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Martha Stewart Still Alive?

Martha Stewart Perry ComoMartha Stewart: Actress / Singer in Fox movies apparently not dead despite two-year-old reports to the contrary (Photo: Martha Stewart and Perry Como in 'Doll Face')

According to various online reports, including Variety's, actress and singer Martha Stewart, a pretty blonde featured in supporting roles in a handful of 20th Century Fox movies of the '40s, died at age 89 of "natural causes" in Northeast Harbor, Maine, on February 25, 2012. Needless to say, that was not the same Martha Stewart hawking "delicious foods" and whatever else on American television. But quite possibly, the Martha Stewart who died in February 2012 — if any — was not the Martha Stewart of old Fox movies either. And that's why I'm republishing this (former) obit, originally posted more than two and a half years ago: March 11, 2012.

Earlier today, a commenter wrote to Alt Film Guide, claiming that the Martha Stewart featured in Doll Face, I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, and In a Lonely Place was very much alive and living in California. According to the commenter, the source for that information was Stewart's own son, Florida-based singer David Shelley of the David Shelley & Bluestone band. (Scroll down to check out the comment.)

After reading the comment, I contacted Shelley via his band's website, and did some extra research on Martha Stewart. Unfortunately, there isn't much available online. I was able to find one mention of her marriage to David Shelley (Sr.) — date unspecified — in Nils Hanson's book Lillian Lorraine: The Life and Times of a Ziegfeld Diva, and a 1957 newspaper article announcing David Shelley III's birth in Santa Monica, California, and featuring a photograph of Martha Stewart holding the baby.

In other words, online information about Martha Stewart having been married to a man named Jonathan Crowne from 1952 to his death in 2004 seems to be completely wrong. I could find no information on Crowne, except via early 21st-century tidbits about Stewart, none of which are sourced.

This Martha Stewart article will be updated once I get more information. Below is a brief overview of Stewart's film, stage, and television career.

Martha Stewart movies

If online reports are to believed, the Kentucky-born (as Martha Haworth, on October 7, 1922, in Bardwell), Brooklyn-raised Martha Stewart was discovered while singing at The Stork Club around Christmastime 1944. At one point, she was a vocalist with Glenn Miller's band.

Stewart's film debut took place in 1945, when she was featured in a supporting role in 20th Century Fox's musical Doll Face (1945), an adaptation of Gypsy Rose Lee's semi-autobiographical play The Naked Genius. Joan Blondell starred onstage for producer Michael Todd (Blondell's, Evelyn Keyes', and Elizabeth Taylor's husband, at various times), but the show ran for only 36 performances.

In Fox's film version, Vivian Blaine landed the title role in the Lewis Seiler-directed movie, notable as Carmen Miranda's first Hollywood vehicle shot in black and white. (Not including Four Jills and a Jeep, in which Miranda has a cameo as herself.) In fact, co-starring Dennis O'Keefe and Perry Como, Doll Face was a mere programmer (a notch above a B movie); not surprisingly, both Carmen Miranda and Vivian Blaine were gone from Fox the following year.

After Doll Face, Martha Stewart landed a trio of supporting roles in Fox productions. She was one of the women in Benjamin Stoloff's B romantic drama Johnny Comes Flying Home (1946), featuring Richard Crane as one of three World War II veterans attempting to jump-start a business; she replaced a recalcitrant Vivian Blaine in Otto Preminger's romantic melodrama Daisy Kenyon (1947), starring Joan Crawford, Dana Andrews, and Henry Fonda; and, replacing a pregnant Celeste Holm, Stewart was featured in Lloyd Bacon's Technicolor musical I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (1947), a highly fictionalized biopic of singer / composer Joseph E. Howard, toplining June Haver and, as Howard, Mark Stevens — with singing voice provided by Buddy Clark.*

In 1946, Stewart was also to have been cast in another (black-and-white) Fox musical starring Vivian Blaine and Carmen Miranda: If I'm Lucky. However, the film's screenplay was rewritten and she was dropped from the project.

No longer at Fox by the end of 1947, Martha Stewart supported Donald O'Connor and Olga San Juan in Jack Hively's comedy Are You with It? (1948) at Universal; Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in Nicholas Ray's film noir In a Lonely Place (1950) at Columbia; and Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, and Dorothy Malone in Henry Levin's crime drama Convicted (1950), also at Columbia.

