Saturday, May 1, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: MARTHA RAYE entertains the troops


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MARTHA RAYE entertains troops (at an unknown location) during WWII to their delight. This was a mutual admiration relationship she continued through the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Martha's autograph, in blue ink, reads: "I'm praying for your good health. All my love, Martha Raye." [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
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By Steve Crum

MARTHA RAYE (Aug. 27, 1916-Oct. 19, 1994) was one of the great entertainers of the 20th Century. Born Margy Reed in Butte, Montana, Martha's show business career, sounding like Judy Garland's "Born in a Trunk" song, began as a three year-old in her vaudevillian parents' act.

As an adult, Martha Raye began her solo career as a big band vocalist, during the early 1930's. In 1936, Paramount signed her as singer and comedienne in Bing Crosby's Rhythm on the Range, in which Martha sang what became her signature song, "Mr. Paganini." Support roles with Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello, W.C. Fields, and Jimmy Durante followed. Her best work is in the 1940 Charlie Chaplin dark comedy, Monsieur Verdoux, in which Raye portrays a daffy heiress constantly thwarting Chaplin's attempts to murder her.

When WWII began, Raye was among the first entertainers to sign with the USO to help build morale for the troops. Despite an extreme fear of flying, she traveled the world in doing so. This is something Martha Raye continued to do during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. She distinguished herself for her relentless trips to Vietnam. During one trip, Raye even assisted in nursing wounded soldiers within a battle zone. Her support and courage earned her an Honorary Green Beret commission and the nickname, "Col. Maggie."

On NBC TV, her Martha Raye Show ran from 1954-56. She made numerous guest appearances on TV following its cancellation. After appearing on Carol Burnett's popular variety show several times, the two made a now collectible album of singing duets. Toward the end of her career, Martha was commercial spokesperson for Polident, introducing herself as "The Big Mouth" in each endorsement.

Martha Raye's private life was yet another thing. Seven marriages, health problems involving drugs, alcohol, Alzheimer's Disease, and the loss of both legs due to circulatory problems, permeated her quality of living. A biography, Take It From the Big Mouth: The Story of Martha Raye, details her illustrious career and grim private life. Martha was buried at the military cemetery in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
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Fans of Martha Raye must check out recently released CD's of many of her regular appearances on radio's The Lifebuoy Show, starring Al Jolson. She was featured on the 1936-39 program as both singer and comedienne, including duets with Jolson. (By the way, she co-starred with Jolson in his 1940 Broadway musical comedy, Hold On to Your Hats.) The newly found Lifebuoy recordings are available only through The International Al Jolson Society, and can be purchased only by members. So...PLEASE JOIN! Details are at the impressive Jolson Society website: http://www.jolson.org/
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