Martha Raye (1916 - 1994)



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Martha Raye
Born August 27, 1916 in Butte, Montana, USA
Died October 19, 1994 in Los Angeles, California, USA (pneumonia)
Birth Name Margaret Teresa Yvonne Reed
Nicknames The Big Mouth
The Female Bob Hope
Height 5' 3" (1.6 m)
Mini Bio (1)
Known as "The Big Mouth" and considered the female equivalent to Bob Hope, Martha Raye was an American icon in her own right.
She was born Margy Reed in Butte, Montana, to Maybelle Hazel (Hooper) and Peter Reed, Jr., vaudeville performers. She had Irish, German, and English ancestry. Raye made her acting debut before the age of 10 as she toured the nation with her parents variety show "Reed and Hopper". In her late teens she was hired by band-leader Paul Ash as his lead vocalist and was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout during a New York City concert in 1934. She soon relocated to Hollywood were she began making a name for herself appearing in a string of successful screwball comedies alongside the likes of Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, W.C. Fields, and Joe E. Brown.
She continued acting into the late 1980s dividing her time between movies, TV guest spots, and occasional stage appearances. She passed away on October 19, 1994 after a long battle from pneumonia and was buried with full military honors at the Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Martha "Colonel Maggie" Raye was 78 years old.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Anonymous
Mark Harris (25 September 1991 - 19 October 1994) ( her death)
Robert O'Shea (7 November 1956 - 1 December 1960) ( divorced)
Edward Thomas Begley (21 April 1954 - 6 October 1956) ( divorced)
Nick Condos (22 February 1944 - 17 June 1953) ( divorced) ( 1 child)
Neal Lang (24 May 1941 - 3 February 1944) ( divorced)
David Rose (8 October 1938 - 18 May 1941) ( divorced)
Bud Westmore (30 May 1937 - 28 September 1938) ( divorced)
Trivia (29)
Received the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award in 1988.
Died of pneumonia at Cedars Sinai Medical Center at 1:45pm; by 2pm Harris had her body en route to a mortuary. She also suffered from Alzheimers, cataracts and liver disease, and had lost both legs the year before her death due to circulatory problems.
Married last husband Mark Harris - an admitted bisexual - after knowing him for less than a month. He was 42; she was 75.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 1993 by President Bill Clinton.
Had so little formal schooling, her scripts had to be read to her.
The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was given to Raye in 1969 for her work with charities and entertaining U.S. troops; her estate gave it to the Friars Club in 1997 where she was its first female honorary member.
Daughter by Condos, Melodye Raye Condos (Melodye Condos), born 26th July 1944.
Buried in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Had a temporary falling out with daughter Melodye when Melodye had her father cremated against Martha's wishes.
Martha left the bulk of her estate to Mark Harris, but left some money to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Harris spent a portion of his money designing a line of furs.
Martha Raye had a lifelong fear of flying, but because of her profession was required to make numerous air trips, which she could muster only after drinking herself into a near alcoholic stupor. Her drinking and conduct during these periods ended up with a number of airlines refusing her service, particularly on her many trips into the Miami, Florida, area, which was a favored vacation spot.
Was an honorary Green Beret. Visited U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam without fanfare. Registered nurse Lt. Colonel, helped out when things got bad in Special Forces A-Camps. Affectionately known by Green Berets as "Colonel Maggie."
One time band vocalist with the Paul Ash and Boris Morros orchestras in the early 30s.
Once attended the Professional Children's School in New York.
