Romantic crooner Tony Martin dies at 98

By Bob Thomas

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 30 2012 11:56 a.m. MDT

In later years, Martin and Charisee put out a 1976 double autobiography, "The Two of Us," and often toured in a singing and dancing shows. He continued appearances into his 90s, his voice only slightly tarnished by time.

"His voice is more or less intact," a New York Times critic wrote when he appeared at a New York club in early 2008. "Time has certainly taken its toll. He no longer belts. ... But the essential Tony Martin sound was still discernible."

Martin was born Dec. 25, 1913. His parents divorced when he was an infant.

"I was a Christmas present in a family that didn't believe in Christmas," Martin wrote. "The name they gave me when I was born on Christmas Day, 1913, was Alvin Morris. Tony Martin wasn't born for a long time after that."

He attended St. Mary's College of California, where he and other students formed a popular jazz combo, The Five Red Peppers. After college, he formed Al Morris and His Orchestra, and played in San Francisco nightclubs like the Chez Paree, often appearing on late-night national radio.

MGM chief Louis B. Mayer heard the bandleader sing "Poor Butterfly" on radio and ordered a screen test. It was a failure, but an agent landed Morris a contract at RKO, where he got a new name. He had enjoyed the music of Freddie Martin at the Coconut Grove, so he borrowed the name. "Tony" came from a magazine story.

His career at RKO was notable for a one-line bit in the 1936 "Follow the Fleet," which starred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. He had better luck at Fox, but nightclubbing every night with a succession of film beauties detracted from his work.

"I was so busy having fun that I didn't even learn my lines," he admitted in 1955. "I muffed a wonderful chance, and that was the end of me for a while."

World War II 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.

The scandal lingered over Martin's head after the war, but he managed to rebuild his career with radio, films, personal appearances and records.

He is survived by stepson Nico Charisse.

Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City was handling funeral arrangements.

Associated Press Writer Jeff Wilson contributed to this report.

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