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Marty Feldman: “Damn your eyes!”

Young_frankenstein_marty_feldman_2 The next on air presentation of DVD_TV is Young Frankenstein, Sunday, June 10 @ 8P | 7C, and stay tuned for the enhanced version at 10:15P | 9:15C.

Gene Wilder first saw Marty Feldman in 1972 on a television show called The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine. Wilder recalled, “After seeing it, I said, ‘Who is that funny man with the strange eyes?’” Soon after, Wilder wrote the part of ‘Igor’ for Feldman.

Marty Feldman’s unique eyes were caused by a condition called Graves Disease, a type of hyperthyroidism which causes protrusion of the eyeball. According to rumor, a car accident at the age of 30 and subsequent corrective plastic surgery made Feldman’s eyes appear even more unusual. His nose was reportedly broken while boxing as a youth.

“I didn’t look like this as a kid,” Marty Feldman revealed in 1976. “Nervous exhaustion, brought on by writing 39 TV shows a year for 3 years, plus 2 radio shows a week, triggered a chronic hyperthyroid condition. When they operated, they said my eyes would go back to normal. It has been 14 years. I’m still waiting. Now I look at the world obliquely – not back in anger, but sideways in suspicion. Actually, each eye is perfect, but they function separately… But you make use of whatever has happened to you. What I have is what I am, and what I’m good at is landing on my feet.”

On Young Frankenstein, director Mel Brooks was working with Feldman for
the first time. “Marty had a condition that was opposite of cross
eyes,” Brooks said. “His eyes would be on the outer edge.  So, in order
to hide from Marty Feldman you had to go right up to his face. His
peripheral vision was acute, but he couldn’t see you if you were right
in front of him, because he couldn’t cross his eyes.”

Brooks said that directing Marty Feldman was a little different than
directing other actors. “First I tried to find out where he was
looking. His eyes stare in about 19 different directions. They look
like hardboiled eggs that somebody painted eyeballs on and didn’t paint
them on right. So first I’d get in the path of his vision and try to
signal him down. Then I’d say, ‘Marty, be very good.’ He’d say, ‘All
right.’ And he was. After Marty, there will never be another Igor.
They’ll have to retire that part. He’s it.”

Marty Feldman knew that looking different was an asset in comedy. “I
could have my eyes fixed and my nose straightened, but I think it would
be a mistake. Comedians too often try to turn themselves into leading
men. They force the thin man inside the fat man out into the open
unnaturally and lose touch with their real talents.” Though Feldman
appreciated the fact that his eyes made him funnier, he apparently
would have preferred to look quite different. He once said he wanted to
be reincarnated as Miles Davis, playing the trumpet.

Gene Wilder, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, St. Martin’s Press, 2005
Edwin Miller, “3 Zings Make a Zap!,” Seventeen, 2/76
Bridget Byrne, “Feldman – Monster Flick with Humor,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 5/19/74
“Interview with Mel Brooks,” Playboy, 2/75
Young Frankenstein DVD: Director Commentary

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