Martha Raye was the charismatic comedian with the oversized mouth, polished pratfalls and mimicking manner.
For more than 50 years she had teamed up with the preeminent entertainment talents of the 20th Century: Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle, Bing Crosby and many more.
Her performances on film, a medium for which she first became well-known, included a rendition of Mr. Paganini, in the 1936 Crosby film "Rhythm on the Range," which made her an overnight star; "The Big Broadcast" of 1938," "Hellzapoppin" in 1941 and dozens of perfunctory, long-forgotten and low-budget pictures including "Give Me a Sailor," "Never Say Die" and "$1,000 a Touchdown."
At 5 foot, 3 inches, she was much smaller than her professional persona. It was when she smiled or spoke that people realized they were in the presence of a genuinely oversize personality with volume to match. Her personal appearances had been known to turn into celebrations. Her self-deprecating manner encouraged everyone around her to share in the warmth and belly laughs she tried hard to find in life.
She was married seven times, most recently to Mark Harris, a show business promoter 32 years her junior who had been trying to get her awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to go with the Motion Picture Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award Oscar she had received in 1968 for entertaining troops.
His efforts proved successful and in 1993, President Clinton awarded her the medal, citing her "great courage, kindness and patriotism."
The final years of her life proved to be difficult, however. Ailments that had begun to plague her as a young star entertaining at Allied military bases in the mid-1940s continued to trouble her through her later years.
Then there were the legal battles with ex-husbands and her daughter over her $2.5-million estate. At the end she had been hugely successful and ravishingly hungry, loved by audiences but often ignored by those whose love she sought. During periods she described as filled with melancholy, she said sadly that her career had really been "my whole life."
|1968||Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award||Win|