Posted by Richard Harland Smith on October 12, 2006
It’s too late to send a card, as the man passed away almost 50 years ago, but we believe some little fuss should be made to mark the occasion of Lock Martin’s birthday. Born on October 12, 1916, in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Joseph Lockard Martin, Jr. was one of twins, whose brother Donald died in childhood. Growing to an impressive 7 feet, 7 inches, Martin held down a variety of jobs before being hired as a doorman for Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was there that he was discovered and later hired by Twentieth Century Fox to play the robot Gort (called “Gnut” in the original source story by Harry Bates) in Robert Wise’s science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
Covered up completely by a head-to-foot latex costume that he could wear for only half an hour at a time, Lock Martin didn’t become a household name but his iconic Gort has endured as a cult figure on the grand level of Metropolis‘ Futura (1928) and Star Wars‘ Darth Vader (1977). Despite Gort’s reputation as an invincible protector, Lock Martin himself was quite frail and unable to lift leading lady Patricia Neal, much less leading man Michael Rennie. (The few existing photographs of Martin sans costume suggest he might have suffered from acromegaly, as did character actors Rondo Hatton and Richard Kiel.) Camera trickery and creative framing allowed Martin and Gort to appear suitably able-bodied… and a star was born.
Martin later turned up in a ceiling-scraping cameo as a marrauding extraterrestrial in Invaders From Mars (1953) but his bit as a sideshow giant was cut out of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). By that time, the tall man’s time was short… and he died in Los Angeles on January 19, 1959, at the age of only 42.
Fifty five years after The Day the Earth Stood Still wrapped in the spring of 1951, Gort remains as titanic and popular as the day he first stepped out on to the Washington Mall, while Lock Martin’s contribution to this science fiction classic in particular and to the fantastic in general will never been forgotten.
Klaatu… barada… nikto-birthday, Lock!
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