Mary Martin was one of the brightest stars of Broadway and the musical theater. Although she was never regarded as a popular singer, her musical contributions thrilled millions. Mary Virginia Martin was born December 1, 1913 in Weatherford, Texas to Preston Martin, an attorney and Juanita Presley Martin a violin teacher at Weatherford College. Her mother became a violin teacher when she was only seventeen.
From an early age Mary was prone to neck breaking stunts and singing. When she was eight, she climbed on a garage roof and jumped off believing she could fly. She ended up with a broken collar bone. Her home had a small orchard and Martin eventually climbed every single tree but it would be nearly three decades before she learned to fly with the help of a beautiful idea and a very strong wire. When she was 16, her parents sent her to Ward Belmont, a young ladies finishing school in Nashville, Tennessee. Less than months later, her mother consented to let her marry Ben Hagman. The two were married in Hopkinsville, Kentucky on November 3, 1930. Ten months later, on September 21, 1931, their son Larry Martin Hagman was born. Years later he would star in the television series I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas.
Bored with her marriage and her new husband living in Austin studying law, she opened a dance studio in Weatherford in her Uncle Luke’s grain storage loft. With the help of her sister, Géraldine, who had taken a few dance lessons while studying physical education at Columbia University in New York, and by watching the dance routines of actresses Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell, Martin received some dance training. In addition, Martin had been a member of a dance gang in Ft. Worth, Texas, because she could Charleston so well. Ginger Rogers was also a member. Her business quickly grew and to augment her existing dance knowledge, she enrolled in the Fanchon and Marco School of Theater in Hollywood, California. At Fanchon & Marco, Martin was tutored by Nico Charissse, the splendid modern and Spanish dancing instructor and one time husband of dancer Cyd Charisse. After she returned to Texas, she opened two more dance studios.
While in Weatherford, she learned of an audition by the great showman Billy Rose. It would be held in Fort Worth for a super colossal extravaganza at the Casa Mañana and a local chorus was needed. Not only did Rose turn her down, but hed advised her to stay out of the entertainment industry altogether. His advice helped crystallize her desire to go into the entertainment industry
For the Record…
Born Mary Virginia Martin, December 1, 1913 in Weatherford, TX, (died November 4, 1990 Rancho Mirage, CA of cancer); daughter of Preston, (an attorney) and Juanita Martin, (a violin teacher at Weatherford College); married Benjamin J. Hagman, November 3, 1930, (divorced 1935); married Richard Halliday, May 5, 1940 (died 1973); children: Larry (from first marriage) born September 21, 1931; Mary Heller (from second marriage) born .c. 1942; Education: Attended the University of Texas, Fanchon and Marco School of the Theater, Hollywood, CA.
Made her broadway debut in Leave it to Me, 1938; starred in South Pacific, 1949; Peter Pan, 1954; The Sound of Music, 1959; I Do I Do, 1969; also starred in ABC’s 1969 production of Valentine with Jack Albertson.;1986; appeared on stage in Legends with Carol Channing; appeared in over 11 Hollywood films.
Awards: Emmy Award, 1955 for Peter Pan; Kennedy Center Performing Arts Achievement Award, 1989.
and triggered her leaving for Hollywood. Back in Hollywood, she again entered the Fanchon and Marco School and spent two long years of trying to crack open the door of show business. Folks in Hollywood nicknamed her audition Mary because of her frequent attempts to obtain work. She finally landed a job on a national network radio program Gateway to Hollywood but receivedno pay. She later worked for NBC radio for no pay as well.
Her first real break came when she was still an unknown and performing at a talent show at the Trocadero nightclub. Her opening number was a tune called “The Weekend of a Private Secretary” and it was followed by “II Bacio” sung in a jazz fashion. The house came down and the crowd shouted, whistled, echoed calls of bravo while they stood on tables and chairs. In the audience was Lawrence Schwab, one of Broadway’s most important and respected producers. Schwab offered her a part in an upcoming Broadway musical Ring Out The News and paid her way to New York. Martin later said it was the most important ten minutes of her life. Although she went to New York to perform in Ring Out the News, the show received such unfavorable reviews that Schwab canceled the production entirely.
