Malibu Actress Nan Martin dies at 82


Veteran actress of stage, television and the movie screen, Nan Martin, died Thursday this week. She was 82.

The longtime Malibu resident was married to local architect Harry Gesner, profiled several times by this paper and Malibu Times Magazine, and had two children, sons Casey Dolan (with her first husband, film composer Robert Emmett Dolan) who is a musician and writer, and actor Zen Gesner.

ìI think my mother probably had the longest resume of any working actress in Hollywood,î Dolan said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times. ìShe starred in every major TV show since 1960 and worked with so many famous actors, I canít name them. But she always felt that theater was really the most natural acting experience and the essence of her craft.î

Nan Martin was born in Decatur, Illinois but grew up in Santa Monica. She studied theater at UCLA where she gained attention for student productions and met Robert Dolan, then a film producer and composer, who urged her to sign a contract with Fox Studios.

ìMom met with Zanuck, but she really pooh-poohed the idea of working in movies,î Dolan said. ìShe thought it was a desecration of her craft.î

Instead, she went to New York, where she studied at the Actorsí Lab and the Max Reinhardt School, and became a founding member of the famed Actorsí Studio. She made her Broadway debut in ìA Story for a Sunday Eveningî in 1950, was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in Archibald Macleishís J.B.î (directed by Elia Kazan) and originated several Broadway roles, including in productions of ìUnder the Yum Yum Treeî and Tennessee Williamsí ìThe Eccentricities of a Nightingale.î

Martin was also a mainstay of Joseph Pappís Public Theater summer Shakespeare productions, performing Portia in ìThe Merchant of Veniceî (opposite George C. Scott), Gertrude in ìHamletî and Beatrice in ìMuch Ado About Nothing.î

In the early 1960s, Martin was appointed to an arts advisory committee by President Kennedy for a Ford Foundation cultural exchange program under the Department of State. This job led to international travel at the same time she was supporting the efforts of national regional theater. She worked at Washington D.C.ís Arena Stage, Houstonís Alley Theatre and helped inaugurate the Los Angeles Mark Taper Forum, performing in ìThe Marriage of Mr. Mississippiî in 1967.

Her performances with South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa brought her Drama-Logue Awards for Athol Fugardís ìThe Road to Meccaî (for which she won the Helen Hayes Award in a separate production at the Kennedy Center), ìOdd Jobsî and ìOnce in Arden.î Other Southland performances included principal roles in ìAll My Sons,î ìThe Sea Gullî and ìBuried Child.î

But Martin would not be able to escape Hollywood and gave indelible performances, as Ali McGrawís snobbish mother in ìGoodbye Columbusî and in ìToys in the Atticî with Dean Martin. She regularly appeared in ìMovies of the Weekî and dozens of episodic television programs.

Todayís audiences will remember Martin best for her regular appearances on ìThe Drew Carey Showî and guest spots in ìCurb Your Enthusiasm,î ìNip/Tuck,î ìThe Practice,î ìE.R.,î ìThe Golden Girlsî and ìCSI: Crime Scene Investigation.î Her last role was in the television movie ìMrs. Harrisî with Annette Bening in 2005.

Martin married Gesner in 1969 and they have resided in Malibu since 1971.

Although she had been suffering from emphysema and was bedridden the past few years, Dolan said he will always remember his mother as a vital proponent of all things theatrical, teaching acting at Will Geerís Theatricum Botanicum and never having lost her youthful qualities.

ìWhen I was small, we always called her the Christmas Girl because she loved the lights and decorations of Christmas,î Dolan said. ìEven with the heavier roles she would play, she always had this childlike quality and was crazy and imaginative. That was the real Nan Martin.î