Profile of a Performer: Mary Martin

The Sound of Music was originally conceived and developed as a project for the popular Broadway actress Mary Martin.

So, who was Mary Martin?

Mary Martin
Mary Martin

Mary Virginia Martin was born December 1, 1913, in Weatherford, Texas.  According to her autobiography, her childhood was “happy and secure.”  She was a tomboy and enjoyed keeping her family entertained.

She loved to sing and often sang outside the courthouse where her father worked.  She mimicked what she saw in the movies and found it easy to memorize songs and lines with her photographic memory.

By the age of 17, she dropped out of school to marry her high school sweetheart, Benjamin Hagman.  The couple had a son, Larry.  {Note: Larry Hagman became famous in his own right—most notably for his roles in I Dream of Jennie and as J. R. Ewing in Dallas.}

Martin was unhappy and soon opened her own dance studio.  She realized how much she loved to create.

Martin’s father told her she was too young to be married.  So, she left everything behind to go to California, while her father handled her divorce.  She went on numerous auditions, where she met Oscar Hammerstein II.  He told her that she had “something special” and her career was born.


Mary Martin as Maria in The Sound of Music
Mary Martin as Maria in The Sound of Music

She made her Broadway debut in November 1938 in Cole Porter’s “Leave It to Me!”  She played the lead in many Broadway shows including, as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific; Maria in The Sound of Music; and Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun.

She appeared in nine films but did not really enjoy filmmaking.  She did not feel the “connection” with her audience through film.  However, she did appear often on television.

Her biggest television hit was when she appeared in “Peter Pan.”

She received a Tony award for her appearances in South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun and Peter Pan {which also earned her an Emmy award}.

Martin died on November 3, 1990 at her home in California.

Martin was the first actress to bring Maria von Trapp to life on the Broadway stage.  Martin was one of the two leading ladies of Broadway in her day.  {The other was Ethel Merman}.

As you will hear in the clip of her singing, her style is much different from that of Julie Andrews in the film version.