Martha Raye (August 27, 1916 – October 19, 1994) was an American comic actress and singer who performed in movies, and later on television. She also acted in plays, including Broadway. She was honoured in 1969 with an Academy Award as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award recipient for her volunteer efforts and services to the troops.
Martha Raye was in Butte, Montana on August 27, 1916. She was an Academy Award-winning American comic actress and standards singer who performed in movies, and later on television.
Raye's life as a singer and comedy performer began very early in her childhood. She was born at St James Hospital, as Margy Reed, where her Irish immigrant parents were performing at a local vaudeville theatre. Two days after Martha was born, her mother was back on stage, and Martha first appeared in their act when she was 3 years old, performing with her brother, Bud.
She made her first film appearance in 1934 in a band short titled A Nite in the Nite Club. In 1936, she was signed for comic roles by Paramount Pictures, and made her first picture for Paramount. Her first feature film was Rhythm on the Range with Bing Crosby.
Martha Raye was known for the size of her mouth, which appeared large in proportion to the rest of her face, thus earning her the nickname ‘The Big Mouth.’ Her mouth would come to relegate her motion picture work to largely supporting comic parts, and was often made up in such a way that it appeared even larger than it already was.
Martha Raye had a lifelong fear of flying, but because of her profession was required to make numerous flights, which she could muster only after drinking herself into a near alcoholic stupor. Her drinking and conduct during these periods ended up with a number of airlines refusing her service, particularly on her many trips into the Miami, Florida area, which was her favourite vacation spot.
During World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, she travelled extensively to entertain the American troops. Raye became an honorary Green Beret. Visited U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam without fanfare, she was affectionately known by Green Berets as “Colonel Maggie.”
She was married seven times, with most of her marriages lasting less than two years and her first marriage lasting only three months. She was married to Nick Condos from March 9, 1944 to June 17, 1953 which resulted in the birth of her only child, Melodye Raye Condos on July 26, 1944; and to Mark Harris from September 25, 1991 until her death in 1994.
In November of 1993, after a long and drawn-out series of illnesses, Martha was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. The ceremony took place in their Bel Air home. Although several people close to Martha had worked since 1987 to see that this well-deserved recognition was bestowed upon Martha before her passing, Martha accepted her medal from a wheelchair.
Raye was in the following feature films, beginning with Rhythm on the Range in 1936, The Big Broadcast of 1937, Hideaway Girl, Mountain Music, Artists & Models, Double or Nothing, The Big Broadcast of 1938, College Swing, Tropic Holiday, Give Me a Sailor, $1000 a Touchdown, The Boys from Syracuse, Four Jills in a Jeep, Pin Up Girl, the documentary No Substitute for Victory, Pufnstuf and The Concorde: Airport '79 in 1979. Raye also starred in A Nite in a Nite Club in 1934 and Cinema Circus in 1937..
As for TV shows, Raye acted in Four Star Revue (host from 1951 to 1953) The Martha Raye Show from 1954 to 1956, The Judy Garland Show, The Bugaloos, Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol, The Gossip Columnist, Pippin: His Life and Times , Alice (a cast member from 1982 to 1984) and Alice in Wonderland in 1985.
Raye's final years were spent dealing with ongoing health problems. She suffered from Alzheimer's and had lost both legs in 1993 due to circulatory problems. She died of pneumonia at 78 on October 19, 1994 in Los Angeles.