TAKE IT FROM THE BIG MOUTH by Jean Maddern Pitrone


The Life of Martha Raye
Email this review


A paint-by-numbers biography of the much-married singer, actress, comedienne, pitchwoman. Martha “Maggie” Raye was literally born into show business, delivered between engagements in 1916 to a pair of struggling vaudevillians. Their own act had begun to grow stale, so it wasn—t long before Raye and her two siblings were drafted into the show. The child attracted some attention, but vaudeville was dying and her family played smaller and smaller engagements until work dried up almost entirely at the onset of the Depression. There hadn—t been much time or inclination for school, and Raye remained semi-literate throughout her adult life, relying on her manager (and one-time husband), Nick Condos, to read scripts aloud to her. Determined to support her family, teenage Maggie tried her hand at singing in nightclubs, which led to theater, then Hollywood. Raye possessed a remarkably versatile voice and a rare flair for knockabout, physical comedy; she was soon starring or co-starring in a host of largely forgettable musicals and comedies. With the entry of the US into World War II, she threw herself wholeheartedly into entertaining the troops, going where even Bob Hope wouldn—t dare: the most distant outposts, the most exposed positions. Her film career suffered, and by the end of the war it was almost over. Television and nightclubs filled the gap, and she continued to dedicate substantial amounts of time and energy to “her boys” in both Korea and Vietnam. Along the way, Raye found the time for seven marriages and a child she mistreated and neglected, although not quite at the Mommie Dearest level. Pitrone (The Dodges: The Auto Family Fortune and Misfortune, not reviewed, etc.) paints an acid-tipped portrait of a self-obsessed, heedless semi-star, but this account lacks any depth or perceptiveness. (16 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8131-2110-8
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999