On an Entirely Different Martha Stewart

Born today in 1922 (and still with us at this writing) big band era singer and actress Martha Stewart. Unlike the more famous domestic science maven, whose actual last name is Kostyra, there is a good chance I am related to this one, for she was born in Kentucky, a state where I have some roots. As a child her family moved to Brooklyn; that is where she grew up.

After finishing her studies at Utrecht High School, Stewart entered a radio singing contest, which then led to a professional singing career. A regular gig at The Stork Club led to her discovery for movies. She was brought to Hollywood to appear in the picture Doll Face (1945), in which she sang “Dig You Later, A-Hubba, Hubba, Hubba” with Perry Como. 1946 may have been her busiest year: she appeared in the film Johnny Comes Flying Home (directed by Ben Stoloff), as well as the Broadway show Park Avenue, and she married comedian Joe E. Lewis which is is how I first learned about her. The marriage only lasted two years, but you can see a semi-fictionalized version of her in the 1957 bio-pic The Joker is Wild. Her second marriage (1949-1952) was to George O’Hanlon, star of the Joe McDoakes shorts, and later the voice of George Jetson.

Stewart appeared in another half dozen movies through 1952, usually about fifth or sixth down in the billing. With a filmography so short, I may as well as list them all: they are the 1947 Joe Howard bio-pic I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now, with June Haver; the Joan Crawford melodrama Daisy Kenyon (1947); the carnival comedy Are You With It? (1948) with Donald O’Connor and Olga San Juan; the Nicholas Ray noir thriller In a Lonely Place (1950) with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame; the Glenn Ford legal drama Convicted (1950), and the rural comedy Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952) with Alan Young and Dinah Shore (1952).

Meanwhile, in 1950 she’d begun getting booked as a singer on tv variety shows, where she was a frequent presence through 1954. Then there is a long gap in her career, presumably because she had gotten married to a third husband in 1952, had three children, and converted to Christian Science in 1956. Her third husband David Shelley was the son of Ziegfeld girl Marie Wallace. Their son, also named  David Shelley, was a successful blues rock musician.

Interesting Stewart briefly came back in the mid 1960s and amassed four more credits with roles on the tv shows Our Man Higgins (1963), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1963) and My Three Sons (1965), and the musical Surf Party (1964). She was only 43 at the time of this second retirement, which thus far has lasted 52 years.

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