Steve Martin is one of the most popular comedians of all time. After breaking through in stand-up and as a TV personality, he went on to star in some of the biggest film comedies of the 80s and 90s.
However, there’s a lot more to Steve Martin and his career than you might have known…
20. His first ever job was at Disneyland
Working at Disneyland feels like an appropriate first job for Martin, who is well known for his gags and magic tricks. The comedian started off selling guidebooks at the theme park, and kept $0.02 for every book he sold. Martin then moved on to the Magic Shop on Disneyland’s Main Street, where he started learning all the tricks of his future trade.
Martin also spent time in the Frontierland section, where he was taught cowboy rope tricks by a rope wrangler. That particular skill came in handy once he was an established star, notably when playing a cowboy showman in ¡Three Amigos! In 2005, Disney recognised Martin’s work by honouring him with a Disney Legends plaque at the resort, bearing his name and handprints.
19. He once appeared as a contestant on The Dating Game
Steve Martin made on of his first TV appearances as a contestant on a 1968 episode of The Dating Game. He was working at the TV studio as a writer when he managed to get his childhood friend Morris Walker’s sister, Marsha, onto the show. The set-up of the game show meant that the pair were supposed to be unaware of each other’s appearance. In reality, however, they met up beforehand and came up with some hilarious potential answers and questions.
Funnily enough, Martin was the lucky contestant who ‘won’ the date, and the duo were awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Tijuana, Mexico…to watch some bullfighting?! Apparently things between Steve and Marsha took an amorous turn during the holiday, and Walker now believes that the Mexican bullfighting experience was a huge influence on ¡Three Amigos!
18. Martin’s father was his harshest critic
As Steve Martin climbed the ladder toward Hollywood superstardom, you would expect his parents to be proud and supportive. However, while the comedy legend did indeed get such support from his mother, his father was a different story. Glenn Martin was a real estate salesman who had himself tried to pursue an acting career without success.
The elder Martin was fiercely critical of his son’s work, and once wrote a scathing review of his son’s debut appearance on Saturday Night Live. The comedian’s father wrote that his son’s performance did nothing to further his career.” He also declared, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.” Later, at the premiere of Steve Martin’s breakthrough movie The Jerk, his father bluntly stated, “well, he’s no Charlie Chaplin.”
17. He is an avid art collector, but once spent a fortune on a forgery
Steve Martin has plenty of interests outside comedy, and one of his more costly hobbies is collecting famous works of art. Martin currently owns pieces by David Hockney, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and Edward Hopper. However, the entertainer once fell victim to something we usually only see in the movies: an expensive art fraud.
Martin spent $850,000 on what he believed to be a genuine work of art by the modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. Alas, the painting turned out to be a forgery, which Martin only learned when he tried to sell it and was informed by experts that it was fake. The actor and comedian hasn’t let that experience stop him from buying and selling art though, and he often makes millions of dollars at the auction house thanks to his hobby.
16. He became a father for the first time at 67 years old
Steve Martin has lived a full life, enjoying artistic success and fame the likes of which most of us will never know. However, it wasn’t until fairly late in life that he became a father for the first time. Martin married his second wife Anne Stringfield in July 2007, just a few weeks before the comedian turned 62.
A little under six years later, Anne gave birth to a baby girl, making Martin a first-time father at 67. The couple are fiercely protective of their daughter, making efforts to ensure she grows up away from the limelight. Of course, one of Martin’s best-loved films is Father of the Bride – so perhaps he will get to play that role for real one day!
15. He taught himself to play banjo at the age of 17
On top of his work as an actor, writer and comedian, Steve Martin is also noted for his musicianship, his signature instrument being the banjo. A talented player, Martin in fact taught himself to play banjo when he was 17 years old. He quickly picked up the instrument after joining a band at high school with some friends.
In more recent years, Martin has focused more on his music, becoming an accomplished bluegrass performer. In 2010, he was even awarded the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, for his record The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo. Nowadays, you can catch Martin live on stage performing with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.
14. He was a cheerleader in high school
The path from Disneyland employee to popular entertainer might seem like a pretty clear-cut route. However, the path Martin followed had some perhaps unexpected twists and turns along the way. For instance, we never would have guessed that, when attending Racho Alamitos High School in Garden Grove, California, Steve Martin served on the cheerleading squad.
