Los Angeles – Acclaimed screenwriter Mardik Martin (Mean Streets, Raging Bull) died on Wednesday, September 11, at his home in Studio City due to a stroke at age 84.
Mardik Martin was born September 16, 1934, in Abadan, Iran, to Armenian parents Vartan Martin and Heranoush Martin in a family of five that included sisters Violet and Gladys.
Shortly after Martin was born, his family moved to Iraq. As a boy, he began watching Hollywood musicals projected onto a large outdoor screen from the rooftops of Baghdad and would fall asleep with the images of his favorite screen star – Esther Williams – merging with his dreams.
Martin moved to the United States of America at age 18, not yet fluent in English. He would later go on to co-write such iconic films as Mean Streets and Raging Bull, an achievement all the more remarkable considering English was not his first language.
After learning the basics of English in an immersion course in Michigan, Martin settled in New York City, where he was among the first enrollees of the film school at New York University. His professors included Haig Manoogian. While Martin was originally enrolled in the business school at NYU, when war broke out in Iraq, his father could no longer send funds for tuition, which freed him to choose to study his passion of filmmaking at the newly formed film school, thanks to a scholarship at NYU.
At NYU, he struck up a fateful friendship with Martin Scorsese and served as a co-writer with the filmmaker on several early works that Scorsese directed, including the 1964 short film It’s Not Just You, Murray!, one of the rare shorts covered by Time magazine. But it was their collaboration on the screenplay of the feature film Mean Streets that would bring both to prominence after its debut at the New York Film Festival in 1973. Both Martin and Scorsese received a Writers Guild Award nomination for “Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen” in 1974 for their screenplay. The success of that film led Martin to sign a multi-year deal with Chartoff-Winkler Productions, based on the MGM lot.
He also continued to collaborate with Scorsese, doing research for the 1974 documentary Italianamerican and receiving credit for writing the treatments of documentaries The Last Waltz and American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince, both directed by Scorsese.
A WGAW member since 1975, Martin also co-wrote the 1977 Robert De Niro/Liza Minelli starrer New York, New York with Earl Mac Rauch, also directed by Scorsese, as well as co-wrote the Valentino biopic with the film’s director Ken Russell, released the same year.
In 1980, Martin co-wrote the acclaimed, Academy Award-winning film Raging Bull (Screenplay by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, based on the book by Jake La Motta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage), for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, along with co-screenwriter Schrader. It was Martin’s final collaboration with Scorsese. The film went on to rank #76 on the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays list and landed at #24 on the AFI’s list of 100 Greatest American Films of all time.
Martin was known for his meticulous research, using tape recorders to document the speech patterns of subjects like Mrs. Vikki La Motta, who is portrayed in Raging Bull by Cathy Moriarty. He believed in a scientific, objective approach to writing and grew disdainful of the auteur theory popularized by film critic Andrew Sarris.
Martin was remarkably open about a substance abuse addiction that lasted into the 1980s, which was chronicled in the documentary about his life released in 2008 titled Mardik: From Baghdad to Hollywood. As his health recovered, he transitioned from filmmaking to teaching, becoming a beloved professor of screenwriting at USC School of Cinema for more than 20 years; his notable students included Joel Silver and Amy Heckerling.
He returned to screenwriting in 2014 with The Cut, a Fatih Akin-directed film chronicling an Armenian man’s survival during the Armenian genocide after receiving a life-threatening cut to the throat. The film stands as his last contribution to cinema.
Martin is survived by his sister Violet Asadoorian, his brother-in-law Papken Asadoorian, his nephew and his wife Mr. and Mrs. Shant Artine, his niece Maral Asadoorian and his grandnieces Tara and Emma Asadoorian.
Services are pending at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations may be made in his name to the Armenian Relief Society/Mayr Chapter for Mardik Martin Education Fund, P.O. Box 27863, Hollywood, CA 90027.
For a photo of the late Mardik Martin, click here.
Click here to watch a short piece on Mardik Martin’s life and career.
Credit: Documators: Mardik Martin, Screenwriter – Created by Ramy Katrib and Evan York