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Martha Raye

Martha Raye
File:Martha Raye - still.JPG
Raye c. 1940s
Born Margy Reed
(1916-08-27)August 27, 1916
Butte, Montana, U.S.
Died October 19, 1994(1994-10-19) (aged 78)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Cardiovascular disease
Resting place
Main Post Cemetery, Fort Bragg NC[1]
Occupation Actress/Singer/Comedian
Years active 1934–1989
Spouse(s) Bud Westmore (1937-1938)
David Rose (1938-1941)
Neal Lang (1941-1944)
Nick Condos (1944-1953)
Edward T. Begley (1954-1956)
Robert O'Shea (1956-1960)
Mark Harris (1991-1994; her death)

Martha Raye (August 27, 1916 – October 19, 1994) was an American comic actress and standards singer who performed in movies, and later on television. She also acted in plays, including Broadway.[2] She was honored in 1969 with an Academy Award as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award recipient for her volunteer efforts and services to the troops.[3]

Early years

Raye's life as a singer and comedic performer began in very early childhood. She was born at St. James Hospital in Butte, Montana, as Margy Reed.[4][5] Her father was an immigrant of Irish descent, and her mother was raised in Milwaukee and Montana.[6]

Her parents, Peter F. Reed, Jr. and Maybelle Hazel Hooper, were performing in a local vaudeville theatre as "Reed and Hooper."[7] Two days after Martha was born, her mother was back onstage, and the little girl first appeared in their act when only three years old. She performed with her brother Bud, and soon the two children became such a highlight that the act was renamed "Margie and Bud."


In the early 1930s, Raye was a band vocalist with the Paul Ash and Boris Morros orchestras. She made her first film appearance in 1934 in a band short titled A Nite in the Nite Club. In 1936 she was signed for comic roles by Paramount Pictures, and made her first picture for Paramount. Her first feature film was Rhythm on the Range with crooner Bing Crosby.

From 1936-39, she was a featured cast member in 39 episodes of Al Jolson's weekly CBS radio show, "The Lifebuoy Program” aka “Cafe Trocadero.” In addition to comedy, Martha sang both solos and duets with Jolson. Over the next quarter century, she would appear with many of the leading comics of her day, including Joe E. Brown, Bob Hope, W. C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin and Jimmy Durante. She joined the USO soon after the US entered World War II.[8]

She was known for the size of her mouth, which was large in proportion to the rest of her face, thus earning her the nickname The Big Mouth. She later referred to this in a series of commercials for Polident denture cleaner in the 1980s: "So take it from The Big Mouth: new Polident Green gets tough stains clean!" Her large mouth would come to relegate her motion picture work to largely supporting comic parts, and was often made up in such a way that it appeared even larger than it was to begin with. In the Disney cartoon Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, she is caricatured dancing alongside Joe E. Brown, another actor known for having a big mouth. In the Warner Bros. cartoon The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos (1937), she was caricatured as a jazzy scat-singing donkey named Moutha Bray.[9]

In 1968, she was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in the form of an Oscar.[10]

On November 2, 1993, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton for her service to her country.[8] The citation reads:
"A talented performer whose career spans the better part of a century, Martha Raye has delighted audiences and uplifted spirits around the globe. She brought her tremendous comedic and musical skills to her work in film, stage and television, helping to shape American entertainment. The great courage, kindness, and patriotism she showed in her many tours during World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam conflict earned her the nickname 'Colonel Maggie.' The American people honor Martha Raye, a woman who has tirelessly used her gifts to benefit the lives of her fellow Americans."[11]

TV career

She was a television star very early in its history, and even had her own program for a while, The Martha Raye Show (1954–1956), with an awkward boyfriend portrayed by retired middleweight boxer Rocky Graziano (whom she called "goombah," Sicilian slang for the Italian "compadre" [companion]). (The writer and producer was future The Phil Silvers Show creator Nat Hiken.) Some of the guest stars on the show were Zsa Zsa Gabor, Cesar Romero and Broadway dancer Wayne Lamb. She also appeared on other TV shows in the 1950s, such as What's My Line?. Following the demise of her TV variety show, the breakup of her fifth marriage and a series of other personal and health problems, she attempted suicide overdosing on sleeping pills on August 14, 1956. Well-wishers gave her a St. Christopher's medal, a St. Genesius medal and a Star of David. After her recovery, she wore these amulets faithfully, although she was neither Roman Catholic nor Jewish. At the conclusion of each episode of her TV shows, she would thank the nuns at The Sisters of St. Francis Hospital in Miami, Florida, where she had recovered. She would always say "Goodnight, Sisters" as a sign of appreciation and gratitude.

