Steve Martin has been making people laugh long before his hair turned white (which happened in his mid-30s, by the way). Martin is what I like to call a quadruple threat: He’s a talented actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and musician, and has been for decades. The funny man whom we can’t help but love (just think of Father of the Bride) hit the fame and fortune jackpot when he started doing skits on Saturday Night Live.
He then went on to star in The Jerk and ¡Three Amigos! among many other films. But he hasn’t been on our screens as much lately, and he has a few good reasons for it. The 75-year-old only became a father in the last decade and has lots of side projects, including his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. Steve Martin has many tricks up his sleeve (and by tricks I mean talents), so it’s high time we celebrate them.
These are the many lives of Steve Martin.
Steve Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, but he wasn’t the guy wearing the Mickey Mouse suit. As a high school student, he spent the weekends selling guidebooks (for which he kept $0.02 for every book he sold). During the summers, he worked full-time. The Disneyland gig lasted for three years, from 1955 to 1958.
During his free time, Martin visited the Main Street Magic shop, where tricks were performed. One day, Martin was captured in the background of a home video that ended up being made into the short-subject film called Disneyland Dream. Thus, it technically became his first film appearance.
By 1960, after mastering some magic tricks and illusions, he took a job at the Magic shop in Fantasyland. It was there that he perfected his talents for magic, juggling, balloon animals, and the very cowboy rope tricks that we saw him do in ¡Three Amigos!
Most of us know Steve Martin with grey/white hair, naturally making him look older than he really is. When he starred in his first movie, 1979’s The Jerk, he was only 34, and he was fully grey. But there was a time when Martin had brown hair. There are images floating around the Internet of Martin’s very early television appearances.
In the late-‘60s, he landed a gig as a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It’s where he got his big break as a stand-up comedian. Eventually, he found superstardom in the ‘70s and beyond, so that comedy hour really did him some good. And it’s proof that he was once a brunette!
Steve Martin was born on April 14, 1945 and comes from an English, Scottish, Welsh, Scots-Irish, German and French background. He was raised with his sister Melinda in a Baptist family in Inglewood and later in Garden Grove, California.
Martin was a cheerleader at Garden Grove High School. Martin didn’t try to hide the fact, nor was he embarrassed by it. But he did make a point to clarify that he was more of a “yell-leader” than a cheerleader. He confessed that he got into trouble for coming up with silly and inappropriate cheers. It looks like Martin was always a comedian.
Martin has been playing the instrument since he was 17. In his autobiography, Born Standing Up, he mentioned that he once took 33 rpm bluegrass records, slowed them down to 16 rpm, and tuned his banjo so that the notes would resonate with the records.
That way, he learned how to establish each note and perfect his playing. But it was the folk singer John McEuen (Martin’s high school friend) who helped him hone his banjo skills. Martin became a member of McEuen’s Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, playing the banjo and doing stand-up comedy. In the ‘70s, at The Nitty Gritty Band’s shows, Martin opened for the group by performing stand-up.
After high school, Martin went to Santa Ana College, and took classes in drama and English poetry. But comedy was the thing that kept him going. During his free time, he teamed up with his friend from high school, Kathy Westmoreland, to participate in comedy shows and other productions at the Bird Cage Theatre.
He joined a comedy troupe at Knott’s Berry Farm, where he met budding actress Stormie Sherk. Together, they developed comedy routines and eventually became a couple. Thanks to Sherk, Martin went to California State University in Long Beach. But since she went to UCLA, the distance took its toll and they broke up.
At CSU, Martin majored in philosophy, which inspired him to consider the option of becoming a professor. Martin later said that his time at college changed his life: “It changed what I believe and what I think about everything… Something about non-sequiturs appealed to me.”
He explained that studying logic, and talking about cause and effect, made him realize, “Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!” He then found that it was really easy to write –“because all you have to do is twist everything hard; you twist the punch line, you twist the non-sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up.”
Martin’s college life was a combination of philosophy and comedy. After college, when he started making his way into the ‘70s stand-up circuit, he would compare philosophy with studying geology. “If you’re studying geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all.”
“But philosophy, you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life.” In 1967, he transferred to UCLA and started majoring in theater. As a student, he worked nights at local comedy clubs, and by the time he was 21, he dropped out of college. It was around this time that he got The Smothers Brothers writing job.
Martin got his first-ever writing job on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour thanks to an ex-girlfriend of his. He only managed to get the gig because of his girlfriend at the time, who had managed to find herself work on the show as a dancer.
Martin, who at the time had no writing experience whatsoever, quickly found himself sharing an office with Bob Einstein (also known as Marty Funkhauser from Curb Your Enthusiasm). Martin was so good at it that he won an Emmy Award for it in 1969 when he was only 23 years old.
