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Tony Martin

Tony Martin

He was born Alvin Morris in San Francisco, CA to Jewish immigrant parents. As a young man, Martin learned to play the saxophone, which was given to him by his grandmother. The future star formed his first band in high school called The Red Peppers before joining Tom Gerun's Orchestra as a reed instrument player. He traveled with the band - which also included future bandleader Woody Herman - to places such as Chicago, IL, where they performed at the 1933 World's Fair. After college, he left Gerun's orchestra, moved to Hollywood, and adopted the stage name Tony Martin. One of his first film appearances was a minor role as a sailor in the 1936 musical comedy "Follow the Fleet," starring RKO studio darlings, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. After signing a contract with 20th Century Fox, Martin was cast in a more sizable film role in the Shirley Temple musical "Poor Little Rich Girl" (1936), in which he performed the song "When I'm With You." One of his co-stars was Alice Faye, whom Martin married in 1937. The couple acted together in other films, including the musical "Sing, Baby, Sing" and the romantic comedy "Sally, Irene and Mary" (1938), but their union ended in divorce after three years.The late 1930s saw a surge in Martin's acting career, with starring vehicles in films such as the spy drama "The Holy Terror" (1937) with Jane Withers, the fantasy musical "Ali Baba Goes to Town" (1937), and the drama "Winner Take All" (1939) opposite Gloria Stuart. The smooth, tenor-voiced Martin had an equally successful music career, releasing pop standards and ballads that fared well on the charts, including "Fools Rush In" (1940) and "Tonight We Love" (1941). Martin's debonair charm and versatile talent did not go unnoticed in Hollywood, and his bachelor status often landed him in the arms of the entertainment industry's most glamorous women. In his heyday, Martin was linked to his "Music in My Heart" leading lady Rita Hayworth, his "Ziegfield Girl" (1941) co-star Lana Turner, and even Hollywood femme fatale Ava Gardner. After several years with 20th Century Fox, Martin signed with MGM and acted opposite the Marx brothers in the musical comedy "The Big Store" (1941), where he sang "Tenement Symphony" accompanied by a boys' choir.Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Martin put his career on hold and enlisted with the U.S. Navy. Rumors swirled that the actor bribed a naval officer, which led to his discharge. Even though it was not confirmed, Martin left the Navy and joined the U.S. Army during World War II, working as an entertainer with the Glenn Miller-directed Army Air Forces Training Command Orchestra, and earning a Bronze Star as a noncombatant in the Far East. Martin returned to Hollywood in 1946 with an appearance in the biographical film "Till the Clouds Roll By," about Broadway pioneer Jerome Kern and starring Judy Garland. That same year, the talented star released his version of the Ray Evans-penned "To Each His Own," which reached the Top 10 on the charts. Martin received some of the best reviews of his acting career when he starred in the 1948 musical "Casbah" - a musical version of the 1938 drama, "Algiers" - in which he played spy thief Pepe Le Moko opposite Yvonne De Carlo. The film also featured Martin's rendition of the Academy Award-nominated song "For Every Man There's A Woman." Having divorced Alice Faye, Martin married Texas-born actress and dancer Cyd Charisse in 1948. The couple had one son together, Tony Martin Jr., and had one of the longest Hollywood marriages on record - 60 years until Charisse's death in 2008. Martin and Charisse appeared in each other's films, including his musical "Easy To Love" (1953) and her romantic comedy "Meet Me In Las Vegas" (1956). In addition to his film and recording work, Martin was very active on radio shows from the 1930s to the 1950s, such as Walter Winchell's "Lucky Strike Hour," and George Burns and Gracie Allen's radio program. On the latter, Allen playfully flirted with Martin and said things like, "Oh Tony you look so tired, why don't you rest your lips on mine?" Another famous story involving Martin occurred during a 1958 Friar's Club Roast for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The writer and actor Harry Parke had just finished his routine when he collapsed into Milton Berle's lap. Martin was asked to sing in order to divert the audience's attention, but his unfortunate song choice was his 1950 hit "There's No Tomorrow." Parke died of heart attack just hours later. Martin subsequently moved to television, hosting the short-lived variety series "The Tony Martin Show" (NBC, 1954), and making guest appearances on "The George Burns Show" (NBC, 1958-59) and "The Donna Reed Show" (ABC, 1958-1966). In 1964, Martin formed a nightclub act with his wife Charisse, and for several years they toured the cabaret circuit in the U.S. and overseas. One of Martin's last acting appearances was a cameo in the 1982 film "Dear Mr. Wonderful." Having outlived nearly all of his Hollywood and radio contemporaries, the beloved singer-actor passed away on July 26, 2012 at the age of 98.
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