In 1938, her next audition was for Leave it to /We, a Broadway musical remake of Sam and Bella’s Spewack’s Clear All Wires. Martin auditioned for the Spewack’s and Cole Porter and won the part by performing Porter’s famous “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” The audition opened many doors for Martin and while the production, which included ayoung Gene Kelly was still going strong on Broadway, Hollywood’s Paramount Pictures offered her a contract to appear in films. In 1939, Martin appeared in the motion picture The Great Victor Herbert opposite singing star Allan Jones, followed by Rhythm on the /Verwith Bing Crosby in 1940. While Crosby and Martin were making films together, they also appeared on radio’s Kraft Music Hall. These films were followed by Love Thy NeighbormXh Jack Benny and Fred Allen in 1940, Kiss the Boys Good-Bye in 1941 with Don Ameche and Oscar Levant, New York Town with Fred MacMurray and Robert Preston in 1941 and Happy Go Lucky with Rudy Vallee and Dick Powell in 1942.
In 1939, she became engaged to Frederick Drake, publisher of Harper’s Bazaar. At about the same time she met Richard Halliday, a story editor. Martin and Halliday quickly fell in love and he soon became her second husband in 1940 before she could talk with Drake and break off their engagement. The two were married thirty three years until Halliday’s death in 1973.
Longing for the stage, Martin returned to Broadway October 7, 1943 in Kurt Weill’s and Ogden Nash’s One Touch of Venus, which had been written for Marlene Dietrich, who had turned it down. Martin was apprehensive of playing the role of Venus since she could not picture herself as Venus. Her husband came up with a creative idea and took her to the Metropolitan Museum in New York where over fifty varieties of Venus statues were displayed. These ranged form short to tall, fat to thin. This convinced her and Martin remained in the lead role for 567 performances before taking it on the road.
Martin’s career zoomed when she took the role of Annie Oakley on stage in the touring production of Annie Get Your Gun, a role created on Broadway by Ethel Merman. She toured with the National Company opening in Dallas and winding down eleven months later in San Francisco. The role of Annie catapulted Martin to stardom.
As Annie Get YourGunwas winding down, Martin was approached to play the role of army nurse Nellie Forbush in a new Broadway play entitled South Pacific opposite opera singe Ezio Pinza. The play was based on two books by James Michener, Tales of the South Pacific and was set against a World War 11 backdrop. Martin was apprehensive about working with Pinza because of his reputation as one of the premier operatic singers and because of her dislike of hospitals. She almost turned down the part. She introduced “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and “A Wonderful Guy.” South Pacific was an enormous success and ran from April of 1949 until June of 1951 for a total of 1, 925 performances when Martin and Pinza traveled to London where the play opened in November.
Over the years Martin turned down the lead roles in Kiss Me Kate, My Fair Lady, and Mame. After a lack luster venture into herfirst non-musical play, Kind Sir, opposite Charles Boyer, she was offered the role of Peter in an entirely new musical version of Peter Pan. Martin felt it was the most important thing she had ever wanted to do in the theater and in her autobiography said,“When I was a child I was sure I could fly. In my dreams I often did, and it was always the same; I ran, raised my arms like a great bird, soared into the sky, flew.” Martin and her husband were given their choice of composer, director and choreographer. She hired an Englishman named Peter Foy, who had learned his trade from his family who had flown across the stage for fifty years. Equipped with wires, ropes, pulleys, and machines, he used his trade to establish a flying ballet which covered an area of more than sixty feet across the stage as well as in and out of windows. It was a tremendous hit in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1954 and opened on Broadway later that year. Hertalentswererecordedforfuturegenerationsin the 1995 and 1956 television version of Peter Pan, which one her an Emmy Award the year. But it was the Broadway version of Peter Pan that she is most identified with.
