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.

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, Geraldine, 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.

Audition Mary

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 Manana 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 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 received no 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 "Il 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 Me, 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 a young 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 pictureThe Great Victor Herbert opposite singing star Allan Jones, followed by Rhythm on the River with 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 Neighbor with Jack Benny and Fred Allen in 1940, Kiss the Boys Good-Byein 1941with 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.

Catapulted to Superstardom

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 Your Gun was 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 II 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 her first 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. Her talents were recorded for future generations in 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 Hammerstien 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 I Do! I Do! with co-star Robert Preston. I 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 most prominent 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 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. 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.

by Francis D. McKinley

Mary Martin's Career

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.

Mary Martin's Awards

Emmy Award, 1955 for Peter Pan; Kennedy Center Performing Arts Achievement Award, 1989.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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