye condition
As a result, his eyes were misaligned and bulged out of their sockets. According to a 1979 article in the Charlotte News, things were complicated further when, as a child, he almost drowned, and doctors were forced to perform a tracheotomy. In his youth, he also broke his nose many times boxing for the Jewish Lads Brigade, which gave it a very special look.
“Physically, I am basically equipped to be a clown,” he once said.
Feldman dropped out of school before his 15th birthday and decided to try something new in life. He had found an early love for jazz and even moved to Paris, where he landed some gigs. At an early stage, though, the soon-to-be comedian and actor realized that music wasn’t really his thing.
Upon returning to England, he began writing poetry and comedy sketches, and not long after, a comedy writer named John Law took an interest in him.
That led him to his first writing gig at the BBC called Educating Archie, and in 1966 he became the chief writer and script editor on the BBC satirical show The Frost Report – the very same show that first introduced legendary comedian John Cleese to British television viewers. It also became the show that turned Marty Feldman into a comedy sensation.
“At the end of the show series, David [Frost] asked the writers to prepare a comedy special and write themselves into it,” Marty explained.
“The other three all had the experience, but somehow, they included me. I participated in the pilot film as a performer, and the show sold.”
“The eyes will frighten people.”
With his writing partner Berry Took, Feldman wrote scripts for the sitcoms The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge. Moreover, they also wrote three episodes for the BBC comedy series Round the Horne, which in the mid-1960s had more than 15 million listeners per episode.
As mentioned, Feldman never really cared about what other people thought regarding his appearance. When he began working at The Frost Report, though, it became an issue.
Reportedly, comedian and talk show host David Frost didn’t like Marty’s appearance. He even threatened to leave if he got more airtime, believing “the eyes will frighten people.”
In 1967, Feldman decided to try his luck in front of the camera rather than remain in the shadows. Along with Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and John Cleese he became a co-star on At Last the 1948 Show. Despite Frost believing it was a bad idea to put Feldman in front of the camera, the show was a huge success. In fact, it was from that show that Monty Python was formed.
In the early 1970s, Marty focused on becoming a star in front of the camera. The comedian and scriptwriter got the lead in the 1970 comedy film Every Home Should Have One.
Four years later, he was to get his big breakthrough in the US when Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder cast Feldman in Young Frankenstein.
Marty Feldman in ‘Young Frankenstein’
Brooks was very fond of Marty. His character was named Igor, but ironically enough, it was pronounced: “Eye-Gor.”
“First, I tried to find out where he was looking,” Brooks recalled about working with Feldman on Young Frankenstein.
“His eyes stare in about 19 different directions. They look like hard-boiled eggs that somebody painted eyeballs on and didn’t paint them on right. So first, I’d get in the path of his vision and try to signal him down. Then I’d say, ‘Marty, be very good.’ He’d say, ‘All right.’ And he was. After Marty, there will never be another Igor. They’ll have to retire the part. He’s it.”
At this point, Feldman’s life was perfect. Not only was his career flourishing, but the show business star also had a happy family life. He had married his wife Lauretta Sullivan in 1959, and the couple welcomed two children.
Feldman knew he had something special with his “froggish” eyes. But even though he had gotten his big breakthrough, he also understood that he would never be a big, leading star.
Yet, as he put it himself: “If I aspired to be Robert Redford, I’d have my eyes straightened out, and my nose fixed and end up like every other lousy actor, with two lines on [the 1970 cop show] Kojak. This way, I’m a novelty.”
Feldman even described his appearance as “the sum total of the disasters of my life,” and the fact that he came to accept how he looked was most likely the best thing he could do.
He even got his own variety show, The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, on late-night television, but unfortunately, it was very short-lived. In 1975, he appeared with Gene Wilder in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.
Marty Feldman – tragic passing from shellfish poisoning
Feldman also got to try his hand at a career in the director’s chair, calling the shots for The Last Remake of Beau Geste and the 1980 film In God We Tru$t. Sadly, neither performed well, and due to the bad box office returns, Universal ultimately canceled his contract.
Feldman was all set to make his big comeback when he took a role in the pirate film Yellowbeard. In December of 1982, the film was wrapping up filming in Mexico City – but it ended in a tragedy.
Feldman was waiting in his hotel room in case he needed to reshoot anything for the film when he suffered a massive heart attack due to shellfish poisoning and died at age 48.
Around 100 of his closest friends and relatives attended a service in the Hollywood Hills before he was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, close to his comedy idol Buster Keaton.
He stayed married to his wife Lauretta until the very end.
“People recognized the love and humanity in him. He approached everyone as an equal; that’s why children loved him,” friend and fellow actor Henry Pollack said.
“Marty Feldman never liked funerals, so I guess he wouldn’t have liked this one. But he showed up anyway, didn’t he?”
“Marty Feldman was uniquely gifted,” Mel Brooks said. “There are too many complicated feelings that make it difficult, if not impossible, to express this kind of loss in words. I’ll miss him.”