The brilliant but tragic life of comedian Marty Feldman: He wasn’t allowed on television because his eyes ‘frightened’ people

This great writer, comedian and actor went his own way and never cared about what people thought of his appearance.


When thinking of Hollywood, the first thing that comes to mind is the glam and the perfect bodies and faces of the celebrities whose lives seem to be picture-perfect. But as with every living person out there, these people deal with issues and face different struggles, most times, away from the public eye.

One thing is, however, certain, and that is that being different doesn’t always fit the standards imposed by societies so these people sometimes find it hard to fit in, especially in Hollywood. Luckily, that is not always the case, and the story of comedian Marty Feldman is the perfect proof of that.

This incredibly talented man was diagnosed with thyroid eye disease, also known as Graves’ disease, which made his eyes both misaligned and sticking out.

Rainer Binder/ullstein bild via Getty Images

At one point of his life, this condition seemed to be an obstacle towards the fulfillment of his dream of reaching for the stars and becoming a comedian, but luckily, despite his condition, Marty knew how to love and accept himself the way he was, and his self-confidence was crucial in pursuing a career in the world of film.

Being a Jew made things difficult for him while he was a student, and he even got expelled from several schools. Recalling that period of his life, Marty wrote in his autobiography, eYE Marty, “I didn’t do Bible class because I was a Jew. 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.”

Marty fell in love with comedy from early age and was determined to make it big. Eventually, his dream did come true, but the road to fame wasn’t an easy one.


At one point in his life, while he was still very young, a comedy writer named John Law took an interest in Marty’s sketches and 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.

“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.”

He and Berry Took wrote scripts for the sitcoms The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge. In addition to that, the two also wrote three episodes for the BBC comedy series Round the Horne, which at the time, the mid-1960s, had more than 15 million listeners per episode.

Up until he started working at The Frost Report, Marty’s appearance didn’t seem to be an issue, at least Marty himself didn’t mind the way he looked, but others didn’t think so.

Namely, comedian and talk show host David Frost threatened to leave the show in case Marty was given more airtime as he believed “the eyes will frighten people.”

Geluidwiki – Gallery /Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

In 1967, Marty, together with Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and John Cleese, started the show At Last the 1948 Show. It was a huge success and it was from that show that Monty Python was formed.

In 1970, Marty got a lead role in Every Home Should Have One, and two years later, he landed a role in Young Frankenstein. His character’s name was Igor, but was ironically pronounced as Eye-Gor.

“First, I tried to find out where he was looking,” Mel Brooks, who cast Marty in the film, recalled about working with him 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.”

Actor Marty Feldman and wife Lauretta Sullivan. (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Marty was aware that his looks were the reason he couldn’t be a leading star.

“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,” he once said.

Marty even tried himself as a director, but both his films, The Last Remake of Beau Geste and the 1980 film In God We Tru$t, had bad box-office returns so Universal canceled his contract.


When it came to his private life, he was married to Lauretta Sullivan and they had two children together. The two stayed together until his tragic passing in December of 1982. As the filming of Yellowbeard was wrapping up in Mexico, Marty suffered a massive heart attack due to shellfish poisoning. He was 48.

The great comedian was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, close to his comedy idol Buster Keaton.

“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.”

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