Martin has since admitted that he was more of a ‘yell-leader’ than a cheerleader and got into trouble for coming up with silly or inappropriate cheers. Then, we he began attending California State University in Long Beach, he didn’t study performance, and instead chose philosophy as his major. He later switched schools to UCLA, where he studied theatre – but eventually he quit college altogether at 21 to pursue comedy full-time.
13. He was never a series regular on Saturday Night Live
Steve Martin is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Saturday Night Live, so you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a regular cast member. In fact, Martin was never actually a member of the hit comedy show’s full-time staff. Martin’s total number of appearances on SNL comes in at only 27 to date, the most recent being in 2009.
Even so, this hasn’t keep Martin from being closely associated with the show, from back in the 70s to the present day. Still, although the comedy superstar was never an SNL regular, he is one of the show’s most prolific hosts. Martin has hosted SNL a grand total of 15 times, which is second only to 17-time host Alec Baldwin.
12. He retired from stand-up comedy in the early 80s
Martin launched his comedy career with stand up performances back in the 1960s. His bizarre and eccentric stand-up routines helped to gain him notoriety and he will forever be remembered for some of his hilarious prop gags. However, while Martin remains a well-known funnyman, he actually quit the world of stand-up comedy way back in 1981.
The comedian explained his decision back in 2009: “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue. I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn’t up to it.”
11. He was in relationships with two of his frequent co-stars
Like a lot of Hollywood stars, Martin has enjoyed romances with a number of other well-known performers. He once dated Mary Tyler Moore, and in the 80s he was in a relationship with frequent co-star Bernadette Peters. Martin and Peters worked together in The Jerk and Pennies from Heaven, and were a couple for four years.
Another of Martin’s co-stars wound up becoming his first wife: English actress Victoria Tennant. Tennant co-starred with Martin in All of Me and LA Story. Their marriage lasted from 1986 to 1994. After divorcing Tennant, Martin would be a bachelor for 13 years before tying the knot with Anne Stringfield, who remains his wife today.
10. He began suffering from tinnitus after starring in ¡Three Amigos!
Most fans of the comedian and actor probably don’t realise that Martin has a niggling health problem. Martin suffers from tinnitus, which is a condition affecting the ears – sufferers hear either a constant or intermittent ringing sound in their ears. This can also be a symptom of hearing loss, although thankfully things have not reached that level for Martin.
Rumour has it that he developed tinnitus after filming ¡Three Amigos!, which featured a lot of load gunshots. However, Martin also attributes the condition to a lifetime spent listening to loud music, and performing to noisy crowds. Asked about how he copes with the condition, Martin replied, “You just get used to it or you go insane.”
9. The failure of his first serious movie deterred him from taking more dramatic roles
While Steve Martin has long since proved himself as a funnyman, his merits as a serious actor are less well-established. However, after taking his first big screen leading role in The Jerk, Martin was keen to demonstrate his range early on. His second leading role in 1981 was of a more dramatic variety, in Pennies from Heaven.
Adapted from the BBC TV drama written by Dennis Potter, the film was a blend of hard-edged drama and musical fantasy. Martin took acting and tap-dancing classes to prepare for the role. Sadly, Pennies from Heaven flopped hard. Martin later commented, “I don’t know what to blame, other than it’s me and not a comedy.” He has made a few more dramas since, including Grand Canyon, The Spanish Prisoner and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (which was his last film role to date).
8. He played a character in an acclaimed episode of The Simpsons
Saturday Night Live isn’t the only iconic TV comedy to which Steve Martin has made a notable contribution. Martin is also one among the many illustrious guest stars featured on long-running animated series The Simpsons. The comedy star lent to vocals to the hit show for its landmark 200th episode, first aired all the way back in April 1998.
The episode was entitled Trash of the Titans, and Martin voiced the character of Sanitation Commissioner Ray Patterson. The environmental-themed episode became an instant classic, and it even helped The Simpsons win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. In the years since, Martin has also been a voice actor on animated movies The Prince of Egypt and Home.
7. He arranged a surprise wedding ceremony for his marriage to Anne Stringfield
Martin’s marriage to journalist Anne Stringfield has mostly stayed out of the gossip columns, but some details about their relationship have slipped out. The couple have revealed they met when Anne was working as a fact checker at The New Yorker, was asked to check an article Martin had written. Martin said, “We talked on the phone for a year before we even met.” Of course, once they did meet, things changed.