Performed in a family act called "Reed and Hooper" (their parents' names) with brother Bud. Martha (whose real name was Margaret) and Bud so consistently stole the show that the name of the act was eventually changed to "Bud and Margie."
Following the demise of her TV variety show, the breakup of her fifth marriage, and a series of other personal problems, she attempted suicide with sleeping pills on August 14, 1956. After her recovery she always wore a St. Christopher's medal, a St. Genesius medal and a Star of David given to her by wellwishers. At the end of her TV programs she also would say "Good night, Sisters," a reference to The Sisters of St. Francis Hospital in Miami where she recovered.
Born backstage at a local vaudeville theatre in Butte, Montana, where her song-and-dance parents, Maybelle Hazel (Hooper) and Peter Reed, Jr., were performing. Two days after Martha was born, her mother was back doing the act. Martha's father, born in Manchester, England, had Irish ancestry. Martha's American-born mother had German and English roots.
Spokesperson for Polident denture cleanser in the 1970s and 1980s.
Biography in: "American National Biography". Supplement 1, pp. 505-506. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Profiled in book "Funny Ladies" by Stephen Silverman. [1999]
Became an overnight star in 1936, after she was spotted by producer/director Norman Taurog performing comedy skits at the Trocadero nightclub, with Jimmy Durante and Joe E. Lewis as straight men. She was in front of the cameras the following day, doing a comic drunk routine in Bing Crosby's 'Rhythm on the Range'.
Raye's career was highlighted in "The Slapstick Queens" by James Robert Parish, published by A. S. Barnes in 1973.
She was a lifelong Republican and a solid supporter of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in particular.
Before she died, Raye sued singer/actress Bette Midler and the producers of the movie For the Boys (1991) citing that the film was based on her own extensive experience as a much-loved entertainer of US troops during three wars. She lost in court when the judge, after hearing evidence on both sides, ruled that she didn't have a case.
Martha Raye,the only woman buried in the Special Forces cemetery at Fort Bragg, NC. Martha Raye joined the USO soon after the US entered WWII. During WWII ,the Korean War, and the Vietnam War,she traveled extensively to entertain our troops, despite her extreme fear of flying. In 1966 she went to Vietnam to entertain two platoons of airmen, both were called out on a mission. She held the show there till they returned. She often served as a nurse on these trips.
Her fifth husband, Edward T. Begley, should not be confused with Oscar-winning actor Ed Begley, the father of Ed Begley Jr..
She popularized the catch phrases, "Oh, Boy!" and "Yeah, Man!" in the 1930s.
Her singing style inspired Anita O'Day to pursue a career as a jazz singer (which O'Day succeeded in doing so following Raye's distinctive high vocals and scat technique).
Martha Raye was granted a Mexican divorce from Capt. Neal Lang on Thursday 3 February 1944 by Judge Javier Rosas Ceballos in the Juarez civil court on grounds of incompatibility. (United Press, "Martha Raye Given Divorce in Mexico", The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Saturday 5 February 1944, Volume 50, page 6.).
Personal Quotes (7)
I didn't have to work till I was three. But after that, I never stopped.
Few people actually know me or take me seriously. I thought success in show business was the answer to everything. It isn't. I don't know what is.
"Only cowards give up the search for happiness because they're afraid of getting hurt.
My career is my whole life. I'll always work.
I must have been hypnotized by the spotlight. I never realized I was being culturally deprived, that I was having a lousy upbringing. We were too busy making a living to worry about stuff like that.
One paper says I'm Catholic and the other says I'm Jewish. I guess that's fitting because as a Methodist I'm meant to be undetermined some of the time.

