I love to watch old Western movies on TV, but I have admit that I caught one the other day that affected me in a way the director probably didn’t intend — it made me laugh. It was a hokey film from 1956 called Quincannon, Frontier Scout, and the star was crooner Tony Martin.
Martin was playing the title character and it seemed to me that they kind of misfired when trying to make him look like a frontier scout. He was dressed completely in black, including a big hat and black leather gloves, so he looked more like a gunfighter wannabe. (And by the way, why did so many Western movie characters wear leather gloves all the time? I bet their hands got really sweaty.)
Although Martin did appear in a number of movies, he wisely stuck mostly to musicals, which allowed him to put his strong baritone voice to better use as a singer. And for a couple of decades beginning in the late Thirties, he was one of the most popular around.
A San Francisco native born as Alvin Morris, he grew up musically inclined but as a sax player rather than a singer, and — ironically — it was as an actor that he first tried to break into show business. Taking the name Tony Martin, he managed to find a few small parts and also began working as a singer in radio. Along the way, he met and married actress Alice Faye.
Although he did appear in a number of movies, his first big break as a singer came in 1938 when he managed to get a record made with the Ray Noble Orchestra. “Now It Can Be Told” became a hit and the young singer seemed to be headed for a big career. Unfortunately, World War II soon erupted and Martin was drafted, effectively putting his career on hold.
Although his marriage had ended during the war, in 1948 he married his second wife, dancer/actress Cyd Charisse, a marriage that would last until her death in 2008. It was just one of the good things happening for the singer in the post-war years. He had a number of good-selling records, including “To Each His Own,” and “Stranger In Paradise,” and continued to occasionally appear in films. He eventually also made a lot of TV appearances, and even had his own show for a while. (You can see it here.).
He also did a lot of live shows, in many cases as part of a popular twosome with his talented wife, and has continued to do so in the many years since. And — amazingly enough — Tony Martin is still active at age 96. He appeared on stage earlier this year in his home city of San Francisco, singing many of his old hits.