The couple remain very private – so private, in fact, that when guests showed up for their wedding, they didn’t even know it was happening! Martin invited his friends to a party at his house, then surprised them all by informing them that they were actually attending his wedding to Anne, and not just a regular get together. Some of the celebrity guests included Carl Reiner, Tom Hanks, Eugene Levy and Ricky Jay.
6. He created a prominent bluegrass music award
The bluegrass music scene has enjoyed a large-scale resurgence in the past two decades, and Steve Martin is a huge aficionado of the genre. Indeed, Martin loves this music and the banjo so much that he decided to fund an award dedicated to those two very things. In 2010, he launched the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo to award up-and-coming bluegrass performers.
The prize consists of $50,000, and a bronze sculpture carved by artist Eric Fischl. The lucky winner is also given the opportunity to perform alongside Martin himself in a late night US talk show appearance. Previous recipients of the award include Noam Pikelny, Sammy Shelor, Mark Johnson, Jens Kruger and Eddie Adcock.
5. He used to suffer from panic attacks and hypochondria
Many comedians find themselves secretly struggling with mental health issues, and Steve Martin was no different. As a young man just getting started in the world of comedy, Martin found himself suffering from panic attacks. In his autobiography Born Standing Up, Martin details one such incident which was so severe, he thought he was having a heart attack.
He also developed hypochondria, becoming obsessively worried about his health. Happily, over the years the multi-talented entertainer has learned to overcome these anxieties and put them behind him. The comedy legend explained, “I worried all these years that I was going to die, and I never did. So why waste all that worry?”
4. He has won several Grammy Awards
As we’ve already mentioned, Martin has earned himself a prestigious Grammy Award for his music. However, it should be rtemembered that the Grammys cover not only music, but the recording industry as a whole. This includes comedy records, a field which Martin made a splash in long before his more recent bluegrass recordings.
Martin is a seven-time Grammy nominee – and, on all but two occasions, he took home the award in question. Two years in a row he won Best Comedy Album, for his 1977 record Let’s Get Small and 1978’s A Wild and Crazy Guy. Since 2001, Martin has since won three more Grammys for his music, including the aforementioned 2010 Best Bluegrass Album award.
3. He managed to coin a hugely popular catchphrase thanks to ‘Excuse Me’
Ever heard anyone in a sitcom or film say “Well excuuuuuuuse me!”? Of course you have! This catchphrase has been repeated a great many times by a great many people over the years, in movies, television and just in everyday life. This can be attributed to Steve Martin, as it started life as one of his signature phrases.
There’s track on Martin’s first album Let’s Get Small entitled Excuse Me, which cemented the phrase in the popular consciousness. Martin is also believed to be responsible for popularising air quotes (i.e. using fingers to denote speech marks). This was another regular component of Martin’s stand-up performances which wound up catching on with the public.
2. He was Stanley Kubrick’s first choice to star in Eyes Wide Shut
Steve Martin might not have had many chances to shine as a dramatic actor, but some notable figures have recognised his potential. For one, the late American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was a great admirer of Martin’s work. After seeing Martin’s performance in The Jerk, the acclaimed director reached out to the actor to discuss a potential project.
The planned film was an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Dream Story, which at the time Kubrick envisaged as a sex comedy. This never got off the ground, but years later Kubrick revised the project into the more sombre Eyes Wide Shut. The 1999 production starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman proved to be Kubrick’s last film before his death.
1. He’s widely considered to be one of the best actors not to win an Oscar
As well as being a 15-time SNL host, Steve Martin has taken on another of the entertainment industry’s biggest hosting gigs: The Oscars. Martin has been the host at the Academy Awards three times to date: in 2001, 2003 and 2010 (the last time co-hosting with Alec Baldwin). On first announcing his acceptance of the role back in 2000, Martin quipped, “if you can’t win ’em, join ’em.”
This was because Martin himself has never received an Academy Award nomination in any category; something which many consider a great injustice. The nearest Martin came to getting an Oscar was for The Absent Minded Waiter, an Academy Award nominated short film which he wrote and starred in. The Academy finally set out to right this wrong in 2013, by giving Martin an Honorary Award in recognition of his stellar career.