Gabel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Ruth (née Herzog) and Israel Gabel, who was a jeweler. He married Arlene Francis on May 14, 1946, and they had a son named Peter Gabel, former president of New College of California. Gabel’s most noted work was as narrator and host of the May 8, 1945 CBS Radio broadcast of Norman Corwin’s epic dramatic poem On a Note of Triumph, a commemoration of the fall of the Nazi regime in Germany and the end of World War II in Europe. The broadcast was so popular that the CBS, NBC, Blue and Mutual networks broadcast a second live production of the program on May 13. The Columbia Masterworks record label subsequently published an album of the May 13 production. The production became the title focus of the Academy Award-winning short film A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin in 2005, the 60th anniversary year of the broadcast.
One of the original members of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre, Gabel played Javert in the radio adaptation of Les Misérables, and he portrayed Cassius in the company’s modern-dress production of Julius Caesar (1937). Gabel won the 1961 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor for the comedy Big Fish, Little Fish; he was also noted for his performances in the Broadway productions of Baker Street, in which he played Professor Moriarty; The Rivalry, in which he played Stephen A. Douglas. In 1947, he made his first and only foray into film directing with the film The Lost Moment. Gabel made few films over his career, usually in small roles. A notable large supporting part was as crime boss Tomas Rienzi in Richard Brooks’s Deadline U.S.A. (1952), starring Humphrey Bogart. Gabel played another mob figure in a Frank Sinatra private-detective film, Lady in Cement (1968), then co-starred again with Sinatra in Contract on Cherry Street and The First Deadly Sin.
He played businessman Mr. Strutt in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), and the psychiatrist in the Billy Wilder version of The Front Page (1974) with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. He was also a frequent guest panelist on the popular CBS Television Sunday night game show What’s My Line?, on which his wife Arlene Francis regularly appeared. Martin Gabel died in New York City from a heart attack.
- June, 19, 1912
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- May, 22, 1986
- New York City, NY
- Roosevelt Memorial Park
- New York