In 1968, Martin found himself on a 1968 episode of The Dating Game. And he won! Funnily enough, he won a date with a girl named Deana Martin – you know, the daughter of Rat Pack member Dean Martin? One of her questions on the show was: “There’s something wrong with dating. What is it?”
Steve Martin’s reply: “Dating is really the worst,” and explained that his ideal would be to meet someone by chance. She chose him, and the two Martins went on a date. Steve was 23 years old. As for Deana, she was 20. At the time, Steve was already writing for the Smothers Brothers, and Deana was already appearing in musicals and on TV with her father.
On another episode of The Dating Game, Martin competed against two other bachelors for a chance to go out with Marsha Walker, his childhood friend’s sister. Martin was able to convince the show’s producers to bring his “long lost” friend onto the program, and the idea would be that she wouldn’t know that one of the three bachelors was actually her old pal, Steve.
But Marsha was indeed aware of Bachelor Number One’s identity. She and Martin got together before filming to come up with some hilarious questions and answers, according to Morris Walker’s book, Steve Martin: The Magic Years.
It turned out to be a great opportunity for the budding comedy writer to prove his worth at creating some quality material. And so, on the show, Marsha asked the stumped Bachelor Number Three: “If you were a holiday, how would you like to be celebrated?”
Obviously, the bachelor dropped the ball, to which Marsha quickly redirected the question to Martin, who responded with: “I’ve always had a great respect for Arbor Day. I’d love to be Arbor Day and be potted.” Then, Marsha asked him another question that let him get a nice jab at the confused (and lame) Bachelor Number Two. Of course, Marsha and Martin were paired, and won an all-expense-paid trip to Tijuana to watch the bullfights (of all things).
According to Morris Walker, that trip served as inspiration for Martin’s film Three Amigos! Morris Walker also writes in his book that when his sister and dear friend were on their trip in Mexico, the pair witnessed a very upsetting bullfight and then went to see an adult film (it was 1968, and people had to go to Tijuana to see them).
Marsha confided to her brother that her previously platonic relationship with Martin progressed to the next level in Tijuana (maybe it was the film they saw). According to Walker, Martin’s “performance between the sheets was as entertaining and fulfilling as his wild and crazy performances in front of the curtain, only without the white suit.”
To all of us, Steve Martin is a funny guy. But to his father, Glenn Martin, he wasn’t funny enough. On a sadder note, Martin recalled that during his youth, his feelings for his father were mostly of hatred. In 1979, after attending the premier of The Jerk, Glenn Martin flatly stated: “Well, he’s no Charlie Chaplin.”
One of Martin’s earliest memories was seeing his father, as an extra onstage, serving drinks at the Call Board Theatre on Melrose Place. During World War II in the U.K., Martin’s father appeared in a production of Our Town with Raymond Massey. Glenn, who was a failed actor himself, was likely (and sadly) jealous of his son’s success.
Martin’s father tended to show his affection through gifts, buying cars and bikes, but he was a stern man, and was never emotionally open to his son. Martin recalled that his father was proud but critical. His father “very proud of the play at the Lapin Agile.”
But Martin pointed out that if his father “had always said, ‘Oh, everything you’re doing is just wonderful,’ would I have become an artist?” He then admitted that more often than not, when he’s “standing onstage, I believe I’m trying to get my father’s attention.” Martin has revealed that he grew up under the shadow of his emotionally unavailable father.
Martin’s father absolutely despised Saturday Night Live and even wrote a review about his son’s performances on the show. After Martin made his first appearance on SNL, his mother was proud, but her husband wasn’t. At the time, Glenn Martin was the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors.
He wrote a scathing review of his own son’s performance in the company’s newsletter. It’s a shame, but he wrote: “His performance did nothing to further his career.” He also stated that “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.” Ouch.
Speaking of fathers, Steve Martin finally became one at the age of 67! But understanding a bit about his own father-son relationship could help explain why he took so long. His long life of being childless hit a curveball when he met New York journalist Anne Stringfield.
The couple married in 2007 and after six years, they had a baby girl. One day, Martin will get to be a Father of the Bride after all! Martin and Stringfield, however, are private about their private lives and have kept their daughter away from the limelight.
When speaking with The Daily Telegraph, Martin spoke about what it was like to become a father so late in his life. “Oh, it’s fantastic. You have all the time in the world. You’re all set and secure in life, and you’re not building your career, so you have a lot of time.”
Martin said that he refocused his attention from his work to his daughter. “When I was younger, I was selfish and focused on my career. Now I’m just hanging around the house playing with my daughter. It’s great.”
Martin arranged a surprise wedding ceremony for his second marriage to Stringfield. The couple decided to keep their nuptials under wrap from the press and also managed to hide the surprise from their close friends.