Another successful collaboration between Martin and Rodgers and Hammerstein was the role of Maria in The Sound of Music. Based on a book by Maria Baroness Von Trapp about her experiences as a lively young Catholic postulant in Austria, who was sent to be a governess to the seven children of a widowed naval officer. In 1956, a German motion picture had been an enormous hit in Europe and South America. To prepare for the part, Martin enlisted the help of Maria Von Trapp, who taught her how to kneel properly, make the sign of the cross, and how to play guitar. Martin reciprocated by teaching Von Trapp how to yodel. Her performances were well received and she won the coveted Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Award for her performance as Maria in 1959. The Sound of Music was another major success and ran for 1, 443 performances. It was also the last collaboration of Rodgers and Ham-merstien and the second longest running musical of the fifties.
Two other roles which Martin played to great acclaim were Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly, and Agnes in/ Do! I Do! with co-star Robert Preston./ Do! I Do! was based on a play, The Fourposter, about the lives of a couple from their wedding day until their golden anniversary. Martin felt that the subject matter of this play—marriage—would represent the essence of her life. It was the last musical Martin appeared in before her semi-retirement. Although her stage career was the mostprominent piece of her career, she also appeared in many television specials and as a featured guest in many network shows.
In 1969, Martin and her husband moved to Brazil and bought a farm. For several years she operated a boutique featuring herfashion designs and her needlepoint, about which she and her husband published a book in 1969. While in Brazil she was also the subject of the television show This Is Your Life. Martin returned to the United States after the death of her husband where she co-hosted the PBS television show Over Easy, which focused on issues of the elderly.
Martin died on November 3, 1990, at the age of 76 of liver cancer. Her long-time friend, Carol Channing, was at her bedside at Martin’s Rancho Mirage, California home, less than an hour before her death. “She was heaven,” said Channing.
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Additional information provided by Didier C. Deutsch, Mary Martin 16 Most Requested Songs, Liner Notes.
—Francis D. McKinley
Mary Martin (1913-1990) was a popular stage actress, singer, dancer, television and movie star.
Mary Martin was born in Weatherford, Texas, on December 1, 1913. As a child she was encouraged by her parents, Juanita and Judge Preston Martin, to study violin and voice. Her love of the theater was obvious at an early age. She sang in almost every church choir in town, wrote and performed plays for family and friends, and was an avid movie-goer.
At the age of 15 Martin left school to marry Benjamin Hagman. After the birth of her son, Larry, she opened the Mary Hagman School of Dance in Weatherford. During a trip to Hollywood to further her dancing studies, Martin's childhood desire to perform was rekindled. Subsequently she moved to Hollywood, divorced her husband, and spent two years auditioning for the movies.
Nightclub Performance Launched Broadway Career
It was not in the movies, but rather at the Trocadero nightclub, where Martin's career was finally launched. She sang a swing version of "Il Bacio," and the audience, including Broadway producer Lawrence Schwab, went wild. If "Il Bacio" took Martin to Broadway (by way of Schwab), it was "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" which kept her there. In 1938 she landed the part of Dolly in Leave It to Me at the Imperial Theatre. Her rendition of "Daddy" was a spectacular hit and led to star billing and a contract with Paramount Pictures.
Although Martin's first love was the stage, she accepted the Hollywood contract to star in a series of films including The Great Victor Herbert, Rhythm on the River, Love Thy Neighbor, Kiss the Boys Goodbye, New York Town, The Birth of Blues, Star Spangled Rhythm, and Happy Go Lucky.
It was during this period that Mary Martin met and married the love of her life, producer Richard Halliday. Mary's yearning to work on the stage led them to return to New York, where Halliday assumed his new vocation as her manager. From 1943 through the remainder of her career Martin worked almost exclusively on the stage, for she loved most to work directly with people rather than with a camera. It was her ability to share her exuberance with the people who watched her that made her so loved by musical comedy audiences.
