Strother Douglas Martin, Jr. was a popular American character actor probably best know for the films "Cool Hand Luke," "The Horse Soldiers" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."
Martin was born March 26, 1919 in Kokomo, Indiana. Although he briefly lived in San Antonio, Texas during his youth, he soon returned to Indiana. He excelled at swimming and diving, and at 17, he won the National Junior Springboard Diving Championship. He served as a swimming instructor in the United States Navy during World War II and was a member of the diving team at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
After World War Two, Martin moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a swimming instructor and as a swimming extra in water scenes in films, soon acquiring bit roles in motion pictures. He soon acquired character roles in films and television through the 1950s, such as the series "Frontier," "The Gray Ghost" and "Crossroads." In 1955, a memorable performance on "Gunsmoke" followed with numerous roles on other Western TV-Shows, such as "Have Gun Will Travel" "Boots and Saddles" and "Jefferson Drum." He also appeared on the CBS western series, "The Texan" with Rory Calhoun. Other TV appearances included roles on "The Law and Mr. Jones," "Pete and Gladys," "Stoney Burke," "The Dakotas" and "The Rounders" through the Sixties.
Martin gradually became memorable for playing surly Western criminals in movies, such as "The Horse Soldiers" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," both directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne. He also showed great talent for doing comedy, playing an incompetent Indian agent in "McLintock!" and a hapless horse trader in "True Grit," two movies that also starred John Wayne. In 1967, he played the most famous role of his career, that as the sadistic prison warden in "Cool Hand Luke." His line in the movie, "What we've got here is failure to communicate" is number 11 on the American Film Institute list of AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes. Between films, he continued to appear in television shows such as "The Dick Van Dyke Show," where he parodied playwright Tennessee Williams, "Lost In Space," "Gilligan's Island" and "The Rockford Files."
Martin soon appeared in all three of the classic Westerns released in 1969 including "The Wild Bunch" by Sam Peckinpah, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" with Robert Redford and Paul Newman and Henry Hathaway's "True Grit" with John Wayne, one of his favorite actors to work with in movies. He frequently acted alongside L. Q. Jones, one of his closest friends.
Though he usually appeared in supporting roles, Martin had major parts in "The Brotherhood of Satan" in 1971, "Pocket Money" in 1972 with Paul Newman and Lee Marvin, "Ssssss" in 1973 and "Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke" in 1978. He also appeared several more times on "Gunsmoke." One of his last acting jobs was as host of "Saturday Night Live" on April 19, 1980," where he got a chance to parody his role from "Cool Hand Luke" and once more perform his Tennessee Williams impression.
In the last year of his life, Martin had been under doctor's care for cardiac problems, and he died of a heart attack on August 1, 1980 at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California at the age of 61. His widow, Helen Meisels-Martin was ten years his senior. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood, California, joined by the ashes of his wife in 1997.