Mary Martin was remembered upon her death for a tomboyish charm and vibrancy that lighted up the stage whether she flew high in "Peter Pan" or sang to children in "The Sound of Music."

Martin, one of the New York theater's leading ladies for more than 30 years, died of cancer Saturday at age 76 at her home in Rancho Mirage.The actress captivated audiences with her spunk and her joyous singing in such Broadway musicals as "South Pacific," "The Sound of Music," "I Do! I Do!" and "Leave It to Me."

"Vibrant, exciting and always full of life, Mary gave her millions of fans the world over some of the most memorable and thrilling moments in the history of entertainment," said former first lady Nancy Reagan, who appeared with her in the 1946 musical "Lute Song."

"The bright light and good cheer that Mary brought to the world will not fade merely because of her absence," said William Hammerstein, son of Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the lyrics for "South Pacific" and "The Sound of Music."

Martin won a Tony Award for her 1949 portrayal of the naive Army nurse Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific." Martin sang some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most buoyant and warmhearted songs, including "A Cockeyed Optimist," "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" - during which she washed her hair on stage for 1,000 performances.

In "The Sound of Music," which opened in 1959, Martin played the irrepressible nun-in-training Maria and won another Tony. The Rodgers and Hammerstein score included "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi" and "The Lonely Goatherd." The show ran for more than three years in New York.

The role of Maria practically belongs to Julie Andrews, who got the part in the movie, while the part of Nellie Forbush in the film version of "South Pacific" went to Mitzi Gaynor. But the role of Peter Pan is all Martin's.

She was in her 40s when she played Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up, on stage and television.

"All my life, I wanted to be Peter Pan," Martin once said. "My poor mother never knew what I was going to do next. I don't think anything ever surprised my parents. I was always doing something strange - like at 5, jumping off the garage. I wanted to fly, and all I did was break my collarbone."

"Peter Pan" opened on Broadway in 1954 and ran for 152 performances. It was televised live on NBC in 1955 and 1956. Martin won Tony and Emmy awards for the role.

With the advent of videotape and color, NBC taped "Peter Pan" in 1960 and last broadcast it in 1989. A videocassette was released this year.

Martin was born in Weatherford, Texas, and married Benjamin Hagman in 1930. They divorced the following year after the birth of son Larry Hagman, who plays J.R. Ewing on "Dallas."

Martin left Texas to pursue a singing career in California and made her debut as the Trocadero nightclub in Hollywood. It was there she was seen by producer Charles Schwab, who put her in Cole Porter's "Leave It to Me."

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1938, made her a star. Each night she stopped the show by doing a coy striptease while singing the musical's best-known song, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

Martin journeyed to California for a series of less-than-memorable movie musicals and married story editor Richard Halliday in 1940. They had one daughter, Heller. Halliday died in 1973.

Martin was seriously injured in a 1982 taxi accident in San Francisco that killed her manager.

Her last show, "Legends!" opened in 1986 with Carol Channing her co-star. It didn't make it to Broadway. "It's one show I didn't like," Martin said. She did it "because Larry said to me, `Mother, you've been off long enough.' '

Martin is survived by her son and daughter, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Funeral services will be private. A memorial service in New York will be announced at later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that contributions be made to the American Cancer Society.


(Additional information)

Martin lead a long and varied career

Here are the Broadway productions in which Mary Martin appeared and some of her movie credits.

"Leave It to Me," 1938, musical, 291 performances.

"One Touch of Venus," 1943, musical, 567 performances.

"Lute Song," 1946, a play with music, 142 performances.

"South Pacific," 1949, musical, 1,925 performances.

"Kind Sir," 1953, play, 165 performances.

"Peter Pan," 1954, musical, 152 performances.

"The Skin of Our Teeth," 1955, play revival, 22 performances.

"The Sound of Music," 1959, musical, 1,443 performances.

"Jennie," 1963, musical, 82 performances.

"I Do! I Do!" 1966, musical, 560 performances.

"Do You Turn Somersaults?" 1978, play, 16 performances. MOVIES:

"The Great Victor Herbert," 1939.

"Rhythm on the River," 1940.

"Love Thy Neighbour," 1940.

"Kiss the Boys Goodbye," 1941.

"New York Town," 1941.

"Birth of the Blues," 1941.

"Star Spangled Rhythm," 1942.

"Happy Go Lucky," 1942.

"True to Life," 1943.

"Night and Day," 1946.

"Main Street to Broadway," 1953.