Stewart's film career came to a halt after another supporting role, in Paramount's 1952 B musical Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick, directed by Claude Binyon, and starring Alan Young and Dinah Shore. According to the IMDb, Stewart would have only one more film credit: Maury Dexter's 1964 youth-oriented comedy musical Surf Party.

Broadway and TV work

On Broadway in late 1946, Martha Stewart played the young female lead in the unsuccessful musical comedy Park Avenue, written by George S. Kaufman and Nunnally Johnson (from Johnson's short story "Holy Matrimony"), and with music by Arthur Schwartz and Ira Gershwin. The story revolved around a young couple (Stewart, Ray McDonald) who, in an environment where divorce is endemic, get second thoughts about their upcoming marriage. The Park Avenue cast also included David Wayne and Mary Wickes, but the musical is chiefly notable for featuring Ira Gershwin's last compositions for a Broadway show.**

In the early '50s, Martha Stewart and fellow former Fox contract player Vivian Blaine crossed paths once again. Stewart was Blaine's replacement in another Broadway musical — Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows, and Jo Swerling's Guys and Dolls — when the original cast moved on to London. Note: In the highly successful 1955 MGM film version, Blaine was the only original Broadway cast member to reprise her role; Robert Alda, Isabel Bigley, and Sam Levene were replaced by Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, and Frank Sinatra.

On television, in 1953 Martha Stewart temporarily replaced none other than the London-bound Vivian Blaine in the variety series Those Two. As found on the IMDb, she also guested in a handful of other variety shows of the '50s (Cavalcade of Stars, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Red Skelton Hour), and landed supporting roles in a couple of TV series in the early '60s (Our Man Higgins, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), before retiring from show business.

According to online sources — and this is dubious information — Stewart, a Christian Science convert, then worked as a school librarian for nearly four decades.

Martha Stewart marriages

Martha Stewart's first husband, in the mid-'40s, was alcoholic comedian Joe E. Lewis, portrayed by Frank Sinatra in the highly romanticized Charles Vidor-directed 1957 biopic The Joker Is Wild, co-starring Jeanne Crain. In the film, Mitzi Gaynor played Stewart.

Actor-writer George O'Hanlon was Stewart's second husband. O'Hanlon appeared in dozens of "So You…" comedy shorts in the '40s and '50s, and decades later provided the voice of George Jetson in Joseph Barbera and William Hanna's 1990 animated feature Jetsons: The Movie, opposite voice actors Mel Blanc, Penny Singleton (formerly of Columbia's Blondie B movie series), and Tiffany.

Things get tricky when it comes to Martha Stewart's third husband. As per the IMDb and dozens of online sources, her third marriage was to the aforementioned Jonathan Crowne. In truth, some time in the '50s Stewart married David Shelley, stepson of songwriter and Capital Records co-founder Buddy G. DeSylva. Shelley and his mother, Marie Wallace DeSylva, inherited most of DeSylva's estate after his death in 1950 at age 55, despite the fact that, as found in Lillian Lorraine: The Life and Times of a Ziegfeld Diva, DeSylva had refused to "formally adopt David and treat him as his son."***

Once again, actress-singer Martha Stewart may be alive and well at age 92, and living in California. Now, what about the 2012 death notice? Was it a mistake? Or a prank? Perhaps it's no coincidence that TV personality Martha Stewart does have a large estate in Sea Harbor, in Maine's Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island area, where Northeast Harbor is also located. This Martha Stewart article will be updated once I get more information.

Premature obits

I should add that, apart from the usual hoaxes announcing the weekly deaths of Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, and Betty White, erroneous reports of celebrity deaths, besides those of Mark Twain and apparently Martha Stewart, include premature obituaries for Jaclyn Smith, Lena Horne, Dwayne Johnson, Gabriel García Márquez, Ernest Hemingway, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Downfall actress Corinna Harfouch, and one of this year's Honorary Oscar recipients, Maureen O'Hara.

Additionally, Gloria Stuart was killed off by a small newspaper in the '80s, about a decade before she — unlike Leonardo DiCaprio — survived James Cameron's sinking of the Titanic; while minor late 1920s actress Eva von Berne (featured in John Gilbert's Masks of the Devil) had her death reportedly taking place in 1930 — an error propagated by early 21st-century online sources — even though she went on to live another seven decades, dying at age 100 in November 2010.

A particularly egregious case was CNN's 2003 snafu, which featured premature obits for the likes of Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, and Pope John Paul II.