Martin invited friends to a party at their home, and then surprised them all by informing them it was actually going to be their wedding! Some of the guests included Carl Reiner, Tom Hanks, Eugene Levy and Ricky Jay. Bob Kerrey led the ceremony and Lorne Michaels was the best man.
Martin’s first marriage came after L.A. Story, when he met Victoria Tennant, a British actress. They married in 1986 and it seemed that they were getting on well, but they divorced in 1994. She reportedly left him for an Australian actor.
Martin went ahead and moved on his love life, dating actress Anne Heche in 1994. One of the most striking parts about their relationship was that he was 24 years older than she was. They split up after two years together. Heche later revealed that she dated Martin because she “wanted the love of an older man.”
Contrary to popular belief, Martin was never a cast member or series regular on SNL. He just did so many guest spots in the ‘70s and ‘80s that you would only naturally assume that he was. Martin hosted SNL over 15 times, which marks him as second to Alec Baldwin.
But if you count all of his SNL moments, he appeared on the show a total of 27 times. And with his many appearances, he came to popularize the “air quotes” gesture. While on the show, he grew close to many of the cast members, including Gilda Radner. On the night that she died (of ovarian cancer), when he was hosting SNL, Martin was visibly shaken.
Stand-up and writing comedy is what helped Martin launch his comedy career back in the ‘60s, but it wasn’t something he continued with in the long run. His eccentric stand-up routines gained him notoriety and, of course, he will always be remembered for some of his prop gags.
But, Martin quit stand-up in 1981. He explained his decision 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.”
Over the years, Martin has proven himself to be quite the ladies’ man. He dated a string of actresses, and one of them just so happened to be Bernadette Peters. She was a frequent co-star of his during the ‘70s and ‘80s. She co-starred in The Jerk and Pennies from Heaven.
In many scenes together, the two quickly fell for each other. They dated for over four years and were seen together at several red carpet events before they eventually went their separate ways.
Like many other comics, Martin is best known for his comedic roles, but he also has a dramatic and serious side. In the early ‘80s, Martin experienced his first venture into a serious role. It was something he purposely chose to do as he wanted to avoid being typecast as the funny guy.
So, he took on the character of music salesman Arthur Parker in the film Pennies from Heaven (co-starring with Bernadette Peters). In preparation for the role, Martin took acting classes with director Herbert Ross. He even learned how to tap dance for all the film’s musical numbers. The movie, unfortunately, was a flop and Martin later said, “I don’t know what to blame, other than it’s me and not a comedy.”
Most of the actor’s fans likely don’t know about the nagging health problem that Martin has to deal with. Martin suffers from tinnitus, a condition affecting the ears. Those with the condition hear either a constant or intermittent ringing sound. Unfortunately, it can be a symptom of hearing loss.
Martin was asked how he copes with the condition. Of course, he had a humorous response: “You just get used to it or you go insane.” Rumor has it that he developed tinnitus after he filmed the shootout scene from The Three Amigos, particularly the scene where he was surrounded by loud gunshot noises.
Steve Martin really seems to have one of the most diverse resumes in Hollywood. One side project of his is voice acting. And one of his most famous voice work jobs came in The Simpsons. He voiced the character of Sanitation Commissioner Ray Patterson in the show’s 200th episode.
The episode was called “Trash of the Titans,” and it aired on April 26th, 1998. The environmentally-themed episode was an instant classic, and it helped The Simpsons win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. Not too shabby!
Martin met his current wife after she fact-checked one of his articles. Apparently journalist Stringfield was working at The New Yorker as a fact checker when she was given the task of going through one of Steve Martin’s comedy pieces.
Martin explained that they talked on the phone “for a year before we even met.” People that know Stringfield have disclosed that she’s extremely shy, which is something Martin defines himself as, too. Despite being one of the biggest comedians in history, the man is an introvert and feels awkward talking to interviewers.
Martin released his first all-music album in 2009 called The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo. The album, with appearances from stars like Dolly Parton, won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2010.
2009 was also the year Martin made his first appearance at The Grand Ole Opry. Some of you already know that Martin is part of the bluegrass group Steep Canyon Players. Martin has said that he and the guys have become “good friends through the years, and our musical collaboration has become tighter and tighter.”
American Idol fans probably remember when, during the Season Eight finals, Martin performed with Michael Sarver and Megan Joy for the song Pretty Flowers. In 2010, Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers appeared at the New Orleans Jazz festival.
In 2011, he narrated and appeared in the PBS documentary called Give me the Banjo, which chronicles the history of the banjo in America. Also in 2011, the International Bluegrass Music Association awarded him and the Steep Canyon Rangers Entertainer of the Year. Speaking of awards, Martin actually created a new one…
Steve Martin clearly lives and breathes both bluegrass and the banjo, so much so that he decided to create an award dedicated to those two very things. In 2010, he established the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo which is aimed to praise up-and-coming bluegrass performers.
