Birthday: September 22, 1912
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Jamesport, Missouri, U.S.
Famous as: Actress
Spouse/Ex-: Carlton Alsop (1940–1946; divorced), Mel Powell (1946–1998; his death)
father: Walter Alva Scott,
mother: Letha McKinley
Died on: May 28, 2003
place of death: Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
U.S. State: Missouri
Martha Scott was an American actress remembered for her roles in movies like ‘The Ten Commandments’ and ‘Ben-Hur.’ Also well-known is her debut film role as Emily in the motion picture adaptation of Thornton Wilder's play ‘Our Town,’ a role which earned her critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The daughter of an engineer, she became interested in acting in high school, and proceeded to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in drama from the University of Michigan. Right out of college, she started working with the Globe Theatre Troupe and appeared in a series of Shakespeare productions at the Century of Progress world's fair in Chicago. A successful stage career followed and she made her Broadway debut in the original staging of Thornton Wilder's play ‘Our Town.’ Motivated by her success on the stage, she moved to motion pictures and received much praise for reprising her role in the film adaptation of ‘Our Town.’ Over the next few years, she gained a reputation for being a talented character actress who never shied from taking up unglamorous roles; in fact, she even played the role of the leading man Charlton Heston's mother twice despite being just 11 years older to him. Along with the stage and films, she was also active in television.
Childhood & Early Life
Martha Ellen Scott was born on September 22, 1912, in Jamesport, Missouri, U.S. to Walter Scott, an engineer and garage owner, and Letha McKinley.
She became interested in acting while in high school. Her parents were against this idea, but the young girl managed to convince an aunt to lend her $2,500 so that she could study acting at the University of Michigan. She earned a teaching certificate and a Bachelor of Arts degree in drama in 1934.
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Martha Scott embarked on an acting career right out of college as a part of the Globe Theatre Troupe and appeared in a series of Shakespeare productions at the Century of Progress world's fair in Chicago in 1934. This marked the beginning of her successful stage career and she went on to feature in several other stage productions over the ensuing years.
In 1938, she made her Broadway debut in the role of Emily Webb in the original staging of Thornton Wilder's play ‘Our Town,’ in which she portrayed a young woman who dies in childbirth.
She soon ventured into Hollywood and reprised her role as Emily in the motion picture adaptation of the play ‘Our Town’ in 1940. Her debut was a successful one and she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her poignant portrayal of the tragic young woman.
She appeared in a series of films in the 1940s, often taking up unglamorous roles that several other actresses of her era were unwilling to play. She played an aged woman in ‘Cheers for Miss Bishop’ (1941) in which she wore a grey wig and wrinkle makeup, portraying a spinster schoolmistress who devotes five decades of her life to her profession.
She played Olivia Channing Boswell in the 1947 film ‘So Well Remembered’ co-starring John Mills and Trevor Howard. Her role as the ambitious wife of a man who is not much interested in materialistic pursuits was well-received.
One of her most important films in the 1950s was ‘The Desperate Hours’ (1955) in which she played the role of Eleanor "Ellie" Hilliard. The film, which also had Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March in leading roles, was a story about three escaped convicts based on an eponymous novel and play written by Joseph Hayes.
In the 1950s, she forayed into television as well. She made an appearance on ‘The Nash Airflyte Theater’ in 1950 and followed it up with several guest appearances on ‘Robert Montgomery Presents’ and other shows of television's "golden age" during the early years of the medium. She was also the narrator for ‘Modern Romances’, an afternoon program on NBC-TV.
Her performance as Yoshebel, the mother of Moses, in 1956 in the religious epic film ‘The Ten Commandments’ was one of her most memorable roles. She was also much appreciated for her portrayal of Miriam in the 1959 epic historical drama film ‘Ben-Hur.’
She was more active on television during years of her career and played recurring roles as Bob Newhart's mother on ‘The Bob Newhart Show’ and the mother of Colonel Steve Austin on both ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘The Bionic Woman’ among other roles during the 1970s and 1980s. Scott's final acting role on television was in the movie ‘Daughter of the Streets’ (1990).
Her portrayal of Emily Webb in her film debut ‘Our Town’ is considered one of her most memorable roles. Having already played the character on stage, she reprised her role in the film which earned her much critical praise for her empathic acting.
Awards & Achievements
Martha Scott was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the 1940 film ‘Our Town.’
For her contribution in the theatre, Scott has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6126 Hollywood Boulevard.
Personal Life & Legacy
Martha Scott’s first marriage was to radio producer and announcer Carleton William Alsop from 1940 to 1946. The union produced a son.
She married the jazz pianist and composer Mel Powell in 1946 and remained together until his death in 1998. The couple had two daughters.
She died on May 28, 2003, at the age of 90.