Marion Martin: Of Choruses and Classic Comedians

Much like Toby Wing or Iris Adrian, Marion Martin (Marion Suplee, 1909-1985) came from the ranks of the chorus girls, and always carried an aura of the kickline about her, no matter the distance traveled.

A Philly native, Martin was all of 18 when she made her Broadway debut in Lombardi Ltd (1927) starring Leo Carrillo. Later came George White’s Scandals of 1928, Sweet Adeline (1929-30) with Helen Morgan, and touring editions of Earl Carroll and Ziegfeld revues into the early ’30s.

Martin’s first movie assignment was as arm candy to Alexander Woollcott in the 1934 short Mr. W’s Little Game. She played supporting roles in around a dozen shorts through 1938, starring the likes of Will Mahoney, Sylvia Froos, Bert Lahr, Danny Kaye, and bandleader Richard Himber, With James Whale’s Sinners in Paradise (1938) she ascended to features, and was fourth billed, which isn’t half bad. She enjoyed similarly high billing in a few pictures in the late ’30s, such as His Exciting Night (1938) with Charlie Ruggles, Pirates of the Skies (1939) with Regis Toomey and a few other pictures, But this didn’t portend a permanent change in status — she was to pong-pong back and forth between goodly sized roles and walk-ons throughout her career. Half the time she rates a named character, the other half, she’s “flashy blonde”, “night club singer” or the like.

Along the way Martin had the opportunity to work opposite many classic comedians or in classic comedy series. She worked with the Marx Brothers in The Big Store (1941), in several of the Mexican Spitfire comedies, with Bob Hope in Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) and They Got Me Covered (1943), Harold Peary in Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944, in which she was second billed, the biggest of her career), Abbott and Costello in Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), and the Three Stooges in Merry Mavericks (1951). Martin was memorable in Lady of Burlesque (1943) with Barbara Stanwyck, and played similar roles in Busby Berkley’s Cinderella Jones (1946) and the B movie Queen of Burlesque (1946). She was in Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940) and Frank Capra’s State of the Union (1948). Other comedies included Scatterbrain (1940) and Oklahoma Annie (1952) with Judy Canova, the all-star Cracked Nuts (1941), and The McGuerins from Brooklyn (1942) with William Bendix and Joe Sawyer. Musicals and show biz stories included The Big Street (1942) with Lucille Ball, The Merry Monahans (1944), Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1944), On Stage Everybody (1945), New Orleans (1947), That’s My Gal (1947), and Oh, You Beautiful Doll (1949). Westerns (in which she played dance hall girls) and suspense thrillers and gangster stories (in which she tended to play gun molls or night club performers) filled out most of the rest of her profile.

In 1952, newly married and probably mindful that age 43 her sorts of roles would soon be out of her grasp, Martin retired. She got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame eight years later.

For more on show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.