Singer-actor Tony Martin died of natural causes this past Friday. He was 98.
Martin was born Alvin Morris, Jr. in San Francisco and grew up in Oakland. Renowned for his talents as a vocalist Martin actually gained his first bit of notice in the early 1930's while playing saxophone in Tom Gerun's band, a group which also included Woody Herman. After completing college Morris changed his name to Tony Martin and gave Hollywood a shot.
He appeared in just over 20 movies between 1935-1941 including Judy Garland's debut feature, Pigskin Parade (1936) and several other musical comedies. He had a small part in the Shirley Temple film Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), his first with future wife Alice Faye. He'd also appear with Faye in Sing, Baby, Sing (1936) and You Can't Have Everything (1937), moving up the bill each time until co-starring with Faye in Sally, Irene and Mary (1938).
Tony Martin and Alice Faye married late in 1937 at a time when Alice Faye had become 20th Century-Fox's top actress. Her huge stardom eclipsed Martin and was the major factor in the brevity of their union which ended in divorce in 1941. Martin's next marriage, to Cyd Charisse, would be a bit more successful. It lasted sixty years from 1948 until Charisse's death in 2008.
During the late 30's Martin was a regular on The Burns and Allen radio show and had a string of notable film appearances away from Faye including opposite Rita Hayworth in Columbia's Music in My Heart (1940), and for MGM in the all-star production of Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and with the Marx Brothers in The Big Store (1941). By the late 1930's he had also become a recording star, but just as this was all coming together World War II interrupted.
Martin served with some controversy as rumors of his trying to bribe his way into an officer's commission led to a Navy discharge. He finished out wartime service in the Army where he performed with Glenn Miller's Orchestra for the Army Air Forces. After the war he was back on the big screen in the Jerome Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) and later Casbah (1948) with Peter Lorre and Yvonne De Carlo, but Martin attained greater acclaim as a recording artist for Mercury during this period.
He hosted a 15 minute variety program bearing his name on NBC from 1954-56 and gained an Emmy nomination for Best Male Singer from it in 1955. But that year would mark the first of Perry Como's five Emmys. Martin released his last few hit singles in the 1960's and also began a longtime cabaret tour with wife Charisse during that decade. Martin was performing live as late as 2009 when he was 95 years old.
While Tony Martin may be best recalled today by his marriages to Alice Faye and, far more successfully, Cyd Charisse, he was a versatile performer who wound up with four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: One each for movies, radio, television and recording.
Will McKinley has a touching tribute to Tony Martin at Cinematically Insane where he recalls Martin specifically for his appearance in The Marx Brothers movie, The Big Store (1941).
Terence Towles Canote has just posted a lengthy biographical obituary which does an especially impressive job in commenting upon Tony Martin's voice in the last few paragraphs. That can be found at A Shroud of Thoughts.