Described by the American Film Institute (AFI) as an “American original,” Steve Martin becomes the latest recipients of their most esteemed Life Achievement Award. As a comic, actor, musician, and writer, Martin has made himself a household name.
The twice married Waco, Texas native has 57 acting credits to his name and an additional 43 writing, 24 soundtrack, and 16 producing. Having studied philosophy at California State University at Long Beach, he had once considered becoming a professor of the subject. As pursued comedy in the 1960s, he used his philosophy studies experience as material.
Martin first broke into acting in 1967 with the television series, Off to see the Wizard. Like countless others who pursue their art professionally, it had taken him some time to establish an audience. Martin did just that guesting on numerous comedy-hour specials.
Having put in the ground work through the 1970s and 1980s, he turned out many hits including Little Shop of Horrors (1986); Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987); Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), and Father of the Bride (1991). Due to his improvisational genius, many people assumed he had been a cast member of Saturday Night Live. He has only hosted the show.
The comedy fan base Martin developed was a result of years of hard work. Before breaking into mainstream comedy and acting, Martin had been employed at Disneyland’s Magic Shop on Main Street, USA. His work also worked as a comedian at Knott’s Berry Farm, a neighboring theme park. He performed at the park’s “Birdcage Theatre.” Honing skills in live performance, he mastered improvisational comedy.
Decades before the AFI Life Achievement Award, Martin appeared in a 1966 episode of The Dating Game (1965) prior to finding fame. Many famed actors, like Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett, were featured on the show before hitting their niche. Others guests, like Michael Jackson and Sally Field, were already established youngsters. As it turned out, Martin won a date with an old friend but appeared again on the show the following season wearing the same jacket and shirt.
Unlike many artists who found fame in Hollywood, Steve Martin his sole drug of choice was his career rather than narcotics. He admitted to smoking a decent amount of marijuana in the 1960s while on a National Public Radio show. Following a panic attack, he abstained from using it. He told Terry Gross, the radio program hostess, that his negative experience with marijuana deterred him from using harder drugs. Many of his colleagues would succumb to drug abuse and addiction.
Steve Martin, the author, penned numerous books. Several of his titles include, Cruel Shoes. The Underpants: A Play by Carl Sternheim, The Pleasure of My Company, The Alphabet From A to Y: With Bonus Letter Z, Pure Drivel, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, and Shopgirl. If books encompasses an ounce of the wittily charming talent he is, readers are guaranteed a very entertaining read.
Steve Martin’s talent is multifaceted. As a musician talented with the banjo instrument, he has performed bluegrass and country. His music includes collaborations with Dolly Parton and other artists. Recently, he penned a musical with Edie Brickell called Bright Star which premiered in New York.
AFI’s Sir Howard Stringer regards Steve Martin as a “national treasure” who has solely defined his work. Stringer is the Chair of the AFI’s Board of Trustees.
Steve Martin’s AFI Life Achievement Award is well-earned and can be added to other accolades he has earned over the years. During Martin’s career, he has earned four Grammys, an Emmy, and an Honorary Academy Award.
By Charice Long