The Big Mouth from Butte

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book by him is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.

In Butte, Montana, little Margy Reed (no relation) entered the world on Aug. 27, 1916.

The daughter of vaudeville performers Peter and Maybelle, Margy would go on to international renown as a revered, multi-talented entertainer.

Thirteen years later, as she and her mother browsed a telephone book in search of a new, professional name, Margy chose the one for which she would be known the rest of her life — Martha Raye.

Show business defined her for seven decades. She was only 3 years old when she began appearing on stages with her parents. She sang and acted her way into a stardom that only faded with ill health late in life. Her filmography of her includes 26 films and dozens of appearances on television shows, including one of her own de ella she hosted for three seasons in the 1950s. Wherever she sang, her powerful voice could shake walls.

As a comedian, she often joked about her over-sized mouth. I still remember the commercials she did for a popular denture cleanser in the 1980s. They ended with a huge, toothy grin and her her famous line, “Take it from a big mouth: New Polident Green gets tough stains clean!”

Martha welcomed the laughs her legendary mouth evoked. David C. Tucker’s biography of her, Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown, quotes her as saying in 1936, “Go ahead and laugh. It’s my face and I guess I’m stuck with it, but what of it? It got me a contract at Paramount Studios. What has your face done for you lately?”

Martha Raye’s longest love affair was not with any of the seven husbands she married. It was with the men and women of America’s armed forces. She joined the USO (United Services Organization) shortly after Pearl Harbor and performed for adoring audiences of troops through both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. She was a national vice president for the POW-MIA organization.

Those experiences earned her honorary military designations, including Lt. Colonel in the Army and Colonel in the Marine Corps. Troops in Vietnam dubbed her ”Colonel Maggie.”

Martha’s affection for the troops was rivaled only by her love of the country. She told a Hollywood interviewer in 1984, “I believe in the Constitution, strength in national defense, limited government, individual freedom, and personal responsibility. They reinforce that the United States is the greatest country in the world, and we can all be eternally grateful to our Founding Fathers for the beautiful legacy they left us.” The country returned her love to her when she was belatedly awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993, the year before she passed away.

At the 1969 Academy Awards ceremony, comedian Bob Hope presented Martha with a humanitarian award for “her devoted and often dangerous work in entertaining troops in combat areas almost continuously since World War II.” Jean Pitrone’s biography of Raye notes that at the time of her death de ella in 1994 at age 78, Hope said “She was Florence Nightingale, Dear Abby and the only singer who could be heard over artillery fire.”

Thanks to Butte, Montana, for giving America the unforgettable Martha Raye!

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Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book by him is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.

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