Mary Virginia Martin (December 1, 1913 – November 3, 1990) was an American actress and singer. She originated many roles over her career including Nellie Forbush in South Pacific and Maria in The Sound of Music. She was named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1989. She is also the mother of actor Larry Hagman.
Mary Martin's life as a child, as she describes it in her autobiography My Heart Belongs, was secure and happy. She had close relationships with both her mother and father, as well as her siblings. Her autobiography details how the young actress had an instinctive ear for recreating musical sounds.
Martin's father, Preston Martin, was a lawyer and her mother, Juanita Presley, was a violin teacher. Although the doctors told Juanita that she would risk her life if she attempted to have another baby, she was determined to have a boy. Instead, she had Mary, who became quite a tomboy. Her birth was an event as all of the neighbors gathered around Juanita's bedroom window, waiting for the raising of a curtain to signal the baby’s arrival.
Her family had a barn and orchard that kept her entertained. She played with her older sister Geraldine (whom she called “Sister”), climbing trees and riding ponies. Martin adored her father. “He was a tall, good-looking, silver-haired, with the kindest brown eyes. Mother was the disciplinarian, but it was Daddy who could turn me into an angel with just one look” (p. 19). Martin, who said “I’d never understand the law” (p. 19), began singing outside the courtroom where her father worked every Saturday night at a bandstand where the town band played. She sang in a trio of little girls dressed in bellhop uniforms. “Even in those days without microphones, my high piping voice carried all over the square. I have always thought that I inherited my carrying voice from my father” (p. 19).
She remembered having a photographic memory as a child, making it easy to memorize songs, as well as get her through school tests. She got her first taste of singing solo at a fire hall, where she soaked up the crowd’s appreciation. “Sometimes I think that I cheated my own family and my closest friends by giving to audiences so much of the love I might have kept for them. But that’s the way I was made; I truly don't think I could help it” (p. 20). Martin’s craft was developed by seeing movies and becoming a mimic. She’d win prizes for looking, acting and dancing like Ruby Keeler and singing exactly like Bing Crosby. “Never, never, never can I say I had a frustrating childhood. It was all joy. Mother used to say she never had seen such a happy child—that I awakened each morning with a smile. I don’t remember that, but I do remember that I never wanted to go to bed, to go to sleep, for fear I’d miss something” (p. 20).
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