Steve Martin Biography
Stephen "Steve" Glenn Martin is an Emmy Award-winning American actor, comedian, writer, playwright, producer, musician, and composer. He was raised in Southern California in a Baptist family, where his early influences were working at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm and working magic and comedy acts at these and other smaller venues in the area. His ascent to fame picked up when he became a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and later became a frequent guest on the Tonight Show.
In the 1970s, Martin performed his offbeat, absurdist comedy routines before packed houses on national tours. In the 1980s, having branched away from stand-up comedy, he became a successful actor, playwright, and juggler, and eventually earned him an Emmy, Grammy, and American Comedy awards.
Martin was born in Waco, Texas, the son of Mary Lee Martin and Glenn Vernon Martin, a real estate salesman and an aspiring actor.
Martin was raised in Garden Grove, California. One of his earliest memories is of seeing his father, as an extra, serving drinks onstage at the Call Board Theatre on Melrose Place. During World War II, in England, Glenn had appeared in a production of Our Town with Raymond Massey. Years later, he would write to Massey for help in Steve's fledgling career, but would receive no reply. Expressing his affection through gifts of cars, bikes etc., Glenn was not emotionally open to his son. He was proud of the boy but extremely critical, Steve later recalling that in his teens his feelings for his dad were mostly ones of hatred.
His first job was at Disneyland, selling guidebooks on weekends and fulltime during the summer school break. That lasted for three years (1955–1958). During his free time he haunted the Disneyland magic shop, Merlin's Magic Shop, where tricks were demonstrated to the potential customers. By 1960 he had mastered several of the tricks and illusions, and took a job there in August 1960. There he perfected his talents for magic, juggling, playing the banjo and creating balloon animals frequntly performing for tips.
After high school graduation, Martin attended Santa Ana Junior College, taking classes in drama and English poetry. In his free time he teamed up with friend and Garden Grove High School classmate Kathy Westmoreland to participate in comedies and other productions at the Bird Cage Theatre, a theater concession inside Knott's Berry Farm. Later, he met budding actress Stormie Sherk, and they developed comedy routines while becoming romantically involved. Stormie's influence caused Steve to apply to Long Beach State College for enrollment with a major in Philosophy. Stormie enrolled at UCLA, about an hour's drive north, and the distance eventually caused them to lead separate lives.
His philosophy classes intrigued him, and for a short while he considered becoming a professor instead of an actor-comedian. His time at college changed his life: "It changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, 'Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!' Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up, that it's easy . . . and it's thrilling." Martin periodically spoofed his philosophy studies in his 1970s stand-up act, comparing philosophy with studying geology. "If you're studying geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all, but philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life."
In 1967, Martin transferred to UCLA and switched his major to theater. While attending college, he appeared in an episode of The Dating Game. Martin soon began working local clubs at night, to mixed notices. At age twenty-one, he dropped out of college for good.
In 1967, his former girlfriend Nina Goldblatt, a dancer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, helped Martin land a writing job with the show by submitting his work to head writer Mason Williams. Williams initially paid Martin out of his own pocket. Along with the other writers for the show, Martin won an Emmy Award in 1969. He also wrote for John Denver (a neighbor of his in Aspen, Colorado, at one point), The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. He also appeared on these shows and several others, in various comedy skits. During these years his roommates included comedian Gary Mule Deer and singer/guitarist Michael Johnson.
Martin also performed his own material, sometimes as an opening act for groups such as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and The Carpenters. He appeared at San Francisco's The Boarding House, among other venues. He continued to write, earning an Emmy nomination for his work on Van Dyke and Company in 1976.
In the mid-1970s, Martin made frequent appearances as a stand-up comedian on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. That exposure, together with appearances on The Gong Show, HBO's On Location and NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) (on which, despite a common misconception, he was never a cast member) led to his first of four comedy albums, Let's Get Small. The album was a huge success; one of its tracks, "Excuse Me", helped establish a national catch phrase. His next album, A Wild and Crazy Guy, was an even bigger success, reaching the #2 spot on the sales chart in the U.S. and featured another catch phrase (the album's title), also featured in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Martin and Dan Aykroyd played a couple of bumbling Czechoslovak would-be playboys, the Festrunk Brothers. The album ended with a song "King Tut", sung and written by Martin and released as a 45 RPM single during the King Tut craze that accompanied the extremely popular traveling exhibit of the Egyptian king's tomb artifacts; the single reached #17 in 1978. The song was backed by the "Toot Uncommons" (they were actually members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). The album was a million seller. Both albums won Grammys for Best Comedy Recording in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Steve performed "King Tut" on the April 22, 1978 edition of SNL. In his comedy albums, Martin's stand-up comedy was clearly self-referential and sometimes self-mocking. It mixes philosophical riffs with sudden spurts of "happy feet", banjo playing with balloon depictions of concepts like venereal disease. His style is off-kilter and ironic, and sometimes pokes fun at stand-up comedy traditions, such as Martin opening his act by saying, "I think there's nothing better for a person to come up and do the same thing over and over for two weeks. This is what I enjoy, so I'm going to do the same thing over and over and over....I'm going to do the same joke over and over in the same show, it'll be like a new thing." Or: "Hello, I'm Steve Martin, and I'll be out here in a minute . . . "
During his frequent SNL guest appearances, Martin popularized the air quotes gesture, which uses four fingers to make double quote marks in the air.