The prize consists of $50,000 as well as a bronze sculpture by artist Eric Fischl. More so, winners get the opportunity to perform with Steve Martin himself on a late night talk show. Previous recipients of the prize include musicians Noam Pikelny, Sammy Shelor, Mark Johnson, Jens Kruger and Eddie Adcock.
Martin has revealed that he used to suffer from panic attacks back in the day. The truth is that many comedians and actors secretly struggle with mental health issues, and Steve Martin is no different. As a young man who just getting starting out in the world of comedy, he found himself experiencing episodes of panic attacks.
He also developed hypochondria and grew obsessively worried about his health. Luckily, his anxiety calmed down later in his life. Martin explained: “I worried all these years that I was going to die, and I never did. So why waste all that worry?”
Martin has no trouble keeping busy with all of his jobs and hobbies, one of them collecting famous works of art. Martin owns original works by David Hockney, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and Edward Hopper. But he once fell victim to an art fraud.
He once spent $850,000 on what he thought was a genuine work of art by modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. It turns out that the painting was a forgery – something he only found out when he tried to sell it and was told by experts that it was fake.
Martin has written an Academy Award-nominated short film in 1977 called The Absent Minded Waiter. He was nominated for the category Best Short Film Live Action. Not only did he write it, he starred in it, too. Speaking of the Academy, Martin is considered to be one of the best actors who never won an Oscar.
But in 2013, the wrong was finally righted when he received an Honorary Award for his stellar career. He also won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording for his comedy albums Let’s Get Small in 1977 and A Wild and Crazy Guy in 1978.
Martin, who wrote L.A. Story, Bowfinger, and Roxanne, clearly has a way with words but he surprised critics with his dark yet sentimental first novella, 2000’s Shopgirl. Readers liked it, and Shopgirl debuted at Number 6 on The New York Times’ bestsellers list, managing to stay in the top ten for about 15 weeks.
Shopgirl later turned into a well-received movie, starring Martin, Claire Danes, and Jason Schwartzman. Martin continued writing, and in 2003, he published another book called The Pleasure of My Company, followed by An Object of Beauty in 2010.
Martin’s most successful book isn’t fiction. 2007’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life is his memoir that chronicles his rise to standup fame and his decision to retire from comedy to focus on his increasingly demanding film career.
Time Magazine put Born Standing Up as Number 6 on its list of the top ten non-fiction books of 2007. Other comedians like Jerry Seinfeld praised the book for its honesty and realism. According to Martin, though, it isn’t just about the comedy world — it’s a story about a self-made man. “I think it’s somehow an American story because I started untalented. I didn’t have any gifts except perseverance,” Martin told NPR.
It only makes sense that the star set his sights on Broadway. In 2014, he and Edie Brickell, his musical collaborator, wrote and produced the musical drama Bright Star, inspired by the writing duo’s album Love Has Come for You.
The play made it to Broadway in 2016, earning five Tony nominations, including Best Musical, Best Book in a Musical, and Best Score, but Hamilton took the awards home. Martin’s first project as a playwright was 1993’s The Lapin Agile, which portrayed a conversation between Picasso and Albert Einstein on the evening before Einstein’s theory of relativity and Picasso’s The Young Ladies of Avignon were released.
In early 2016, at New York’s Beacon Theater, Martin delivered a 10-minute stand-up set for the first time in 35 years. But it was a one-off performance that he did as a favor to headliner Jerry Seinfeld after being on Seinfeld’s Internet series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
After leaving stand-up behind in 1981, he’s been reluctant to talk about his comedy career. He gave a bit of an explanation on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: “The comedy I did was so linked to the era we were coming out of, which was Vietnam, and part of my goal was to be absurd in a very serious time.” Just as the ‘70s ended, so did his standup.
“I’ve always looked at cartooning as comedy’s last frontier,” Martin wrote in the introduction of the book A Wealth of Pigeons. One night at a cocktail party, he met Francoise Mouly, the art and cover editor of the New Yorker.
Martin told Mouly that he had a cartoon idea. The editor then got him in touch with Harry Bliss, the New Yorker’s cartoonist and cover artist, and a collaboration was born. Over a year, the two made over 150 cartoons, evolving “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.”
If you’re anything like me, then one of your favorite Steve Martin movies is 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. After his breakout film, The Jerk, most of his later movies involved smart characters, or characters who try to present themselves as being smart.
In this comedy, you get something a little more complicated, but just as hilarious. He goes head-to-head with Michael Caine – the two of them are con-men who con each other until a nice little twist at the end. It’s one of the funnier films of the ‘80s, which united Martin with director/Muppeteer Frank Oz.