Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 000-000


Copyright 2009 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


Mary Martin has not been as well treated in biographies as her sometime colleague Ethel Merman, the subject of two fine books in the past year. So Ronald L. Davis's volume is a welcome addition to lore about the stars of the Golden Age of the Broadway Musical.

Ronald Davis got interested in Martin in part because of her Texas connections {she was born and raised in Weatherford, Texas}. A historian with interests in oral history and show business {he has written books on John Wayne, John Ford, and Linda Darnell}, Davis interviewed Martin before her death as well as a number of people who knew her well. His personal research has been enhanced by reading the memoirs of others whose lives touched hers.

This is a detailed, uncompromising book. Davis gives us the facts of Martin's early career, from Texas dance instructor to Hollywood starlet to Broadway star, then gives detailed backstage accounts of the hits and flops of Martin's career on Broadway and on the road, along with chronicling her television career. Martin hated Hollywood, which never found an appropriate image for her, and loved live theater, particularly the adulation she received from audiences. For almost twenty years, she went from show to show, sometimes playing the same role for years. Unlike most divas, she was willing to tour, even in roles created by other stars. For a brief period in the 1950s her television appearances were special events that drew enormous audiences. One learns a lot about all of Martin's work from this well-researched book.