Martha Raye in a press photo
A comedian, actress, and singer, she worked with many of the leading male comics of her day, including Al Jolson, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, and Bob’s Big Boy Burbank Hall-of-Famer, Bob Hope. As a female comic, Martha Raye had no equal. Following a deal with Paramount, she starred in a series of zany comedies over-emphasizing her gorgeous legs and big mouth.
“Big Mouth” would have had no problem making a “Big Boy” disappear when eating the original double-deck hamburger at Bob’s Big Boy Burbank.
Martha Raye and Bing Crosby
Martha Raye caught the attention of a film director as she kidded with audience members Joe E. Lewis and Jimmy Durante during an engagement at Hollywood’s Trocadero. Days later, she was on the set of the Paramount production of Rhythm on the Range (1936) with crooner Bing Crosby. The feature film would include her trademark song, “Mr. Paganini/You’ll Have to Swing It,” which she would arguably perform her best on The Perry Como Show in 1961 backed by the Ray Charles Singers.
Bob Hope and Martha Raye
She proves to be a convincing romantic lead for Bob Hope in College Swing (1938), Give Me a Sailor (1938), and Never Say Die (1939). In 1942, Raye started doing USO tours, an organization to which Hope dedicated his life; they would become lifelong friends. “She was Florence Nightingale, Dear Abby, and the only singer who could be heard over the artillery fire.”
Kay Francis, Martha Raye, Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair
After moving from Paramount to Universal, she would star in a series of war movies like Keep ‘Em Flying (1941) with Abbott and Costello and Hellazopppin’ (1941) with Olsen & Johnson. She re-enacted her USO experiences during WWII with Four Jills in a Jeep (1944).
Charlie Chaplin and Martha Raye
Charlie Chaplin said he wrote Monsieur Verdoux (1947) with Martha Raye in mind. She plays a brash and wealthy widow whom Chaplin’s character cannot successfully murder, no matter how hard he tries. The New York Post commented that Raye was the only one who could hold her own with the comic master. Chaplin called it the most brilliant film he ever made. Martha acknowledged it might have been her only venture into “art.”
Matchbook for the Five O'Clock Club
She often vacationed in Miami Beach where she became partner/performer at Martha Raye’s Five O’Clock Club. The nightclub offered two shows a night and three on weekends. It was named for dispensing free drinks to anyone still at the bar at 5am (yes, 5am!).
The Four Star Revue (1950-53) was guest hosted by Martha so much it morphed into The Martha Raye Show (1954-56). The variety acts were written and produced by Nat Hiken, and often featured retired middleweight boxer, Rocky Graziano, who Martha affectionately referred to as “goombah.”
'46 Cadillac Sport Custom
Martha Raye’s life was anything but a smooth ride though. She owned one, a 1946 Lon Hurley custom Cadillac, but she was married seven times. Eight, actually. She married the same guy twice, which gives her the record for most nuptials over Bob’s Big Boy Burbank Hall-of-Famer Mickey Rooney and his seven wives.
Full 'Bird' Colonel in the US Army Reserve
Despite battling personal demons, she never missed an opportunity to serve. Martha Raye became known as “Colonel Maggie” on USO tours for not just entertaining the troops, but treating them in combat hospitals as a licensed nurse. The fact-checking website, Snopes.com, verifies a Vietnam story passed around in email chains about Martha helping wounded soldiers and carrying dead ones into a Chinook helicopter.
Martha Raye with her Oscar
Bob Hope presented her with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 1968 Academy Awards, making Martha the first women recipient of the award.
Martha Raye as The Duchess
Her last film role would be as “The Duchess” in the two part TV movie miniseries, Alice in Wonderland (1985), with Bob’s Big Boy Burbank Hall-of-Famers Jonathan Winters as “Humpty Dumpty” and Ringo Starr as “The Mock Turtle.” In a duet with Imogene Coca, she sings, “There's Something to Say.”
Funny You Never Knew (2019) pays respect to Imogene, George Gobel, and Martha. The feature-length documentary follows comedians Fred Willard and Kevin Pollak as they re-discover this trio of groundbreaking comedians who were household names in the 1950’s.
Towards the end of her life, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993. Martha Raye became the only civilian laid to rest among Green Berets at Fort Bragg and has since become both an honorary colonel in the U.S. Marines and an honorary lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.
“Colonel Maggie” was never on Facebook, but there is a Martha Raye Scrapbook on the social media platform with an abundance of treasures and resources.
Martha Raye aka "Legs"