OBITUARY : Martin Balsam
Wednesday 14 February 1996
One of the most expensive sequences in the film, it involved an elaborate series of cine-matic tricks. The camera was mounted on a special platform 90 feet above the action so that the "Mother" 's face would be concealed as she struck.
Balsam's close-up also required some special trickery. As Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut: "We put a plastic tube on his face with haemoglobin, and as the knife came up to it, we pulled a string, releasing the blood on his face down a line we had traced in advance. Then he fell back on the stairway."
Balsam's fall down the stairs was also contrived with devilish ingenuity. Hitchcock again: "We sat him in a special chair in which he was in a fixed position in front of a transparent screen showing the stairs. Then we shot the chair, and Arbogast simply threw his arms up, waving them as if he'd lost his balance."
Three years later, when Hitchcock was directing screen-tests of his discovery Tippi Hedren, he had Balsam flown in from New York to play opposite her, declaring he could think of no other actor sensitive enough to bring out Hedren's best.
Balsam made his Broadway stage debut in the unsuccessful comedy Ghost for Sale (1941). After time out for service in the Second World War, he returned to his native New York and began studying "The Method" at Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio. After many television appearances in such prestigious programmes as Studio One, he landed impressive roles in two Tennessee Williams plays: The Rose Tattoo (1951) and Camino Reale (1953).
The latter was directed by Elia Kazan, who remembered Balsam when he directed the film On the Waterfront (1954). Balsam returned to the stage in Paddy Chayefsky's play The Middle of the Night (1956), but soon returned to films as the earnest foreman of the jury in 12 Angry Men (1957), which was filmed in an actual jury room in New York. Now in demand in the movie world, Balsam moved to California, where he appeared in Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Al Capone (1959) and the film version of Middle of the Night (1959).
Many Hollywoodites expected Balsam to receive the Best Supporting Academy Award for his work in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), but he wasn't even nominated. When he did win the Oscar for A Thousand Clowns, he told his fellow Actors Studio student Shelley Winters after the ceremony, "I won because I didn't get it for Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961."
Balsam's other films include After the Fox (1966), Hombre (1967), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974), Murder on the Orient Express (also 1974), St Elmo's Fire (1985), Unknown Soldiers (1985), and two stories of skulduggery in Washington DC (one fiction, one non-fiction) - Seven Days in May (1964) and All the President's Men (1976).
In 1991 Martin Scorsese, remembering that Balsam had appeared in the original Cape Fear (1962), gave him the cameo role of a judge in his remake.
Martin Balsam, actor: born New York City 4 November 1919; died Rome 13 February 1996.
- 1 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 2 Scarlett Johansson new band 'already hit with legal complaint' from another The Singles
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 5 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamaphobia
Liam Gallagher brands Kanye West 'utter s**t' during BRIT Awards performance
Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
Mohammed Emwazi: Family of man named as 'Jihadi John' described by neighbours as 'normal Muslim family'
Mohammed Emwazi: Nine things we know about man named as Isis militant 'Jihadi John'
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...
£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...