Martha Raye Biography & Family History

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in Butte, Silver Bow County, Montana United States


on in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California United States
Cause of death: Heart

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Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California

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Nowhere was that more evident than during World War II and in Korea and Vietnam, when she traveled tens of thousands of miles to carry her merry insanity to American troops.Ailments that had begun to plague her as a young star entertaining at Allied military bases in the mid-1940s continued to trouble her through her later years.
With the outbreak of World War II she took a break from film making to focus on entertaining servicemen and women traveling with the USO on many tour stops. She soon became even more famous for her dedication to America, its values, and its soldiers which helped earn her the beloved nickname "Colonel Maggie".
She suffered from anemia for many years, was found unconscious on the beach in Malibu in 1962, suffered a series of strokes that forced her to use a wheelchair, and in October, 1993, underwent heart bypass surgery and treatment for gangrene poisoning in her foot.
She was married seven times, most recently to Mark Harris, a show business promoter 32 years her junior who had been trying to get her awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to go with the Motion Picture Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award Oscar she had received in 1968 for entertaining troops. His efforts proved successful and in November, President Clinton awarded her the medal, citing her "great courage, kindness and patriotism."

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1916 - In the year that Martha Raye was born, in June, the U.S. Congress authorized a plan to expand the armed forces over the next five years. Called the National Defense Act of 1916, the national law expanded the National Guard and Army (the Army added an aviation unit), created the Reserves, and gave the President expanded authority to federalize the National Guard. It also allowed the government to stockpile, in advance, materiel to be used in wartime.

1957 - She was 41 years old when on September 24th, the "Little Rock Nine" (nine African-American students) entered Little Rock High School. Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had previously prevented the students from entering the school at the beginning of the term with the Arkansas National Guard - they blocked the door. President Eisenhower ordered federal troops - the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army - to guard the students and allow them entry.

1960 - She was 44 years old when on September 26th, the first televised debate for a Presidential campaign in the United States - Kennedy vs Nixon - was held. Seventy million people watched the debate on TV. The debate pre-empted the very popular Andy Griffith Show.

1974 - Martha was 58 years old when on February 5th, Patty Hearst, age 19 - granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst and daughter of publisher of the San Francisco Examiner Randolph Hearst - was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a left wing terrorist group. She was found, alive, 19 months later.

1994 - In the year of Martha Raye's passing, on May 6th, the Channel Tunnel or "Chunnel" was officially opened. The Chunnel is a railway tunnel beneath the English Channel that connects Great Britain to mainland France. Original plans for such a tunnel were developed in 1802 and approved by Napoleon Bonaparte but the British rejected the plan fearing that Napoleon would use the railway to invade.

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From the Archives: Comedian Martha Raye Dead at 78
OCT 20, 1994 | 5:00 AM

