Singer-Actor Tony Martin Dies at 98

Tony Martin 2007 - P 2012
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Tony Martin 2007 - P 2012

UPDATED: One of the last big stars from Hollywood's golden age of musicals, he was married to Cyd Charisse for 60 years and enjoyed a long career as a recording artist after breaking into movies in the mid-1930s

Tony Martin, a successful pop crooner and among the last of the big stars from the golden age of film musicals, has died. He was 98.

The singer-actor, who was married to Cyd Charisse for 60 years, died July 27 of natural causes at his West Los Angeles home, his friend and accountant Beverly Scott said Monday.

He was featured in more than two dozen movies, starting with small roles in post-Depression films including the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Follow the Fleet and Poor Little Rich Girl with Shirley Temple. He went on to star in such films as Kentucky Moonshine, alongside the Ritz Brothers, and Sally, Irene and Mary opposite Alice Faye, one of the studio’s biggest stars, whom he married in 1937.

But his biggest success would come as a recording artist. By 1938, Martin was singing with Ray Noble’s band and began scoring hit singles. A contemporary of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, his warm baritone fueled 14 top 10 hits from 1938-56 -- though he never had a No. 1 record -- including such romantic ballads as “I Hadn’t Anyone but You,” “Fools Rush In,” “There’s No Tomorrow” and the million-selling “To Each His Own.” He broke through in the U.K. with the cross-continental mid-’50s hits “Stranger in Paradise” and “Walk Hand in Hand,” but Martin’s singing career stalled with the rise of rock ’n’ roll.

From 1954-56, he headlined the NBC-TV live-music program The Tony Martin Show.

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Born Alvin Morris on Christmas Day 1913 in San Francisco, he received his first saxophone at 10. His early career included a stint alongside Woody Herman in Tom Gerun’s band before leaving for Hollywood in the mid-’30s, where success came quickly. A singing gig on radio led to film roles for the tall and handsome Martin, and he soon became a contract player at 20th Century Fox, appearing with some of the era’s biggest stars. His credits include Pigskin Parade, featuring a young Judy Garland; Banjo on My Knee, with Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea; and Ali Baba Goes to Town, with Eddie Cantor.

Martin moved to MGM in 1940 and sang in such films as Ziegfeld Girl, with James Stewart, Lana Turner and Garland; The Big Store, with the Marx Brothers; and Easy to Love with Esther Williams.

His career was interrupted by World War II, which brought the one big scandal in his life. He enlisted in the Navy in 1941 and was given a specialist ranking. A year later, a Navy officer who facilitated Martin’s enlistment was court-martialed, accused of accepting a $950 automobile from him. The singer was not charged but was dismissed from the Navy for unfitness. He asked his draft board for immediate induction into the Army and served three years in Asia, including a stint in Capt. Glenn Miller’s band.

He resumed his career after the war and continued to enjoy success as a singer. In 1948, he married Charisse, who went on to become a star in such films as Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon and Brigadoon. They often toured together in music shows and remained married until her death in 2008.

Martin is survived by his stepson, Nico Charisse. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Watch Martin singing The Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II ballad “All the Things You Are” below.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.