M is for Mary Martin. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Muse, Broadway’s First TV Star.

Though many people may now most associate her with Peter Pan, Mary Martin (1913-1990) originated the roles of Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific” and Maria von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.” Years earlier her performances in musicals by Cole Porter and Kurt Weill made her a star.
She had a robust career on Broadway over 40 years that featured both musicals and straight plays.

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Martin did not get to re-create her signature roles in the movie versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. But Martin was one of the first Broadway stars to take advantage of television.

Here is an odd broadcast in 1953 that shows her skills as a performer even when she’s not singing or dancing, or saying a word

While she reportedly turned down the role of Annie Oakley in the original Broadway production of the Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun (the role going to Ethel Merman), she toured with a production, and then performed it on television in 1957. See below for all 105 minutes of it.

Leave It To Me, 1938

Score by Cole Porter. Book by Bella Spewack and Sam Spewack based on their play “Clear All Wires”

The show in which Martin made her Broadway debut included the popular coquettish song “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” That one song made her a star. Here she is singing it some 17 years later

One Touch of Venus, 1943

Music by Kurt Weill; Book by S. J. Perelman and Ogden Nash; Lyrics by Ogden Nash

Mary Martin cemented her celebrity on Broadway with her sensual portrayal of Venus. (In a bit of foreshadowing, the movie version of the show starred…Ava Gardner, whose singing was dubbed by Eileen Wilson)

Here’s an audio of the gorgeous song “Speak Low”

Decades later, she sang “That’s Him” at the White House

Lute Song, 1946

Book by Sidney Howard and Will Irwin; Based on the famous Chinese play “Pi-Pa-Ki” by Kao-Tong-Kia and Mao-Tseo; Music by Raymond Scott; Lyrics by Bernard Hanighen;

Martin played a Chinese character named Tchao-Ou-Niang, married to a character portrayed by Yul Brynner. Although it was a typically large cast for the 1940s, she sang seven of the eight songs.

Here’s the audio of her singing the title song

South Pacific, 1949

Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan; Based on “Tales of the South Pacific” by James A. Michener;

Audio of I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair

The tail end of Wash That Man, leading to a duet with Ezio Pinza
on “Some Enchanted Evening,” followed by “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy”

Her performance in “South Pacific” won the first of her three competitive Tony Awards

Peter Pan, 1954

Based on the play by James M. Barrie; Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh; Music by Mark Charlap; Additional music by Jule Styne; Additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Incidental music by Elmer Bernstein and Trude Rittman;

Mary Martin famously re-created her role in a television special in 1955 and in 1960.

I’m Flying

Distant Melody

The Sound of Music, 1959

Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Based on “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp;

Audio of Mary Martin’s final performance of “The Sound of Music” on Broadway

She sings the song she introduced to the world “My Favorite Things” in a duet with Petula Clark decades later

I Do! I Do!, 1966

Book by Tom Jones; Lyrics by Tom Jones; Music by Harvey Schmidt; Based on “The Fourposter” by Jan De Hartog

Martin sings with Robert Preston at the 1967 Tony Awards

Annie Get Your Gun, 1957 television special

Mary Martin highlights
Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly, around 12:40
You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun, around 19:30
There’s No Business Like Show Business (a quartet) 29:30
Moonshine Lullaby 38:17
They Say It’s Wonderful, duet with John Raitt, 45:00
Lost in His Arms, 117:10
Sun in the Morning, 125:30
Anything You Can Do, duet with John Raitt 137:30

Together on Broadway (Mary Martin and Ethel Merman), 1977

The two Broadway divas appeared on Broadway together for one night only. It was the last musical performance on Broadway for both of them.
(The one “video” I could find is only an audio and doesn’t do either of them justice. But here there are four years later, performing one after the other, in the farewell gala for Beverly Sills

Lets close with Mary Martin back on TV in the 1950s. First, singing while Richard Rodgers plays the piano on a TV special celebrating his years in show business. Her singing begins at 2:20.

Then in 1955, Mary Martin sings a Cole Porter favorite, “I Get a Kick Out of You” from the 1934 Broadway musical “Anything Goes” — very far from Peter Pan.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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