August 27, 1916 – October 19, 1994
“I didn’t have to work till I was three. But after that, I never stopped.”
During WW2, Korea and Vietnam, Martha travelled extensively to entertain the American troops. In 1968, she was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in the form of an Oscar. In November of 1993, President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Very nice. Martha was married 7 times, and had a daughter named Melodye with her husband Nick Condos.
I loved her best as Benita Bizarre on The Bugaloos.
She started having strokes in 1988. Another stroke in January of 1990 left her in a wheelchair.
On September 25th, 1991, she married Mark Harris, who was then 42 to her 75.
It was a quick Las Vegas wedding. They had known each other for less than a month, and Mark schmoozed her like a pro. They lived together on Roscomare, in LA.
Here is what the house looks like now, and here is the front door.
Mark fired Martha’s agent, and had her phone number of 30 years, changed. He was clearly in control. Thanks to Chad Jones for those pictures. I wonder if these are Mark’s cars in the driveway.
August 2000 – I’ve been in communication with Noonie Fortin, who was a good friend of Martha’s, and also author of the authorized biography, “Memories of Maggie–Martha Raye: A Legend Spanning Three Wars.” Noonie told me that the house on Roscomare is not the original house. Noonie says, “Maggie never lived in that house pictured on your page. When she was alive the house she lived in for so many years at 1153 Roscomare was a red ranch home with a small white picket fence and flagpole by the driveway. I spent several weeks in that wonderful home in 90 and 91–before Mark moved in that is. Claiming it was damaged during the Riverside earthquake, after Maggie died Mark had the house torn down. When I was back in LA in 96, Melodye showed me the construction site. I was devastated to think he would do that to the home Maggie loved so. Thank God she wasn’t there to see him do it.”
Thank you Noonie. If you are interested in buying an autographed copy of Noonie’s book, drop her an email here. You can also visit Noonie’s webpage for Martha Raye here.
During their marriage, Mark (a licensed cosmetologist) would dress Martha up, and wheel her around to parties, appearances, and drag shows. Martha would often fall asleep in her wheelchair, but Mark pressed on. He arranged appearances for himself on various talk shows, and was a regular on Howard Stern’s show. It was pathetic to watch, and hear. Mark also all but gutted Martha’s home, and changed the furnishings to suit him.
Some people were concerned that Martha was too ill to be carrying on, and many manypeople were outspoken about how good the relationship was for Martha.
Melodye, Martha’s daughter, did not like Mark. At all. Martha supposedly had a falling out with Melodye a few years previously, when Melodye had her father, Nick Condos, cremated against Martha’s wishes. This incident was supposedly behind them, but Melodye became extremely suspicious of Mark’s intentions, and even took out law suits, claiming that Martha could not have been in her right mind when she decided to marry Mark. It was ugly ugly ugly.
In October of 1993, Martha lost her left leg, below the knee, because of circulatory problems. It was also reported at the time, that her liver was so damaged from alcohol abuse, that doctor’s gave her only 3 months to live. Eventually she lost the right leg as well. Martha never knew it, because they never told her. She was also suffering from Alzheimers and cataracts.
The Northridge earthquake damaged their home, so the last nine months of her life were spent in the Radisson Hotel, near UCLA. Various illnesses kept Martha in and out of hospitals constantly.
On Monday, October 17th, 1994, Martha was suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, and needed transfusions. She was taken to Cedars Sinai Medical Center (thank you Terri Rios).
Melodye tried to visit her, but Mark left strict instructions that Melodye be banned from visiting. Her last failed visit to the hospital was only an hour before Martha had died, on Wednesday, October 19th, 1994. She died of pneumonia at 1:45p.m., and she was in a truck to the mortuary by 2. She was 78 years old.
