MARTIN, MARY (1913–1990) Actress, Singer

Best known for her stage portrayal of Peter Pan, Mary Virginia Martin was born on December 1, 1913, in Weatherford, Texas. Under her mother’s tutelage, she learned to play the violin and studied voice. Throughout her youth, she gave frequent singing performances at local churches and social clubs. At 14, Martin began dating Benjamin Hagman. Though her parents sent her to finishing school in Nashville to end the romance, she married Hagman in 1930 on her 17th birthday and gave birth the next year. Her son, Larry Hagman, would grow up to become a popular television actor best known for his roles in I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas. Martin and Benjamin Hagman divorced in 1936.

Martin settled in Weatherford, where she established a dance school. To receive more dance training herself, she traveled to Los Angeles in 1932. The trip kindled her desire for a movie career. She spent several years going to auditions and making screen tests but had more luck finding work in nightclubs. While performing at the Trocadero, she was discovered by Broadway producer Lawrence Schwab. Martin headed for New York City and was soon cast in Cole Porter’s musical Leave It to Me. Coached by stage singer SOPHIE TUCKER, Martin won over audiences with a suggestive rendition of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”Her Broadway triumph at last won her a Hollywood contract. At Paramount Studio, she made eight films, but none were memorable. Her foray into film, however, did allow her to meet movie executive Richard Halliday. They married in 1940 and had one daughter, Heller. During their long, happy marriage, Halliday gave up his career to manage Martin’s.

Following his advice, Martin decided to focus on stage work. She had an early success in One Touch of Venus (1945), in which she played a statue of Venus that came to life. In 1946, Martin also had hits with Lute Song and Pacific 1860, both of which were written with her in mind. She lost the starring role in the Broadway musical, Annie Get Your Gun to ETHEL MERMAN, but became a bona fide stage star when she played the part during its 1947–48 tour.

In 1949 Martin starred in South Pacific playing Nellie Forbush, a spirited young woman forced to confront her own prejudices. Her legendary performance featured two show-stopping songs, “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.” After South Pacific, she was offered, but turned down, roles in many of Broadway’s bestregarded musicals, including Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, and Kiss Me Kate. She broadened her audience, however, by appearing on television in several early variety shows. In 1954 Martin scored on the stage once again as the star of Peter Pan, which later she named as her favorite role. She appeared in the part in various productions over the next six years. The musical was also filmed for television in 1955 and 1956. In 1959, Martin originated another classic role, that of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

She also toured much of the globe in a State Department–sponsored production of Hello Dolly! Her last musical role came in 1966, when she starred with Robert Preston in I Do! I Do! After that show, citing exhaustion, she went into semiretirement and moved with her husband to Brazil, where they had frequently vacationed. Following his death in 1973, she returned to California, where in the 1980s she hosted Over Easy, a PBS television series dealing with issues relating to the elderly. She also made a final stage appearance in 1986, costarring with her longtime friend Carol Channing in the drama Legends. Martin died of cancer on November 3, 1990, at the age of 77.

Further Reading
Martin, Mary. My Heart Belongs. New York: Morrow, 1976.
Rivadue, Barry. Mary Martin: A Bio-Bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Birth of the Blues (1941). Universal, VHS, 1995.
Mary Martin Sings, Richard Rodgers Plays. RCA, CD, 1990.
My Heart Belongs to Daddy. Pearl-Koch, CD, 2000.
Peter Pan (1960). Goodtimes Home Video, DVD/VHS, 1999.