Regular visitors to the GMC know that one post often triggers another, and that’s the case today because I decided to look a little deeper into the singing partner (in one movie, at least) of our last featured performer, Frances Faye. That would be Martha Raye, who is probably most remembered now as a comedienne and actress, but had a pretty good singing voice too.
In addition to a name that rhymes, Martha Raye had something else in common with Frances Faye (and her cousin, comedy star Danny Kaye) and that was being born with a different moniker. But unlike her Jewish, Brooklyn-born friends, Martha Raye began life in Butte, Montana as Margaret ‘Margy’ Teresa Yvonne O’Reed, the daughter of Irish immigrants.
However, young Margy’s parents weren’t Montana residents. They were vaudeville performers on tour, and by the age of three she was part of the act. She grew up pretty fast, and was a band singer by age 13, a performer on Broadway a few years later. By then it was the 1930s, and her comedic talent in addition to her singing ability soon drew the attention of Hollywood, although it would be another decade before she established herself as a star.
During World War II she was among the many performers who entertained the troops, but she outdid most of them. Dressing in fatigues and combat boots, she became a beloved figure and was given the nickname ‘Colonel Maggie’ by adoring soldiers. Even in later years (and later wars) she would continue to do everything she could in support of the troops, and was also active in other worthy causes. Along the way she’d be given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, as well as a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But even though she had a very long and successful career that included many movies and countless TV and stage appearances, she had more than her share of troubles. Married seven times, she often battled a problem with alcohol that was exacerbated by her fear of flying, and in later years suffered greatly from health issues. She died at age 78 in 1994.