Mary Martin's Broadway legacy -- A tribute to one of musical theater's biggest stars

By Jess Cagle
November 16, 1990 at 05:00 AM EST

Mary Martin’s Broadway legacy

Throughout the four decades that she graced the Broadway stage, Mary Martin, who died of cancer Nov. 3 at age 76, never lost her rosy-cheeked innocence or her zip. Born in Weatherford, Tex., the big-eyed country girl was cast wildly against type in Cole Porter’s Leave It to Me back in 1938 — and her sweet-voiced rendition of the racy ”My Heart Belongs to Daddy” made her a star. She went on to define several of the musical theater’s classic roles: Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, and, of course, the spritely hero of Peter Pan, a 1954 Broadway flop that became a children’s classic when it was televised in 1955.

Released on video by Goodtimes this year, Peter Pan is one of the few Martin performances that are preserved for posterity. While her Broadway recordings are easy to find — Peter Pan and I Do! I Do! were recently reissued by RCA Victor — some know her mainly as ”J.R.’s mom”: Larry Hagman is one of her two children. The shrinkage of her fame didn’t bother her a bit. At age 70, one year after suffering two broken ribs and a collapsed lung in a taxi crash, the irrepressible Martin once more donned her Peter Pan costume to sail from the third balcony over the audience at a San Francisco theater benefit. ”And I flew!” she recalled last December. ”Oh, it was a bash.”