Mary Martin on Broadway

One hundred years ago today, a Broadway star was born. Mary Martin was one of the greats of the stage. Beloved by Rodgers and Hammerstein, she originated some of the best-known leading roles in musicals, but her early life almost derailed her future Broadway career.

Martin loved to sing even as a child growing up in Weatherford, Texas. She sang with a trio of girls dressed up as bellhops who performed at the town bandstand, and she sang solo at the local fire hall. She blossomed before a crowd. As she wrote in her autobiography, "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."

But before she finished high school, Martin fell in love, and she begged her parents for permission to marry her boyfriend, Benjamin Hagman. She left school, and by 17 she was married and pregnant. Soon after that, she realized she was bored. The picket-fence dream wasn't for her, but she had responsibilities now –– not least the son who would grow up to become a famous actor himself, Larry Hagman. Martin's first salvation came in the form of a dance. Her sister, seeing Martin's longing for a creative outlet, taught her to do the "waltz clog." With her new knowledge, Martin opened a dance studio and began to teach.

Martin's love for dance led her to California. With the blessing of her father, who said she was too young to be married, she left her husband and son behind and began auditioning for roles. After two years of struggling and taking so many auditions in Los Angeles and around the country that she became known as "Audition Mary," Martin made her big break on Broadway in Cole Porter's Leave it to Me! Finally in front of a national audience, Martin became a star almost instantly. She went on to play some of the greatest roles on the Broadway stage –– Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, The Sound of Music's Maria, the title character of Hello, Dolly!

But since the whole world can't get to a Broadway show, Martin may be best known for the time she brought Broadway to the world. In 1955, 1956 and 1960, the Broadway production of Peter Pan, in which she starred as Peter, was broadcast on NBC television. Martin had won a Tony award for her performance on Broadway, and when she leapt onto our TV screens, she won an Emmy ––and the hearts of children all over.

Martin continued to make Broadway and TV appearances for many years, as well as the occasional big screen performance. She was named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1989 for her lifetime of entertainment, and her individual performances were honored with several Tonys, an Emmy for Peter Pan, and a New York Film Critics' Circle Award.

As for Mary Martin's fans, we're thankful for every bit of her life. If she hadn't married so young, we'd never have had one of our favorite classic TV actors, her son Larry. And if she hadn't striven for a life beyond marriage and motherhood, we'd have missed out on the charm and joy of her many fine performances.