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April 13, 2014

Keeping alive the story of Mary Martin

Historian of Weatherford-born actress speaks of Martin in honor of her 100th birthday

By BRIAN SMITH

Mary Martin historian George Dansker gave a heartwarming lecture about the Weatherford-born Broadway actress many didn’t know during a fundraising dinner honoring her 100th birthday Thursday night.

Dansker, who helped set up the Martin collection at the Weatherford Public Library, said he first met Martin at a New Orleans department store in the 1970s where she was selling her linen products. Their paths crossed again in 1986, when Martin’s Broadway show “Legends” was in New Orleans. At that time, Martin showed him her personal photographs, many of which are in the Doss Heritage and Culture Center’s display, and her needlepoint work, of which she was very proud.

Martin asked Dansker what he did for a living and he said he was a librarian in New Orleans. She tasked Dansker with “keeping the facts straight about me when I’m gone,” which Dansker “took to heart.”

Dansker said Martin was always proud of being from Weatherford, saying it was her “pride and joy.” During the 75-minute presentation, Dansker brought out a number of rare recordings of Martin singing, noting her passion for a song and a performance and some of the reasons why.

While she was known for her work in “Peter Pan” and the “Sound of Music,” Dansker said Martin enjoyed her less traditional roles the most. She was very candid about her work in movies, saying she was never sure of her talent in front of the camera.

While her booming soprano voice brought rave reviews in her shows, Dansker said it was Bing Crosby who brought out her more informal, true singing style. Dansker said the classic “South Pacific” was written specifically for Martin by Oscar Hammerstein, thinking it would bring out her bubbly personality.

Despite her talent for acting and singing, which got her two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Martin told Dansker she felt her greatest talent was being a mother to the late Larry Hagman and daughter Heller Halliday, who attended the event. Martin was married for 32 years to Richard Halliday before his passing in 1973.

Proceeds from the event went toward the renovation of the Mary Martin and Larry Hagman Gallery. Doss Executive Director Heather Castagna said updating the gallery with classic finishes, state of the art digital media, new archival cases for display are only some of the things planned to create an environment deserving of Martin and Hagman’s legacy.

“She never gave up her dream,” Castagna said. “We want to honor her with an exhibit worthy of her and Larry.”

Donations are being taken for the gallery and can be made online or by contacting the Doss at 817-599-6168.

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