Martin related that in one comedy routine (used on the Comedy Is Not Pretty! LP) he denies that he is named "Steve Martin"; his real name is "Gern Blanston". He said that the riff took on a life of its own, and there is even a Gern Blanston website, and for a time a rock band used the words as its name.
While on Saturday Night Live, Martin became very close with several of the cast members. One was Gilda Radner. On the day Radner died from ovarian cancer in 1989, Martin was to host SNL. Instead of delivering the intended monologue, Martin showed a video clip of him and Radner appearing in a 1978 sketch. He introduced the clip to the audience and became overcome with grief and started to cry.
Martin has guest-hosted Saturday Night Live 15 times, as of his January 2009 hosting (musical guest: Jason Mraz), breaking his previous record of 14 (now held by fellow frequent host Alec Baldwin) and retaining his title as SNL's most frequent host (a record Martin has held since 1989, when he beat Buck Henry's record of ten).
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, Martin was voted one of the top 15 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
By the end of the 1970s, Martin had acquired the kind of following normally reserved for rock stars, with his tour appearances typically occurring at sold-out arenas filled with tens of thousands of screaming fans. But unknown to his audience, stand-up comedy was "just an accident" for him. His real goal was to get into film. Martin's first film was a short, The Absent-Minded Waiter (1977). The seven-minute long film, also featuring Buck Henry and Teri Garr, was written by and starred Martin. The film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Film, Live Action. His first feature film appearance was in the musical Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, where he sang The Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". In 1979, Martin co-wrote and starred in his first full-length movie, The Jerk, directed by Carl Reiner. The movie was a huge success, grossing over $73 million on a budget of far less than that amount.
The success of The Jerk opened more doors for Martin. Stanley Kubrick met with him to discuss the possibility of Martin starring in a screwball comedy version of Traumnovelle (Kubrick later changed his approach to the material, the result of which was 1999's Eyes Wide Shut). Martin was executive producer for Domestic Life, a prime-time television series starring friend Martin Mull, and a late-night series called Twilight Theater. It emboldened Martin to try his hand at his first serious film, Pennies From Heaven, a movie he was anxious to do because of the desire to avoid being typecast. To prepare for that film, Martin took acting lessons from director Herbert Ross, and spent months learning how to tap dance. The film was a financial failure; Martin's comment at the time was "I don't know what to blame, other than it's me and not a comedy."
Martin was in three more Reiner-directed comedies after The Jerk: Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid in 1982, The Man with Two Brains in 1983 and All of Me in 1984, possibly his most critically acclaimed comic performance to date. In 1986, Martin joined fellow Saturday Night Live veterans Martin Short and Chevy Chase in ¡Three Amigos!, directed by John Landis, and written by Martin, Lorne Michaels, and singer-songwriter Randy Newman. It was originally entitled The Three Caballeros and Martin was to be teamed with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. In 1986, Martin was in the movie musical film version of the hit off-Broadway play Little Shop of Horrors (based on a famous B-movie), as a sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello. The film also marked the first of three films teaming Martin with actor Rick Moranis. In 1987, Martin joined comedian John Candy in the John Hughes movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles. That same year, the Cyrano de Bergerac adaptation Roxanne, a film Martin co-wrote, won him a Writers Guild of America, East award and more importantly, the recognition from Hollywood and the public that he was more than a comedian. In 1988, he performed in the Frank Oz comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels alongside Michael Caine.
