Nan Martin dies at 82; prolific actress


Nan Martin, a stage, TV and film actress who played Ali MacGraw’s snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and was a mainstay on the Southern California theater scene for decades, has died. She was 82.

Martin, who suffered from emphysema, died Thursday at her home in Malibu, said her son Casey Dolan.

Among Martin’s Broadway credits are a Tony-nominated role in Archibald MacLeish’s “J.B.” (1958-59), directed by Elia Kazan; “Under the Yum Yum Tree” (1960-61); and Tennessee Williams’ “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale” (1976).


She also was a mainstay actress in Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park productions in New York in the early 1960s.

For 50 years, beginning in 1955, Martin amassed scores of television credits -- including episodes of “The Untouchables,” “The Twilight Zone,” “NYPD Blue” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

She also played the supporting role of Mrs. Louder on “The Drew Carey Show” and appeared in more than two dozen films, including “Toys in the Attic,” “For Love of Ivy” and “Shallow Hal.”

In the 1969 comedy-drama “Goodbye, Columbus,” Martin played opposite Jack Klugman as Mrs. Ben Patimkin, MacGraw’s unflattering, nouveau-riche mother, who despises her daughter’s unambitious new boyfriend, played by Richard Benjamin.

“She was so aloof with me during the shooting,” MacGraw said of Martin in her autobiography, “Moving Pictures,” “that it wasn’t until the last day that I realized her behavior had all been in character.”

Mothers, in all their diversity, became a staple of Martin’s career, which also included playing lawyer Douglas Brackman’s dying mother on “L.A. Law” and fiendish Freddy Krueger’s mother (Sister Mary Helena/Amanda Krueger) in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.”

The maternal roles frequently extended to the stage. In reviewing “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale,” then-New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote that Martin “glitters like a bejeweled snake as the awful mother.”

In 1986, she found herself juggling her role as the mother in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa with daily rehearsals as the mother in a Los Angeles Theatre Center production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.”

Martin appeared numerous times on the South Coast Repertory stage, including in a leading role in “Odd Jobs” in 1992, for which she won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award.

One of her other notable roles at SCR was that of Miss Helen in South African playwright Athol Fugard’s three-person play “The Road to Mecca” in 1989. That led to her playing the same role -- opposite Fugard himself as the preacher -- at Washington’s Kennedy Center. Her performance earned her that city’s Helen Hayes Award.

“She was one of our superstars,” Martin Benson, artistic director at South Coast Repertory, told The Times. “She did a lot of television and all that, but her real love was theater. You could always dangle a part in front of her, and she’d jump at it.”

Added Benson, who directed Martin in a number of productions: “She was a grand lady. She had a very elegant, queenly-like bearing about her, and yet underneath it all she was just a big kid.”

Born in Decatur, Ill., on July 15, 1927, Martin was reared in Santa Monica. She was attending UCLA part time when she was chosen for a role in a campus production of “The Gentle People.”

Working as a model for fashion designer Adrian, she saved enough money to go to New York, where she made her Broadway debut in 1950, playing a supporting role in the short-lived “A Story for a Sunday Evening.”

Martin was married twice. Her first husband, whom she divorced, was screen composer Robert Emmett Dolan, with whom she had a son, Casey.

Besides Casey, she is survived by her second husband, architect Harry Gesner; and their son, actor-producer Zen Gesner; as well as three grandsons.