Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 6, 2018


MARY MARTIN, BROADWAY LEGEND. Ronald L. Davis. University of Oklahoma Press; 2008.

Biographer Davis was hampered by his obvious contempt for his subject when he wrote a book on Van Johnson, but it could be argued that he almost goes to the opposite extreme with this book on the much-admired Broadway star of South Pacific, Peter Pan, and The Sound of Music, among others. A fan-boy for Martin, Davis got to know her pretty well, and seems loathe to say anything remotely negative about her. So while this is hardly an in-depth look at the woman's life and career, it is still a pleasant and readable examination of her life on stage, and to a lesser extent, in the movies and on television. Martin was married to manager Richard Halliday for many years, and aside from a daughter (son Larry Hagman was from Martin's short-lived first marriage) theirs seems to have been a mostly sexless union. There are indications that, despite her enormous talent, Martin wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and as well simply didn't want to deal with her husband's frequent drunkenness, during which he could be vicious and impossible Generally, this is still a solid bio. A later book on Martin was Some Enchanted Evenings.

Verdict: Decent bio of Martin for appreciative fans. ***. 


angelman66 said...

What, no mention of Mary’s rumoured lesbianism and long time affair with Janet Gaynor? I always thought that was the reason her marriage was sexless...any insight, or are those just the gay rumours that have always dogged so many stars?
- C

William said...

I think both of the bios I've read on Martin do say that there were rumors about her and Gaynor and others for years, but neither book was able to spell it out concretely. I know one book quoted Gaynor's husband on Martin and he didn't like her. I suspect the Martin marriage was one of convenience and companionship, but I'm not surprised her husband drank and drank and drank. Maybe our gal Mary was essentially sexless and didn't care. Who knows? At least it was consummated which is more than Carol Channing could say!

angelman66 said...

My best friend got to see Channing and Martin together in a play called Legends back in the 1980s - wish I had been there!!

William said...

The next best thing is James Kirkwood's "Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing" which recounts the whole behind-the-scenes experience of "Legends," which was also written by Kirkwood. Channing was very distracted by the fact that for months they had to read Mary her lines through a special ear piece. I don't recall if Carol and Mary ever compared notes on having gay husbands! Anyway the book is a must-read: The scathing book is much, much better than the play that inspired it.

angelman66 said...

Thanks, Bill, the Kirkwood book is a juicy read indeed!