Martin starred in the Ron Howard film Parenthood, with Moranis in 1989. He later met with Moranis to make the Mafia comedy My Blue Heaven in 1990. In 1991, Martin starred in and wrote L.A. Story (a romantic comedy, in which the female lead was played by his then-wife Victoria Tennant) and was a member of the ensemble existentialist tragedy Grand Canyon that were both about life in Los Angeles. In a serious role, Martin played a tightly wound Hollywood film producer trying to recover from a traumatic robbery that left him injured. In contrast to the serious tone of Grand Canyon, Martin also appeared in a remake of the comedy Father of the Bride in 1991 (followed by a sequel in 1995). He also starred in the 1992 comedy film HouseSitter, with Goldie Hawn and Dana Delany. Martin also starred with Eddie Murphy in the 1999 comedy Bowfinger.
In David Mamet's 1997 thriller, The Spanish Prisoner, Martin played a darker role as a wealthy stranger who takes a suspicious interest in the work of a young businessman (Campbell Scott). He appeared in a version of Waiting for Godot as Vladimir (with Robin Williams as Estragon and Bill Irwin as Lucky). In 1998, Martin guest starred with U2 in the 200th episode of The Simpsons titled Trash of the Titans. Martin provided the voice for sanitation commissioner Ray Patterson. In 1999, Martin and Hawn starred in a remake of the 1970 Neil Simon comedy, The Out-of-Towners. By 2003, Martin ranked 4th on the box office stars list, after co-starring in Bringing Down The House and starring in Cheaper By The Dozen, each of which earned over $130 million at U.S. theaters. Both were family comedies.
In 2005, Martin wrote and starred in Shopgirl, based on his own novella. Martin played a wealthy businessman who strikes up a romance with a Saks Fifth Avenue counter girl (Claire Danes). He also starred in Cheaper by the Dozen 2 that year. Martin also starred in the 2006 box office hit The Pink Panther, standing in Peter Sellers' shoes as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, a role which he reprised in 2009's The Pink Panther 2. His other most recent work to date is the 2008 comedy Baby Mama, where he plays a holistic and self-absorbed founder of a health foods company.
Throughout the 1990s, after Tina Brown took over The New Yorker, Martin wrote various pieces for the magazine. They later appeared in the collection Pure Drivel. In 1993, Martin wrote the play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which had a successful run in several American cities. In 2009, after the La Grande, Oregon school board refused to allow the play to be performed after several parents complained about the content, Martin offered to pay to ensure that the students could put on the production off-site.
In 2002, Martin adapted the Carl Sternheim play The Underpants, which ran Off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company.In 2008, he produced and wrote the story for the dramatic thriller Traitor, starring Don Cheadle.
Martin has also written two novellas, Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company. Shopgirl was later turned into a film (see above). In 2007, he published a memoir, Born Standing Up. Time magazine's Lev Grossman named it one of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2007, ranking it at #6, and praising it as "a funny, moving, surprisingly frank memoir."
In 2001, Martin hosted the 73rd Annual Academy Awards; he hosted it again in 2003 for the Academy Awards.
In 2005, Martin hosted a film along with Donald Duck, Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years, which was intended to show at Disneyland until the end of Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration in September 2006, but it is continuing to run indefinitely.
In 2001, he played banjo on Earl Scruggs' remake of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". The recording was the winner of the Best Country Instrumental Performance category at the following year's Grammys. Martin released his first all-music album, The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo exclusively to Amazon.com on January 27, 2009, with a wider release scheduled for May 19, 2009.
Martin has been involved with artists Allyson Hollingsworth and Cindy Sherman, and the actresses Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Heche, Maureen McCormick and Bernadette Peters. He was married to actress Victoria Tennant from November 20, 1986 until 1994.
On July 28, 2007, Martin married Anne Stringfield (born 1972) at his Los Angeles home. Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey presided over the ceremony. Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live, was his best man. Several of the guests, including close friends Tom Hanks, Eugene Levy, comedian Carl Reiner, and magician/actor Ricky Jay were not informed that a wedding ceremony would take place. Instead, they were told they were invited to a party, and were surprised by the nuptials.
Awards and honors
Along with the other writers for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Steve won an Emmy Award in 1969.
In 1978 Martin won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for Let's Get Small, and in 1979 for A Wild and Crazy Guy. He also shared a 2001 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance with Earl Scruggs (and others) for his banjo performance of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".
In August 1989 Martin received the first honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from California State University Long Beach, where he studied philosophy 1964 to 1967 before transferring to UCLA for theater.
On October 23, 2005, Martin was presented with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Martin was honored in 2005 with a Disney Legend award, acknowledging Martin's early career at Disneyland and connections with The Walt Disney Company throughout his career.
Martin was honored at the 30th Annual Kennedy Center Honors on December 1, 2007.