Later in her career, she made television commercials for Polident denture cleanser, principally during the 1970s and 1980s.

Later career

In 1970 she portrayed Boss Witch, the "Queen of all Witchdom", in the feature film Pufnstuf for Sid and Marty Krofft. This led to her being cast as villainess Benita Bizarre in The Bugaloos (1970), which the Kroffts produced the same year.

Raye as the outrageous Benita Bizarre on The Bugaloos (1970).

She often appeared as a guest on other programs, particularly ones that often had older performers as guest stars such as ABC's The Love Boat, and on variety programs including the short-lived The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show. She appeared from the third to the ninth season as Carrie Sharples on Alice, making two or three appearances a season. She made guest appearances or did cameo roles in such series as Murder, She Wrote on CBS and The Andy Williams Show and McMillan & Wife, both on NBC. She appeared again as Agatha for the six episode run of the retooled McMillan, taking over for Nancy Walker, who had left the series. Her last film appearance was as an incontinent airline passenger in the disaster film The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979).

Personal life

Raye's personal life was complex and emotionally tumultuous.[12] She was married seven times.

Raye was a devout Methodist who regularly attended church, read the Bible daily and even taught Sunday school classes.[13]

She was married to Hamilton "Buddy" Westmore from May 30, 1937 until September 1937, filing for divorce on the basis of extreme cruelty; to composer-conductor David Rose from October 8, 1938 to May 19, 1941; to Neal Lang from May 25, 1941 to February 3, 1944; to Nick Condos from February 22, 1944 to June 17, 1953; to Edward T. Begley from April 21, 1954 to October 6, 1956; to Robert O'Shea from November 7, 1956 to December 1, 1960; and to Mark Harris from September 25, 1991 until her death in 1994. She had one child, a daughter, Melodye Condos (born July 26, 1944), with fourth husband Condos.

Politically, Raye was conservative affirming her political views by informing an interviewer, "I am a Republican because I believe in the constitution, strength in national defense, limited government, individual freedom, and personal responsibility as the concrete foundation for American government. They reinforce the resolve that the United States is the greatest country in the world and we can all be eternally grateful to our founding fathers for the beautiful legacy they left us today."[14]


Her final years were plagued by ill health. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease and had lost both legs in 1993 from poor circulation. While in poor health and resting in the hospital bed, that had to be placed in her home, Martha and husband Mark Harris moved into a hotel after their home was completely destroyed by the 1994 earthquake. Raye died in Los Angeles at 78 of pneumonia on October 19, 1994 after a long history of cardiovascular disease.[15]

In appreciation of her work with the USO during World War II and subsequent wars, special consideration was given to bury her in Arlington National Cemetery on her death, but on her request she was buried with full military honors in the Fort Bragg, North Carolina post cemetery as an honorary colonel in the U.S. Marines and an honorary lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.[8] She is the only civilian buried at this location who receives military honors each Veterans' Day.[citation needed]

Raye has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures at 6251 Hollywood Boulevard and the other for television at 6547 Hollywood Blvd.




Stage Work


  1. ^ "Martha Raye". 
  2. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (20 October 1994). "Martha Raye, 78, Singer And Comic Actress, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  3. ^ Profile,; accessed September 16, 2014.
  4. ^ Birth Certificate,; accessed September 16, 2014.
  5. ^ Tribune staff. "125 Montana Newsmakers: Martha Raye". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Lawrence Van Gelder (October 20, 1994). "Martha Raye, 78, Singer And Comic Actress, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  8. ^ a b c "Martha Raye". Montana Kids. Montana Office of Tourism. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  9. ^ Pittrone, Jane Maddern (1999). Take It from the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye. University of Kentucky Press. p. 216. 
  10. ^ "The Death of Martha Raye". 2002-03-06. Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  11. ^ "Colonel Martha "Maggie" Raye". 
  12. ^ Raye, Martha (April 25, 1954). "Me and My Big Mouth". The American Weekly. p. 7. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  13. ^ Pitrone, Maddern Jean Take It from the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye Hardcover, The University of Kentucky Press, April 8, 1999, pp. 220-221
  14. ^ Interview, The Hollywood Reporter, 1984.
  15. ^ Martha Raye at the Internet Movie Database

External links

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