Oscar Actors: Balsam, Martin–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage)

Updated June 27, 2020
Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No; his daughter Talia, an actress

Social Class: Middle class, father manufacturer of women’s clothes

Family: Jewish

Formal Education: DeWitt Clinton High School, drama club

Training: 1948; Actors Studio

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut: 1941; then military service

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut:

Oscar Role: A Thousand Clowns, 1965; age 66

Other Noms: No

Other Awards:

Famous Role: Detective Milton Arbogast, Psycho, 1960

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film:

Career Output:

Film Career Span:

Marriage: 3; first 2 marriages to actresses; daughter Talia Balsam


Death: 1996 (sudden death in Italy); age 76

Martin Henry Balsam (November 4, 1919 – February 13, 1996) was an American character actor, best known for a number of film roles, including detective Milton Arbogast in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Arnold Burns in A Thousand Clowns (1965) (for which he won the Best Supporting Oscar, Juror #1 in 12 Angry Men (1957), and Mr. Green in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), as well as for his role as Murray Klein in the TV sitcom Archie Bunker’s Place (1979–1983).

Martin Henry Balsam was born in the Bronx borough of New York City, to Russian-Jewish parents, Lillian (née Weinstein) and Albert Balsam, who was a manufacturer of women’s sportswear.

He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he participated in the drama club.

He studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with the German director Erwin Piscator.

He then served in the US Army Air Forces from 1941 to 1945 during WWII, reaching the rank of Sergeant.

Debut: 1941

Martin Balsam made his professional debut in August 1941 in a production of “The Play’s the Thing{ in Locust Valley.

During World War II, he served as a sergeant radio operator in a B-24 in the China-Burma-India theater of operations.

In early 1948, he was selected by Elia Kazan to be a member in the recently formed Actors Studio. Balsam went on to perform in several episodes of the studio’s dramatic television anthology series, broadcast between September 1948 and 1950. He appeared in many other television drama series, including Decoy with Beverly Garland, The Twilight Zone (episodes “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” and “The New Exhibit”), as a psychologist in the pilot episode, Five Fingers, Target: The Corruptors!, The Eleventh Hour, Breaking Point, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Fugitive, and Mr. Broadway, as a retired U.N.C.L.E. agent in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode, “The Odd Man Affair”, and guest-starred in the two-part Murder, She Wrote episode, “Death Stalks the Big Top”. He also appeared in the Route 66 episode, “Somehow It Gets To Be Tomorrow”.

Balsam appeared in such notable films as On the Waterfront, 12 Angry Men (as Juror #1), Time Limit, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Carpetbaggers, Seven Days in May, The Anderson Tapes, Hombre, Catch-22, Tora! Tora! Tora! (as Admiral Husband E. Kimmel), Little Big Man, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, All the President’s Men, Murder on the Orient Express, The Delta Force, and The Goodbye People.

In 1960, he appeared in one of his best-remembered roles as Detective Arbogast in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Along with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, Balsam appeared in both the original Cape Fear (1962), and the 1991 Martin Scorsese remake.

He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Arnold Burns in A Thousand Clowns (1965).

In 1968, he won a Tony Award for his appearance in the 1967 Broadway production of You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running.

Balsam also performed the original voice of the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. After his lines were recorded, director Stanley Kubrick decided “Marty just sounded a little bit too colloquially American,” and hired Douglas Rain to perform the role for the released film.

Balsam played Dr. Rudy Wells when the Martin Caidin novel Cyborg was adapted as a TV-movie pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man (1973), though he did not reprise the role for the subsequent series.

In 1975, he appeared as James Arthur Cummins in the Joe Don Baker police drama Mitchell, a film that was eventually featured in a highly popular episode of the comedy film-riffing series Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993. He appeared as a spokesman/hostage in the TV movie Raid on Entebbe (1976) and as a detective in the TVM Contract on Cherry Street (1977).

He also appeared on an episode of Quincy ME. Balsam starred as Murray Klein on the All in the Family spin-off Archie Bunker’s Place for two seasons (1979–81) and returned for a guest appearance in the show’s fourth and final season.

In 1951, Balsam married his first wife, actress Pearl Somner. They divorced three years later. His second wife was actress Joyce Van Patten, and the marriage lasted 4 years (from 1958 until 1962) with one daughter, Talia Balsam, an actress. He married his third wife, Irene Miller, in 1963. They had two children, Adam and Zoe Balsam, and divorced in 1987.

On February 13, 1996, Balsam died suddenly of a stroke in his hotel room while vacationing in Rome, Italy. He was 76.