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Tony Martin Singer Dead at 98

Tony MartinActor-singer Tony Martin, once married to Fox singing star Alice Faye and the widower of MGM dancer-actress Cyd Charisse, died of “natural causes” at his West Los Angeles home on Friday, July 27. Martin was 98.

Tony Martin movies

Though never quite a movie star, Tony Martin (born Alvin Morris on Dec. 25, 1913, in San Francisco) was featured in nearly 30 films. Of those, most were programmers or B movies, with only two or three major productions interspersed among them. (And not including Martin's few bits in mid-'30s movies such as Follow the Fleet, Murder on the Bridle Path, and Poor Little Rich Girl.)

Initially at 20th Century Fox, Martin had a small but memorable role in Sidney Lanfield's minor musical Sing Baby, Sing (1936), starring Martin's future wife Alice Faye. The following year, Martin landed another small role in an Alice Faye musical, Norman Taurog's You Can't Have Everything, chiefly notable for the presence of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (as Louise Hovick) in a supporting part.

That same year, Gypsy / Hovick and Martin found themselves once again cast in the same movie: the David Butler-directed Eddie Cantor vehicle Ali Baba Goes to Town. By then, Martin was established as a leading man in minor Fox musicals.

Tony Martin movies of that period included Sing and Be Happy (1937); Life Begins in College (1937), with the Ritz Brothers (Fox's answer to the Marx Brothers) and Gloria Stuart (of latter-day Titanic fame); Kentucky Moonshine (1938), once again with the Ritz Brothers, plus Marjorie Weaver; Thanks for Everything (1938), with Adolphe Menjou and Jack Oakie; and Winner Take All (1939), once again opposite Gloria Stuart. Additionally, Martin was cast in another vehicle for Alice Faye, who was by then one of the biggest box office attractions in the United States: Sally, Irene and Mary (1938).

Tony Martin: 'Mr. Alice Faye'

Faye and Martin were married in 1937; the couple were divorced three years later. Whereas Alice Faye's movie career continued to prosper in the early '40s, Tony Martin's stalled. “To many people around town,” Martin would later say, “I was Mr. Alice Faye.”

No longer at Fox, Martin was cast opposite a pre-stardom Rita Hayworth in Music in My Heart (1940) at Columbia, and in the MGM remake of Sally, Irene and Mary (itself a remake of a silent 1925 MGM melodrama). Renamed Ziegfeld Girl (1941), the lush Robert Z. Leonard / Busby Berkeley-directed musical / melodrama starred Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, and Lana Turner. Martin had what amounted to a supporting role.

The romantic lead in a minor Marx Brothers comedy, The Big Store (1941), ended the first phase of Tony Martin's movie career.

What followed was World War II and rumors that Martin used bribery to get himself an officer's commission in the Navy. Apparently as a result of the controversy, Martin eventually got out of the Navy and joined the Army.

Alice Faye Tony Martin You Can't Have EverythingTony Martin Movies. Photo: Tony Martin and Alice Faye in the 1938 20th Century Fox musical You Can't Have Everything.)

Following his discharge from the military, Tony Martin had a big hit with his rendition of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans' “To Each His Own,” a song that topped the charts (in various versions) in 1946. That was the year Olivia de Havilland starred in the hit melodrama To Each His Own at Paramount.

Also in 1946, Martin had a cameo in the MGM musical extravaganza Till the Clouds Roll By. Yet, his next lead in a Hollywood movie would come only in 1948. That's when he starred as the seductive fugitive Pepe le Moko in John Berry's Casbah, a musicalized remake of both Pépé le Moko (1937, Jean Gabin) and Algiers (1938, Charles Boyer). Yvonne De Carlo was the replacement for previous Pépé lovers Mireille Balin and Hedy Lamarr.

Tony Martin MGM Musicals

Two years later, Martin had his one of his last true leads in James V. Kern's MGM musical Two Tickets to Broadway (1951), featuring Janet Leigh and Gloria DeHaven. Martin later supported Bob Hope and romanced Arlene Dahl in Here Come the Girls (1953); was third-billed after Esther Williams and Van Johnson in Easy to Love (1953), in which Martin got to sing the title song; and was one of the various cast members in Hit the Deck (1955), featuring Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Walter Pidgeon, Ann Miller, Vic Damone, and others.

Tony Martin's movie career came to an abrupt halt in the late '50s, following his appearance opposite Vera-Ellen in Henry Levin's Let's Be Happy. By that time, mid-level Hollywood musicals had gone out of style. From then on, studios produced either low-budget fare aimed at teenagers or mammoth megabudget productions such as Gypsy, The Music Man, and The Sound of Music.

Tony Martin marriage to Cyd Charisse

From then on, Martin and wife Cyd Charisse (they were married in 1948) became nightclub fixtures, as Charisse's film career also ended abruptly after the demise of the traditional MGM musical. Among Charisse's MGM efforts in the '50s – most of which were considerably more prestigious than Martin's movies at the studio – were Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain (1952), Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953), Minnelli's Brigadoon (1954), Donen and Gene Kelly's It's Always Fair Weather (1955), and Rouben Mamoulian's Silk Stockings (1957).

The couple remained married until Charisse's death of a heart attack in 2008. Their joint autobiography, The Two of Us, was published in 1976. Their son, Tony Martin Jr, died at age 60 in 2011.

Tony Martin continued singing in nightclubs and cabaret acts until his mid-'90s. In a 2009 review of a five-day nightclub engagement, the New York Times' Stephen Holden wrote: “To watch the 96-year-old Tony Martin perform songs he recorded more than six decades ago in a voice that is surprisingly unchanged from what it was in the 1940s and '50s is to witness how popular songs and memory can work together as a kind of Proustian madeleine.”

Tony Martin quote: Los Angeles Times.

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