Martha Raye: The Story of Her Final Days and the Loss of Both Legs

Martha Raye, the celebrated actress and comedian, enraptured audiences with her talent and unwavering dedication throughout Hollywood’s Golden Age. However, tragedy marred her final days as she confronted the loss of both legs, a trial that transformed her into an emblem of strength and inspiration. Let’s delve deeper into her extraordinary career, exploring the multifaceted aspects of her life, the circumstances surrounding her poignant loss, and the enduring legacy she left behind.

Martha Raye, affectionately nicknamed “The Big Mouth,” was an American comic actress and singer renowned for her dynamic performances in movies, television, and on Broadway stages. With her unparalleled comedic timing and charismatic presence, she delighted audiences with her unforgettable portrayals, leaving an indelible mark on the entertainment industry.

Martha Raye’s career spanned decades, leaving an indelible mark on the entertainment industry. Born as Margy Reed in Butte, Montana, August 27, 1916, Butte, Montana, United States, her early performances in a local vaudeville theater laid the foundation for her remarkable journey. Martha’s innate talent swiftly propelled her into the limelight, where she showcased her comedic brilliance and vocal prowess.

From the 1930s onward, Martha Raye embarked on her career as a vocalist, captivating audiences with her performances alongside renowned orchestras. Her foray into film commenced with a band short titled “A Nite in the Nite Club” in 1934. Paramount Pictures recognized her comedic flair and signed her for comic roles, leading to her debut feature film, “Rhythm on the Range,” alongside Bing Crosby.

Following her auspicious film debut, Martha Raye continued to make her mark in the cinematic world with a series of compelling performances. She exhibited her comedic genius and endearing charm in movies that solidified her reputation as a versatile actress. From the lively musical comedy “Hellzapoppin'” to the poignant drama “Monsieur Verdoux,” Martha captivated audiences with her dynamic on-screen presence.

Her talent for both physical comedy and heartfelt portrayals led to collaborations with esteemed comedians like Bob Hope in films such as “The Big Broadcast of 1938” and “Give Me a Sailor.” Besides her silver screen roles, Martha also made notable appearances on Broadway, leaving an indelible impression in productions such as “Hold On to Your Hats,” “Hello, Dolly!,” and “No, No, Nanette.”

Martha Raye’s contributions extended beyond the stage and screen. From 1936 to 1939, she joined Al Jolson’s weekly CBS radio show, The Lifebuoy Program, also known as Cafe Trocadero, showcasing her impeccable comedic timing and singing prowess. Throughout her illustrious career, she collaborated with esteemed comedians like Joe E. Brown, W. C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin, and Jimmy Durante, leaving an enduring legacy in the comedy world.

Recognized for her vivacious personality and distinctive large mouth, which was notably slightly disproportionate to the rest of her facial features, Martha Raye earned the moniker “The Big Mouth.” Her unique feature often landed her supporting comedic roles in films, where her exaggerated expressions heightened her comedic appeal. Even in animated works like Disney’s “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood” and Warner Bros.’ “The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos,” Martha’s larger-than-life persona and abnormally sized mouth were humorously caricatured.

Martha Raye’s humanitarian efforts were also noteworthy. In 1968, she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an Oscar recognition for her extensive charity work. Additionally, her service to the country during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War led to her being nicknamed “Colonel Maggie” and earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1993.

During the Vietnam War, Martha Raye exemplified true patriotism and embodied the spirit of a devoted American. Despite facing a decade-long blacklist from Hollywood due to her outspoken support for the troops, Martha remained steadfast in her commitment to serving her country. Her courageous acts and dedication to serving others stand as a shining example of her unwavering commitment to her country and those who fought for its freedom.

In her later years, Martha continued to make appearances on various television shows, embracing diverse roles and sharing her charisma with audiences. Her final film appearance was in the 1979 disaster film “The Concorde… Airport ’79,” where she continued to captivate audiences with her talent and charm.

Martha Raye’s love life was marked by multiple marriages. Throughout her life, Martha experienced both the joys and challenges of romantic partnerships, seeking love and companionship. Despite the ups and downs, Martha remained devoted to her family and loved ones, offering support and guidance whenever needed. Martha Raye’s personal life was indeed complex and emotionally tumultuous, marked by seven marriages spanning several decades.

Raye’s first marriage was to makeup artist Hamilton “Buddy” Westmore, which lasted from May 30, 1937, until September 1937. She filed for divorce on the basis of extreme cruelty. She then tied the knot with composer-conductor David Rose on October 8, 1938, but their marriage ended on May 19, 1941.

Her third marriage was to Neal Lang, lasting from May 25, 1941, to February 3, 1944. Raye then married Nick Condos on February 22, 1944, and their union lasted until June 17, 1953. Following her divorce from Condos, Raye exchanged vows with Edward T. Begley on April 21, 1954. However, their marriage ended on October 6, 1956.

Raye gave birth to one child, a daughter named Melodye Condos, in July 1944, during her marriage to Nick Condos. Melodye was named after Raye’s recently deceased younger sister. She then married Robert O’Shea on November 7, 1956, but their relationship concluded on December 1, 1960. Finally, Raye married Mark Harris on September 25, 1991, and remained with him until her death in 1994.

Despite the tumultuous nature of her personal life, Raye found solace and strength in her faith as a devout Methodist. She was dedicated to her religious practices, regularly attending church, immersing herself in Bible study, and even taking on the role of a Sunday school teacher. Despite misconceptions about her religious affiliation, she humorously remarked on the ambiguity, embracing her Methodist identity with a lighthearted attitude.

In addition to her personal life, Raye held steadfast political beliefs, aligning herself with conservative principles. She expressed her convictions openly, advocating for constitutional rights, a robust national defense, limited government, individual freedom, and personal responsibility. Raye’s political stance reflected her unwavering patriotism and gratitude towards the United States’ founding fathers, whom she credited for leaving behind a cherished legacy.

In her later years, Martha Raye confronted a significant medical challenge that ultimately led to the amputation of both her legs. This formidable adversary was peripheral arterial disease, a condition that restricts blood flow to the limbs, causing excruciating pain, tissue damage, and stubbornly unhealing wounds. The loss of her legs profoundly impacted Martha Raye on both physical and emotional levels. She faced immense hurdles, adapting to a new way of life and navigating daily activities with the aid of prosthetic limbs.

Despite the profound loss, Martha Raye’s tenacity and passion remained unyielding. Her unshakeable spirit and indomitable will propelled her forward in her pursuit of a career and artistic expression. She steadfastly refused to let her physical condition define her, continuing to delight audiences and inspire others through her exceptional talent and unwavering dedication.

Regrettably, Martha Raye died of pneumonia on October 19, 1994, at the age of 78. The news of her death reverberated globally, evoking a bittersweet mixture of sorrow and deep admiration for her remarkable contributions. The entertainment industry and her devoted fans mourned the loss of a cherished icon, acknowledging the enduring impact she had on the world.

Overall, Martha Raye’s legacy stands as a brilliant example of extraordinary strength and resilience. Her ability to persevere in the face of adversity serves as a timeless inspiration, encouraging countless individuals to confront challenges with resilience and unflagging determination. She will forever be remembered as a beacon of courage and an unforgettable icon in the realm of entertainment.

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