Findadeath.com very good friend Scott Williams writes in: Anyway, your FAD stamp nearly covered it up but I detected the word “aspiration” in front of “pneumonia” on the death cert. of Martha Raye. This is no bacterial or viral pneumonia. It means she died of inhaling vomit. People who have had strokes often have trouble managing their airway, and, when vomiting, manage to inhale a good deal of it. The acidic bile causes a pneumonitis (Inflammation) in the lungs that has a mortality rate in the 90th percentile. That is, if they don’t just plain obstruct and choke to death on it. NASTY for stroke victims, late stage Parkinson’s patients and other with neurological disorders like ALS, etc. Thank you for the clarification Scott. You are a great help.
Added March 6, 2002: From Findadeath.com friend A.K. Lewis: I just read the info on Martha Raye and would like to clarify the section on aspiration pneumonia. I am a speech pathologist who specializes in dysphagia (swallowing disorders) in a geriatric care setting. Scott Williams’ description of aspiration pneumonia is correct in all but one aspect: He seems to promote the idea that all aspiration pneumonia is caused by vomiting. In reality, aspiration pneumonia can be caused by any number of substances inappropriately entering the lungs. Most commonly, it is caused by the accidental inhalation of foods and liquids while a person with a disordered swallow is eating or drinking. Other (less common) causes include acid reflux and vomit in populations such as those that Mr. Williams mentioned. In Martha’s case, it may very well have been vomiting that caused her aspiration pneumonia if she was a heavy drinker, but without more information it would be impossible to know for sure.
Melodye found out about the death, while listening to the radio. Mark was in New York, doing more appearances. Martha died alone.
Within 28 hours of her death, Martha was laid out at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Mortuary, in Santa Monica. I crashed the ceremony. Ann Jeffreys and Rose Marie were there. It was a closed pine casket, covered with an American flag. Melodye only found out about the memorial 3 hours ahead of time – from a reporter. A few people spoke, dull ass A.C. Lyles being one of them. Everyone who knew Martha, referred to her as “Maggie” when they spoke. When Mark stood up to speak, he called her “Martha.” I thought that was revealing. Melodye got up and said that she apologized for the speed of the funeral, stating that “If she had been asked to help, she would have arranged something more suitable, so fans could say goodbye.” Everyone was very uncomfortable, and when she sat down, Mark got up again (of course) and said that he followed Martha’s own instructions for the Jewish (Martha was Catholic, Mark was Jewish) funeral. He also invited everyone to a memorial at the Friars club, in a couple of weeks. After the service, the lights went out in the funeral home, while we were still in the pews. We had to find our way to the front to exit, via security lights. We passed by the casket, touched it, and said our goodbyes. In the receiving line, Mark again said to me, “See you at the Friars club.” You know I went.
Melodye had suspected that Martha wasn’t even in the casket, and a reporter told her the next day, that she wasn’t, but shipped to North Carolina already. I don’t have confirmation of this.
She was buried with full military honors on Saturday, in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
The Memorial Service went on as scheduled at the Friars Club. When I got there, the doorman asked me what I was there for. I told them, “Martha Raye’s memorial.” They asked to see my invitation, and I told them, “Mark invited me.” They let me in, no probs. I remember Red Buttons and Rose Marie were there. I spent time yakking with Billie Hayes (Witchiepoo) and her girlfriend. It was all going nicely, when A.C. Lyles popped up and started droning on about nothing in particular again. Then the real show began. Mark Harris gets up on the stage, which was graced with a painting of Martha in military garb.
He then proceeded to get out a tape player, and play music. He began reading a poem that he wrote, and this little blonde queen starts doing an interpretative dance on the stage.
It was awful. Rose Marie went straight to the bar, obviously disgusted. The press (and me) was clicking away like demons. When Mark finished, he kissed the portrait, and said, “I love you, Martha Raye.” Red Buttons did a horrible thing in the bathroom, which had us in stitches. All in all, it was a great evening.
Interestingly, Martha left the bulk of her estate to Mark, but also a good portion of money to the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Mark chose to spend a portion of his money, designing a line of furs.
Trivia: Her last film appearance was in The Concorde: Airport ’79.
