Childhood & Early Life
Mary Virginia Martin was born on December 1, 1913 to Preston Martin and Juanita Presley in Weatherford, Texas. She led a comfortable and happy childhood with her parents, who were extremely fond of her.
From a very young age, Martin was extremely talented at mimicking others and grew up like a tomboy. She would often climb trees along with her elder sister Geraldine or ride ponies to keep themselves occupied.
Her first public appearance was when she sang at a pavilion with two other girls, dressed in bellhop dresses. She was gifted with a graphic memory as a child and as a result, could memorize songs, mimicry or even acting.
When she was a teenager, she decided to get married and was forced to leave finishing school in Ward-Belmont, because she became pregnant.
Scared that she had made the wrong decision about getting married young, she looked for a way to vent her feelings, which she found through dance. It is believed that her sister was the first person who taught her how to dance the waltz clog.
Soon afterwards, she opened her own dance studio, where she fashioned her own moves or by emulating the other famous dancers that she had seen in movies.
In a bizarre incident, her dance studio was burnt down by a man who believed ‘dancing was a sin’. She looked to her father for advice who suggested her to go through a divorce, following which she left for Hollywood, leaving even her son behind.
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In Hollywood, she attended a number of auditions which earned her the nickname, ‘Audition Mary’. At one of the auditions, Oscar Hammerstein II noticed her singing talent and immediately became the face behind launching her Broadway career.
Her first job was singing on radio in Dallas and in nightclubs in Los Angeles.
She made her Broadway debut with Cole Porter’s ‘Leave It to Me!’ in 1938. In the production, she sang, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’, which made her an overnight star. The same year, she debuted with a motion picture, ‘The Rage of Paris’.
From 1940 to 1943 she starred in a range of movies including, ‘Love Thy Neighbor’, ‘Kiss the Boys Goodbye’, ‘New York Town’, ‘Birth of the Blues’, ‘Star Spangles Rhythm’ and ‘Happy Go Lucky’.
From 1943 to 1948, she appeared in multifarious theatre productions including ‘One Touch of Venus’, ‘Pacific 1860’, ‘Lute Song’ and ‘Annie Get Your Gun’.
In 1949, she appeared as the nurse, Nellie Forbush in the Broadway production, ‘South Pacific’, for which she earned a special award. She headlined in the West End production on November 1st, two years later.
In 1953, she appeared in her last film, ‘Main Street to Broadway’. Possibly one of her greatest successes came when she was cast as the title character in the Broadway production of ‘Peter Pan’ in 1954. To do full justice to her role, she had to do some of the stunts herself, including flying with suspended ropes.
In 1955, Martin was seen in ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’, which was followed by ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ once again, which ran for 10 weeks in Los Angeles. Two years later she was seen in the television series, ‘Annie Get Your Gun’.
In 1960, she was seen in the television version of ‘Peter Pan’ after which she appeared in ‘The Bing Crosby Show for Clairol’ two years later.
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In 1966, she appeared on Broadway in the two-person musical, ‘I Do! I Do!’ alongside Robert Preston. She was once again nominated for an important award for her performance. Two years later, she prepared to embark on a national tour, which was cancelled due to illness.
From 1972 to 1978, she appeared in the productions, ‘A Celebration of Richard Rodgers’ and ‘Do You Turn Somersaults?’. The next year, she appeared on the television show, ‘Valentine’.
She was seen in her last public theater performance in ‘Legends’, in 1985. Around the same time, she was seen in ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of American Music’, a television series.
Awards & Achievements
She was presented the Donaldson Award for ‘One Touch of Venus’, in 1943.
She was honored with a New York Film Critics Circle Award for ‘One Touch of Venus’, in 1943.
In 1948, she was conferred a Tony Award for ‘spreading theatre to the rest of the country while the originals perform in New York’.
In 1955, she received a Tony Award for her role as ‘Peter Pan’ in the theatre production of the same name.
In 1956, she received an Emmy Award for the television adaptation of ‘Peter Pan’.
She received a Tony Award for ‘The Sound of Music’, in 1959.
She received Kennedy Center Honors for career achievements in 1989.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married Benjamin Hagman in 1930 at the age of 17 and the couple had a child, Larry Hagman. Since she was young and naïve, she didn’t fully understand and enjoy the responsibilities of being a wife. The couple separated in 1936.
She married Richard Halliday in 1940 and they remained married till his death in 1973.
In 1982, she met with a tragic accident which resulted in two of her ribs being fractured, a punctured lung and a fractured pelvis. One person travelling along with them died on the spot and the other died two years later after suffering from complications from the accident.
She passed away due to colorectal cancer and is interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford, Texas.