Depending on your point of view, this silver-haired humorist is either a sophisticated intellectual or a lowbrow clown. In fact he is both, and has somehow managed to appeal both to the mainstream a...
Depending on your point of view, this silver-haired humorist is either a sophisticated intellectual or a lowbrow clown. In fact he is both, and has somehow managed to appeal both to the mainstream and the intelligentsia, ever since he launched his showbiz career in the late '60s. A college dropout who majored in philosophy, Martin initially found work as a comedy writer, picking up an Emmy for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later showcasing his sketch and stand-up skills on multiple '70s series, notably The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Saturday Night Live. Although he was never an official SNL cast member, he frequently appeared on the late-night show, strumming his banjo and playing kooky characters like King Tut and one of two "wild and crazy" swinging Czech brothers opposite Dan Aykroyd. During the decade, Martin released a succession of popular Grammy-winning comedy albums and toured the country, often filling stadiums. A movie career seemed inevitable, and in 1979 he headlined and cowrote the hilariously crass comedy The Jerk. Directed by friend Carl Reiner and costarring his then-girlfriend, Bernadette Peters, the hit film cast Martin as an oddly endearing dimwit who endures an extraordinary life of highs and lows. Never one to shy away from a risk, two years later he and Peters reteamed for the dark musical Pennies from Heaven, in which Martin bizarrely lip-synched to Depression-era recordings. The movie went bust, and he quickly returned to his silly roots, starring in three more Reiner-directed comedies, the last of which, 1984's All of Me, was a smash that proved he had what it took for the big screen. It also marked the first time he played an uptight yuppie, an archetype he would soon be called on to play again and again. A well-liked star if not always a big box-office draw, Martin had his hits (Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Parenthood) and his flops (My Blue Heaven, Leap of Faith) but never lacked for work. He also began producing and penning many of his own vehicles, including his modern-day take on Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne, and the quirky romantic comedy L.A. Story, opposite his then-wife and former All of Me costar Victoria Tennant. In the '90s, writing became a focus for Martin. In addition to screenplays, he authored plays (Picasso at the Lapin Agile), witty essays for the New Yorker and novellas (Shopgirl, which was turned into a film in 2005). But he still managed to find time for films, alternating between broader flicks (Bowfinger) and family fare, in which this former cutup suddenly became the pent-up straight man. Yet bland, PG-rated romps such as Father of the Bride, Cheaper by the Dozen and the 2003 megahit Bringing Down the House were some of the biggest hits he'd ever had.
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