Found Niche on Stage
The roles that she played on film and stage were the standard female images of the time—the sophisticated or exotic woman or the dumb blond. Before she found her true niche she played in Dancing on the Streets (1943), Venus in One Touch of Venus (1945), and Tchao-Ou-Niag in Lute Song (1945-1946). She also made her London debut as Elena Salvador in Noel Coward's Pacific 1860.
Although she had been successful in these parts, her career zoomed when she was finally able to express her true self—a warm, feisty, exciting, down-home girl—on stage. She played Annie Oakley in the touring production of Annie Get Your Gun (1947-1948) and catapulted to stardom. Martin's next big success, and perhaps the role for which she is most well known, was as Ensign Nellie Forbush in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's South Pacific. She created this role and starred in it at the Majestic Theatre from 1949 to 1951 and later performed the same role at Drury Lane in London.
Mary Martin's own favorite part was Peter in Peter Pan, with music by Comden and Green. The production, staged by Jerome Robbins, originated at the San Francisco Civic Light Opera (1954), later went to Broadway (1954-1955), and eventually toured the entire country. Martin's exuberant spirit went into this production—she recalled her youthful dreams and her desire to fly. As a child she had, in fact, even broken her collarbone while attempting to fly off the roof of her garage. The accident didn't deter Mary Martin, and as Peter she finally got her chance to fly, albeit on wires, to the delight of adults and children everywhere. Martin's talents were recorded for future generations to enjoy in the 1955 and 1956 television versions of Peter Pan.
Another role for which Mary Martin will be remembered is that of Maria in The Sound of Music, another successful collaboration between writers Hammerstein and Rodgers and the actress. Martin found the spirit of the determined, energetic, dedicated singer and former nun Maria through her work with the real Maria, Baroness Von Trapp, and her longtime friend Sister Gregory. She received the Theatre Wing's coveted Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Award for this performance in 1959.
Two other roles which Martin played to great acclaim were Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly, which toured to Vietnam, Tokyo, and London (1965), and Agnes in I Do! I Do! with co-star Robert Preston. The latter musical was based on a play, The Fourposter, about the lives of two people from their wedding day until 50 years later. Martin felt that the subject matter of this play—marriage—would represent the essence of her life. In fact, the production (1966-1969) was the last musical that Martin appeared in before her semi-retirement.
Retired to Brazil
In 1969 the Hallidays moved to Anapolis, Brazil, and bought a farm. For several years Martin operated a boutique featuring her fashion designs and her needlepoint, about which she and her husband published a book in 1969. While in Brazil she was also the subject of the television show This Is Your Life. After her husband's death, Martin returned to the United States where she was co-host of the PBS television show Over Easy, which focused on issues of the elderly. Martin enjoyed the successes of her children—Larry Hagman and Heller Halligan DeMeritt—and her six grandchildren.
In 1987 Martin toured with Carol Channing in a non-musical production called Legends! about a pair of bitchy Hollywood battle-axes. To Martin, the world was her theater. Contemplating her own end, she said in, People "It's been a fabulous life and a wonderful career. I'll keep on living until it's time. Then I'll just go on to another stage."
Martin died on November 3, 1990, at the age of 76. Her long-time friend, Carol Channing, had been at her bedside at Martin's Rancho Mirage, California, home less than an hour before she died of liver cancer. "She was heaven," said Channing.
Martin is listed in Who's Who in the Theatre, edited by Freda Gaye (14th ed., 1967); Her autobiography, My Heart Belongs (1984), includes information on her entire theatrical career as well as her personal life; For background information on musical comedy and Martin's role in its development, see Cecil Smith and Glenn Litton, Musical Comedy in America (1981). Also see People, November 19, 1990. □