'I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now' and 'Holy Matrimony'

* Curiously, although the female lead role in I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now was written expressly for June Haver, the part was initially offered to Linda Darnell, who turned it down. Just as curiously, after I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now was released, composer Harold Orlob sued Joseph E. Howard, claiming he (Orlob) had actually written the song "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" for the 1909 Broadway musical The Prince of To-Night. Orlob won the lawsuit.

** Despite having Nunnally Johnson in common, Park Avenue and John M. Stahl's 1943 movie Holy Matrimony, starring Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields, came from different sources. Stahl's film is based on Arnold Bennett's novel Buried Alive, previously filmed as His Double Life, with Roland Young and Lillian Gish. For Holy Matrimony, Nunnally Johnson was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award.

Buddy G. DeSylva

*** Buddy G. DeSylva frequently worked with lyricist Lew Brown and composer Ray Henderson. Their partnership was depicted in Michael Curtiz's 1956 make-believe biopic The Best Things in Life Are Free, starring Gordon MacRae as DeSylva, Dan Dailey as Henderson, and Ernest Borgnine as Brown. Their songs included "Follow Thru," "Good News," "Sonny Boy," and "Birth of the Blues."

DeSylva was nominated for an Academy Award for the song "Wishing," from Leo McCarey's 1939 romantic comedy-melodrama Love Affair, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. He lost to Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg for "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz.

At Fox in various producing capacities in the mid-'30s (the Shirley Temple movies Poor Little Rich Girl, Stowaway, etc.), DeSylva later moved on to RKO (Bachelor Mother, with Ginger Rogers), and then Paramount, where he became involved in the production of several dozen movies, among them Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941), with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda; Sidney Lanfield's My Favorite Blonde (1942), with Bob Hope and Madeleine Carroll; Mark Sandrich's So Proudly We Hail! (1943), with Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, and Veronica Lake; and Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944), with Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson.

DeSylva, Johnny Mercer, and Glenn Wallichs co-founded Capital Records in 1942.

Martha Stewart article: Other sources

The information about Martha Stewart being dropped from If I'm Lucky is found in Colin Briggs' Vivian Blaine article "The Cherry Blonde" in Classic Images. In his piece, Briggs writes that in I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, Stewart succeeds in "getting away from the nasty side of the woman by giving the character [of Lulu Madison] a Mae West comedic slant."

Another key source for this Martha Stewart article was tcm.com, which features film information found in the AFI catalog. Variety's Martha Stewart obit, dated March 5, 2012, can be found here. Martha Stewart and Perry Como Doll Face publicity shot: 20th Century Fox.

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7 Comments to Martha Stewart Still Alive?

  1. TONY

    Your research is extensive and interesting. In Jazz Singing by Will Friedwald as well as several articles I have read it is claimed she was once married to Buddy Stewart whom she sang with in the Claude Thornhill band. Since she took the name Stewart as her acting moniker I suppose started this misinformation. Can you shed any light on any relationship she had with Buddy Stewart? Thank you.

  2. Anonymous

    Is it definite that this David Shelley is the son of the Martha Stewart in question? IMDB has three Martha Stewarts in their database – the one we all know, the one about whom this article is written, and a third one who had a single movie role during the 70s.

    Is it not possible, for example, that this David Shelley is actually the son of the 70s actress, and many years of erroneous information has led people to name the 40s actress as his mother instead?

  3. John Kerr

    I've seen her in a number of the films mentioned in the article, but only now (vaguely) remember her, especially "In a Lonely Place." I think she was the hatcheck girl Bogart took home…. what a very weird story, and I do hope she's still alive & well, god bless her!

  4. Gale Kappes

    Martha Steward is ALIVE & WELL in California. Her son, David Shelley of Dave Shelley & Bluestone Band in so. Florida is a dear friend of mine, & I told him after viewing his mom on U-Tube, when the status said, that she had passed away in 2012. NOT TRUE!! She is 92yrs. YOUNG!!! Please update your INFO Sincerely Gale Kappes

  5. Josh

    She actually married Crowne in 1952 after her divorce from O'Hanlon; she wasn't married to the two in 1951. That change is still slowly taking place on her IMDb page.

  6. Gene C

    The first (and best) Martha Stewart was great with Bogie in the movie "In a Lonely Place". An A+ character actress, she was very good in her roles.

  7. Mark

    Damn! Thought was Mitzi Gaynor that died. Only knew of Ms Stewart from Mitzi's part in The Joker Is Wild. RIP




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