Mary Martin

Singer/actress Mary Martin was, along with Ethel Merman, one of the two leading performers in stage musicals during the middle third of the 20th century. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Martin appeared on Broadway, in the West End, and on tour thousands of times in such massively successful shows as South Pacific and The Sound of Music. She also recorded cast albums for these shows that sold in the millions. Unlike Merman, who was known for her brassy, extroverted style, Martin was a warm, ingratiating performer. She was far more subtle than her friend and chief rival, and she was much more versatile. When Martin took over the starring role of Annie Oakley from Merman for the U.S. tour of Annie Get Your Gun, she took a distinctly different approach and enjoyed audience approval. It is hard to imagine Merman doing the same with such Martin roles as Peter Pan or the goddess Venus in One Touch of Venus. But then, Merman never showed much interest in stepping into a part previously created by another actress, while Martin never hesitated to do so. (A rare exception came late in the careers of both actresses, when they each appeared in Hello, Dolly!) Nor did Merman care to leave New York, for the most part, while Martin worked extensively in London and on the road. And Martin's greater flexibility was shown in her enthusiasm for taking on straight plays in which she was asked to sing little or not at all.