HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: A glamour girl in the '40s and '50s, this versatile beauty starred in one of the best sci-fi flix of the mid '60s.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Movie Star and TV Star
BIRTH: She was born on August 10, 1924, making her 35 when the '60s started (other swingin' movie actresses who turned thirty before the '60s were Marilyn Monroe and Gina Lollobrigida). Her exotic birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas, where her father was a judge.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: Sci-fi fans know Martha from Ray Harryhausen's '64 epic First Men in the Moon, a classic Victorian-style space adventure in which her character, named Kate, and two male companions -- a fussy old inventor played by the venerable Lionel Jeffries and a strapping dark-haired hero played by Edward Judd -- soared from rural England to the moon in a spherical capsule propelled by "Cavorite," an anti-gravity element cooked up in the professor's country lab. Harryhausen was one of the producers of the movie and handled the special effects. Martha was in three other movies that same year, including the titillating melodrama The Carpetbaggers alongside Carroll Baker, and the beachy-keen Bikini Beach alongside Annette, Meredith MacRae, and Donna Loren. Martha's impact might've soared to legendary heights if she'd gotten one more key role she was up for, but lost -- Marion Crane in Hitchcock's Psycho, the part played by Janet Leigh (also considered for that role were Lana Turner, Piper Laurie, Eva Marie Saint, Hope Lange, and Shirley Jones).
CAREER IN THE '60s: Martha was busy making two-dozen movies during the '60s, among them were Ice Palace with Carolyn Jones and Desire in the Dust with newcomer Anne Helm in her first role, both movies were in '60. Then came Jack Webb's attempt at a comedy, The Last Time I Saw Archie with Robert Mitchum in '61, plus A Girl Named Tamiko with Laurence Harvey in '62, the creepy Pyro in '63, the top-notch Henry Hathaway western The Sons of Katie Elder with John Wayne and Dino in '65, the culty horror film Picture Mommy Dead in '66 in which Martha is married to Don Ameche, The Chase in '66 with Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Angie Dickinson, The Happening with Anthony Quinn and Faye Dunaway in '67, and Once You Kiss a Stranger with Carol Lynley in '69/ Martha was also doing TV all decade long, including a "Bewitched" alongside Elizabeth Montgomery in '65, "The Beverly Hillbillies" alongside Donna Douglas in '66, and an episode of "Family Affair" alongside Anissa Jones in '67.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Martha was a speech and drama major at Northwestern University in the early '40s. In the mid-'40s she moved to L.A. and started working at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, which led to a five-year contract with Howard Hughes's RKO studio. Through the '50s she built momentum with bigger parts in better pictures, especially Abbott and Costello Go to Mars with Anita Ekberg in '53, Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn in '54, Francis in the Navy with Donald O'Connor and Clint Eastwood in '55, Showdown at Abilene with Jock Mahoney (the step-father of Sally Field) in '56, Battle Hymn with Rock Hudson in '57, and Houseboat with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren in '58. Martha's TV roles in the '50s were mostly westerns, including "The Lone Ranger" in '50, "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok" in '52, and "Rawhide" in '59. Her big break came when she got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as a teacher in Frank and Dino's Some Came Running in '58. After the '70s she's credited as an actress in a single film, the underrated crime caper Day of the Wolves in '73, plus a couple of guest shots on "The Young Lawyers" and "The Virginian" early in the decade. Moving from in front of the camera to a behind-the-scenes role, she wrote the screenplay for Rooster Cogburn, the '75 Western that paired John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn. She wrote her autobiography, Finding My Way: A Hollywood Memoir, in '90. In it she reminisces about her glamorous Hollywood life around people like John Wayne, Gene Kelly, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and Elvis. She also balances the glitz with inspiring words about keeping fame in perspective.
TALENT: You don't have a movie career that lasts from the '30s to the '70s without having talent. While she started out as a screen beauty, by the '60s she was starring as a more mature, more capable actress who could shine in character parts. Unfortunately she got only one prominent award or nomination, for the film Some Came Running in '58, bringing Martha an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress (the winner that year was Wendy Hiller for Separate Tables).
