Tony Martin Biography

Alvin Morris, 25 December 1912, Oakland, California, USA. A popular singer and film actor from the 30s until the late 50s, with a powerful tenor voice and an easy, romantic style. As a teenager, Martin learnt to play the saxophone and formed his own band, the Clarion Four. For some years he worked at the Palace Hotel, in the San Francisco area, playing and singing with the bands of Anson Weeks, Tom Coakley, and Tom Guran - whose outfit included Woody Herman. Morris drove across country with Herman and other members of the band to the 1933 Chicago World Fair, and afterwards performed at the city’s Chez Paree Club. In 1934 he changed his name to Tony Martin, and tried unsuccessfully to break into films. Two years later he landed a ‘bit’ part in the Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers hit movie Follow The Fleet, along with two other young hopefuls, Lucille Ball and Betty Grable. Later, in 1936, he signed for 20th Century-Fox, and sang ‘When I’m With You’ in Poor Little Rich Girl, and ‘When Did You Leave Heaven?’ in Sing, Baby, Sing. The following year he married one of the film’s stars, Alice Faye. During the late 30s he had leading roles in film musicals such as Pigskin Parade (with Judy Garland and Grable), Banjo On My Knee (Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea), The Holy Terror and Sing And Be Happy (Leah Ray) You Can’t Have Everything and Sally, Irene And Mary (Faye), Ali Baba Goes To Town (starring Eddie Cantor), Kentucky Moonshine, and Thanks For Everything.

When Martin left Fox he appeared with Rita Hayworth in Music In My Heart, and introduced Robert Wright and George Forrest’s ‘It’s A Blue World’ which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1940. In 1941, Martin appeared with the Marx Brothers in The Big Store, and sang ‘The Tenement Symphony’. Although it was described, somewhat unkindly, as the comedy highlight of the film, the song endured to become one of his identity numbers. Martin’s other movie that year was Ziegfeld Girl, with some spectacular Busby Berkeley production numbers, and starring, amongst others, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Martin enlisted in the US Armed Forces, serving first in the Navy, and then with the Army in the Far East. He also sang for a time with the Army Air Forces Training Command Orchestra directed by Glenn Miller, and received several awards, including the Bronze Star and other citations. After his release, he returned to Hollywood, starring in the Jerome Kern biopic, Till The Clouds Roll By (1946). This was followed by Casbah (1948), in which he played the spy Pepe Le Moko, thought by many to have been his best role. The songs were by Harold Arlen and Leo Robin, and included another Martin all-time favourite, the Oscar-nominated ‘For Every Man There’s A Woman’.

In the same year, having divorced Alice Faye, Martin married dancer-actress Cyd Charisse, and later appeared with her in Easy To Love (1953). Martin’s other films during the 50s included Two Tickets To Broadway (with Janet Leigh), Here Come The Girls (with Bob Hope and Rosemary Clooney), the all-star Sigmund Romberg biopic Deep In My Heart, the 1955 MGM re-make of Hit The Deck, and a guest appearance in Meet Me In Las Vegas (which starred Charisse and Dan Dailey). In 1957 Martin joined with Vera-Ellen in Let’s Be Happy, an unsuccessful British attempt to recreate the Hollywood musical. In addition to his film work, Martin has had a very successful recording career. His first hits, ‘Now It Can Be Told’ and ‘South Of The Border’, came in the late 30s, and continued through to the mid-50s with songs such as ‘It’s A Blue World’, ‘Tonight We Love’, ‘To Each His Own’, ‘Rumors Are Flying’, ‘It’s Magic’, ‘There’s No Tomorrow’, ‘Circus’, ‘Marta (Rambling Rose Of The Wildwood)’, ‘I Said My Pyjamas (And Put On My Prayers)’ and ‘Take A Letter, Miss Smith’ (both duets with Fran Warren), ‘La Vie En Rose’, ‘Would I Love You (Love You, Love You)’, ‘I Get Ideas’ (adapted from the Argentine tango ‘Adios Muchachos’ and thought to be quite racy at the time), ‘Over A Bottle Of Wine’, ‘Domino’, ‘Kiss Of Fire’, ‘Stranger In Paradise’, ‘Here’, ‘Do I Love You (Because You’re Beautiful)’ and ‘Walk Hand In Hand’.

He was also very active on radio from the 30s to the 50s on shows such as Walter Winchell’s Lucky Strike Hour, and others featuring Burns And Allen, André Kostelanetz and David Rose, along with his own programmes. He subsequently moved to television, and from 1954-56 hosted The Tony Martin Show. In 1964, he formed a night club act with his wife, and for many years they toured the cabaret circuit in the USA and abroad. In 1986 Martin accompanied Charisse to London when she re-created the role of Lady Hadwell in the David Heneker -John Taylor stage musical Charlie Girl at the Victoria Palace, a part created by Anna Neagle over 20 years earlier. Martin and Charisse had first visited London in 1948 on their honeymoon when he was playing the first of several London Palladium seasons. Martin has come a long way since then, and is still regarded as one of the most accomplished and stylish vocalists of his era. He returned to London yet again in the 90s for cabaret appearances at the Café Royal.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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