From the Archives: Comedian Martha Raye Dead at 78
Martha Raye, the charismatic comedian with the oversized mouth, polished pratfalls and mimicking manner, died Wednesday in Los Angeles. Miss Raye, born in a charity ward to Irish immigrant vaudevillians, was 78 and had been in failing health for many years. For more than 50 years she had teamed up with the preeminent entertainment talents of the 20th Century: Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle, Bing Crosby and many more. She had opened her monstrous maw in Broadway musical comedies, radio and television shows and an assortment of motion pictures. And each time out of it came volume and warmth, for she had—if even for a fleeting moment—the ability to transcend foolishness and produce genuine sentiment and melancholy. Her performances on film, a medium for which she first became well known, included a rendition of "Mr. Paganini," in the 1936 Crosby film "Rhythm on the Range," which made her an overnight star; "The Big Broadcast of 1938," "Hellzapoppin" in 1941 and dozens of perfunctory, long-forgotten and low-budget pictures including "Give Me a Sailor," "Never Say Die" and "$1,000 a Touchdown." She told the New York Times in a 1972 interview that she felt she had been badly used in pictures, making an exception for "Rhythm on the Range" and "Monsieur Verdoux," in which she portrayed Annabella Bonheur, the cacophonous, domineering wife of Chaplin, a Bluebeard who satisfies her demands for money by secretly marrying and murdering rich women. Chaplin, who told Miss Raye he had her in mind when he wrote the part, called it "the most brilliant film he had ever made"; some critics agreed and said it marked a return to his early triumphs in silent pictures. Miss Raye acknowledged that it may have been her only venture into "art." At 5 foot, 3 inches, she was much smaller than her professional persona. It was when she smiled or spoke that people realized they were in the presence of a genuinely oversize personality with volume to match. Her personal appearances had been known to turn into celebrations. Her self-deprecating manner encouraged everyone around her to share in the warmth and belly laughs she tried hard to find in life.
But the final years proved to be anything but that.
Ailments that had begun to plague her as a young star entertaining at Allied military bases in the mid-1940s continued to trouble her through her later years.
She suffered from anemia for many years, was found unconscious on the beach in Malibu in 1962, suffered a series of strokes that forced her to use a wheelchair, and in October, 1993, underwent heart bypass surgery and treatment for gangrene poisoning in her foot.
She was married seven times, most recently to Mark Harris, a show business promoter 32 years her junior who had been trying to get her awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to go with the Motion Picture Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award Oscar she had received in 1968 for entertaining troops.
His efforts proved successful and in November, President Clinton awarded her the medal, citing her "great courage, kindness and patriotism."
Those were among the happiest moments of her life.
Then there were the legal battles with ex-husbands and her daughter over her $2.5-million estate. At the end she had been hugely successful and ravishingly hungry, loved by audiences but often ignored by those whose love she sought. During periods she described as filled with melancholy, she said sadly that her career had really been "my whole life."
Miss Raye and her mother had hoped she would become a serious singer when they sat down with the telephone book in 1929 to find a more suitable name for Margaret Teresa Yvonne O'Reed, who had become part of her parents' vaudeville act. Martha Raye was an amalgam of what they found.
At 13 she was entertaining in nightclubs while performing with the Benny Davis Kid Revue. Her first big break came when she landed a small part in an all-star revue called "Calling All Stars." It featured many of Broadway's top players, including Phil Baker, Lou Holtz, Ella Logan and others. Miss Raye said years later that "the only two unknowns in the whole show were Judy Canova and me."
One night Logan was too ill to perform and Miss Raye was dropped into her spot. Foreshadowing the corny plots of some of the pictures in which she later appeared, the evening made her a success.
By the time she made "Rhythm on the Range" she had been married a couple of times—to makeup artist Buddy Westmore and composer David Rose—but after several routine pictures in the mid- and late 1930s she tired of Hollywood and returned to Broadway. There she co-starred with the legendary Al Jolson in "Hold On to Your Hats," a 1940 musical revue that ran for 158 performances. Jolson made her a regular on his radio show for the next two years, where she worked with such comics as Cantor, Hope and Durante.
In 1944 she came back to Hollywood for "Four Jills in a Jeep," a wartime film built around the antics of four female entertainers touring bases in England and North Africa. The New York Post wrote that she had "never been more raucous, rough and pleasing."
After "Monsieur Verdoux," she gravitated toward television, doing several guest shots with Milton Berle, who had the nation's No. 1 program in the early 1950s. Finally, after a series of summer replacement programs, she became host of "The Martha Raye Show" (1955-56). A New York Herald Tribune critic called her "the unqualified queen of buffoons." She had been nominated for an Emmy in 1952 and 1953 for some specials and received another nomination in 1975 for an episode of "McMillan and Wife."
She did sketches on other people's programs throughout the 1950s and in 1958 began to appear on the New York stage in revivals ("Annie Get Your Gun") and nationwide in repertory theater. Her interpretations of "No, No Nanette," "Wildcat" and "Hello, Dolly" were particularly praised.
From 1982 to 1984 she was seen on TV in the long-running series "Alice," which starred Linda Lavin as the acerbic waitress, and was one of dozens of stars featured on the comedy anthology "Love, American Style."
In 1985, at age 69, the boisterous mistress of slapstick returned to a New York cabaret, this time to one called the Ballroom, where she sang classic ballads as they were written, sans the Raye sarcasm and gestures.
It was the second time she had switched from her comedy style. The first was in the early 1930s when her husband at the time, composer Rose, had her record such popular ballads as "Body and Soul," an experience that she said "brought me 58 cents in royalties."
This time the response to "Little Girl Blue," "My Funny Valentine" and others was enthusiastic and profitable.
By then her only national appearances were on TV commercials in which she espoused the advantages of Polident, a denture cleaner. She said she enjoyed the commercials because a season's worth were filmed in three days.
There were to be no more performances. The rest of her years were marked by court actions in which her daughter tried to declare her mentally incompetent and her friends split over her marriage to Harris, some of them hinting that it was only a money arrangement for him while others took his side, saying he had made a physically failing and mentally diminished old woman happy.
In another lawsuit, she alleged that the 1991 Bette Midler-James Caan film "For the Boys" wrongfully appropriated her life story. The lawsuit was dismissed this year after Midler testified that there was no similarity between her part and Miss Raye's life except for the fact that they both entertained troops.
Columnist Sidney Skolsky, in a 1962 interview in which Miss Raye briefly lowered her comedic barriers, quoted her as saying: "Few people actually know me, or take me seriously. . . . It's great for my career though, I guess."
And then: "I thought success in show business was the answer to everything. It isn't. I don't know what is."


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