HER '60s LOOK: A dark-haired lovely early in her career, Martha went blonde in the late '50s and was blonde for First Men in the Moon. Her striking features made her both memorable and photogenic; in his '63 book I Owe Russia $1200, Bob Hope described Martha, who was in Paris Holiday with him and Anita Ekberg in '58:
"I was a little nervous when we signed up Martha Hyer. She is an exquisite fragile beauty and she is young. That much I could forgive. But on top of all that she is a talented actress. I just hoped there would be enough Oscars to go around."
Hope called her "young" -- he was 55 at the time, she was 34! Sexy enough to be a pin-up girl, Martha was in fact a pin-up in The Leatherneck magazine in June '46. The July '56 issue of Photoplay showed her figure off in a feature called "Shapes Ahoy," with Mitzi Gaynor and Mara Corday also shown. She also got some exposure in the May 4th '59 issue of Life magazine.
LIFESTYLE: At 27 years old, in '51 Martha married film director Ray Stahl, who wrote and directed a feeble African adventure movie for Martha called The Scarlet Spear. By the time it was released in '54 Martha and Stahl were divorcing. Stahl died in '59; his father was John M. Stahl, who directed dozens of movies from the silent days up into the '40s, among them Magnificent Obsession with Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor in '35, Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney in '45, and Father Was a Fullback with Maureen O'Hara in '49. In the mid-'50s Martha was linked with actor George Nader, he made dozens of minor movies and starred as the title character in "The Adventures of Ellery Queen" TV series in '58. Nader was later in The Million of Eyes of Sumaru with Shirley Eaton in '67, but legend has it that his career ended in the mid-'70s because of his scandalous relationship with Rock Hudson. Other dates in the late '50s for Martha included pro basketball player/actor Jeff Richards. Then on the last day of '66 Martha married one of the biggest producers in Hollywood, Hal Wallis, at his Palm Springs estate. She was 42, Wallis was 67, making him about 25 years her senior. She was with him until he died in '86 at the age of 87. Wallis produced over 200 movies in his long, illustrious fifty-year career, including some of the great movies in Hollywood history, such as Little Caesar with Edward G. Robinson in '30, Jezebel with Bette Davis in '38, The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart in '41, Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman in '42, the Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin comedies of the '50s, nine Elvis movies in the '50s and '60s, 4 for Texas with Frank and Dino in '63, True Grit with John Wayne in '69, and Mary, Queen of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave in '71. He also produced three '60s movies starring Martha Hyer -- A Girl Named Tamiko in '62, Wives and Lovers in '63, and The Sons of Katie Elder in '65. After Wallis's death in '87, there are no reports that Martha remarried.
EXTRAS: The same year that Martha was nominated for her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Some Came Running, another Swingin' Chick of the '60s, Shirley MacLaine, was nominated for Best Actress from the same movie (Shirl lost to Susan Hayward, who was in I Want to Live!) ... Peter Finch, future Oscar winner for Network, had an unbilled cameo in First Men in the Moon bringing a message to Martha ... what helped make First Men in the Moon so boffo at the box-office was its timing -- its '64 release coincided with the building momentum of America's own space program, and there was already talk of the Apollo launches to come and the possibility of landing a man on the moon ... according to some reports, CBS actually used footage from the movie when the network was covering the real moon shot ... the movie version of First Men in the Moon differed widely from the book, which H.G. Wells wrote in 1901 ... in Wells' book, which is set in the years 1899 and 1900, there is no female character named Kate, and only two people go to the moon, Cavor and the young playwright Bedford ... the injured Cavor is captured by the ant-like Selenites, Bedford returns to Earth alone, and the sphere disappears forever when a young boy named Tommy Simmons climbs into it and accidentally activates it ... in the movie, Cavor is never heard from again and the Selenite kingdom is destroyed by his cold virus -- the film's last line is "Poor Cavor, he did have a terrible cold" ... however in the book Cavor lives to send eighteen messages to Earth from the moon via "waves of electro-magnetic disturbance, entirely similar to those used by Signor Marconi for his wireless telegraphy," the messages describe lunar life and the Selenite society, with an abrupt conclusion that suggest Cavor meets with a violent end ... this was the second movie based on the H.G. Wells novel, the first, called The First Men in the Moon, was a British silent made in 1919 ... Ray Harryhausen's next movie after First Men in the Moon was the classic One Million Years B.C. with the iconic cave girl Raquel Welch.