More: In January of 1997: Martha Raye’s Oscar was given a new home at the Friars Club, where she was “one of the boys” as the private club’s first female honorary member.
Also in 1991, Martha sued Bette Midler, claiming that the film, For the Boys, was based on her life. The judge dismissed the case, after Midler testified that there was no similarity between her part and Martha’s life, except for the fact they both entertained troops.
I wrote Martha a fan letter towards the end of her life. I don’t know if this is supposed to bean autograph, but this is what I got back from her.
This just in: About Mark Harris — you may already know this. I listen to Howard Stern just about every morning. He has been playing a CD released by Mark Harris and making fun of it pretty much every other day. You must hear it to truly believe how awful it is. I think Harris has hired himself a vocal coach that has taught him how to vibrate his vocal chords (I won’t even go there) and he ends practically every sentence in this manner while he’s singing. I’ve never heard anything more hilarious in my life!!! This guy is the most untalented person in the world – how sad. A queen with no court . . .
From brand new Findadeath.com friend Ariane Livernois. Thank you Ariane!
This in from Findadeath.com friend Kay: “I thought I would remind you that she acted on the series “Alice” at least as late as the 83-84 season. She portrayed “Carrie Sharples”, Mel’s mother. God knows how long those denture commercials went on…remember those??” Been trying to forget them myself, Kay. Thanks for the trivia!
Martha is fantastic in the Pufnstuf movie. I love it.
This just in, January 2003, from Findadeath friend Mike Pare:
Hers was a sad but brought largely on by herself life….her biggest hang up & fear was that people would discover she was virtually illiterate…she had terrible shame about that. Melodye DID try to help her Mom, but after Mel got to be about 2-3 yrs old she no longer amused her, especially as her then hubby Condos was devoted to Mel. They were close for a time when Mel had her son, but Martha drank heavily til about a year before she died, Mark was afraid of Mel ‘cuz he didn’t want to lose his meal ticket…..he makes Andy Dick look normal…Martha WAS sent earlier to Ft Bragg, but Mel was there & it was very dignified. All of Martha’s family died of alcohol related disease, tho she would tell press it was pneumonia, cancer or something else. Martha had great shame in her life…
Thanks again, Mike!
Findadeath.com friend Ken Wert sends us this:
Remember Martha was the spokesperson for a denture adhesive back in the mid-eighties. I’m pretty sure it was Polident. Anyway, the commercial introduced her as “Martha Raye, actress and denture wearer” – Martha then extolled the benefits of super-grip Polident. One night on David Letterman’s show, Letterman referred to this commercial in his monologue as a “terrifying commercial” featuring “Martha Raye, denture wearer and condom user”
Needless to say, Maggie and her people were not amused. At all. They filed suit against Dave for defamation; however, the court found, in the case of Raye v. Letterman (1987) that such remarks were not defamatory since reasonable people would not conclude that the plaintiff, Martha Raye, was promiscuous and thus be a user of such products.
My friend Steve Smith sends this: We watched the DVD for “Pippin” this weekend (I think they filmed it back in 1981 in Canada – the show originated on Broadway in the early 1970s). The DVD had Ben Vereen (from the original cast), William Katt (our “Greatest American Hero”) in the title role and Chita Rivera. Martha played Irene Ryan’s part. Remember, Irene originated the role of Pippin’s Grandmother on Broadway just prior to her untimely TRAGIC demise. The show was LONG and tedious, especially Martha’s part, though Martha brought the house down (what do you expect from a trouper as she – I kept wishing her false teeth would come FLYING out). Wished Irene could have played the part on DVD, it would had been FABULOUS.
One more thing: Martha Raye was married to David Rose, the composer, just before he married Judy (you know her, the mother of the legendary, Lorna Luft). I’m not sure if David dumped Martha for Judy or whether David & Martha’s marriage had already hit the skids by the time Judy came on the scene, I don’t recall for sure.
Of course, Martha guested on Judy’s TV show (though not as notable of an episode as the one where Judy sang “Lorna” to her up and coming legendary daughter) in the 60s.