THE CAREER OF MARTHA TILTON
Sam, the man who made the pants too long, gave Martha Tilton her first job on an air show. Her singing suited the tailor man fine and he paid her the lordly sum of twenty-five dollars for her renditions over a Los Angeles radio station -- thousand watter KFAC.
The day she got her first pay check from the sponsor Martha rushed over to a department store and bought three items -- a new hat, imitation pearls for her mother and a pink sweater for her dog who was enduring a cold winter. Martha spent everything, and to her chagrin was later put off the street car when she failed to come up with the requisite fare.
Thus started rather chaotically a career which was to see Martha Tilton put off no stations thereafter. She is now a swing singer of note on American's Radio Hall of Fame and her motion picture appearances have also helped enhance her renow.
For, as it happened, Martha's singing over KFAC was heard by a prominent agent. He approached the petite blond who had come to Los Angeles from her native Corpus Christi, Texas, at the age of seven, and asked her if she would like to sing at the Cocoanut Grove. Martha assented to the salary of $45 for she had always wanted to be a professional singer, had thought about it since her graduation from high school at seventeen.
Yet she was far sighted enough a little later to shift to Hal Grayson's band at a salary cut of fifteen dollars because she would be able to tour the country and meet the people.
Her strategy was successful for her next step was to sing on "Three Hits and A Miss." While on this program she was given an audition as vocalist for the Benny Goodman band. Benny listened patiently to one number and walked out on the second. Martha noticed the retreat and immediately thought that her next steop would be Los Angeles or Corpus Christi. She went home in what is known as a blue funk.
When she arrived she heard the telephone ringing. Thinking it was another bill collector she picked up the receiver, heard a voice say angrily,
"Why did you walk out?"
"Who wouldn't?" returned Martha was asperity, "Goodman left and that's why I did."
"Well, said the voice which was that of Goodman's manager -- "Benny liked you and he wants to talk to you."
She was hired the next day at $125 a week and sang with the Goodman band for three years.
Martha had many exciting experiences while singing with Goodman. When Benny was at the Paramount in New York a couple of enthusiasts jumped on the stage and started dancing. This is the first known instance of such exhibitionism. The incident was unforgettable because the boy who was dancing accidentally kicked Martha and she collapsed on the stage.
Miss Tilton returned to the Coast, joined NBC, and was featured in a program called "Liltin' Martha Tilton Time" which ran for a full year. She was a guest star on the Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Carson and Dick Powell programs, as well as many others.
In 1944, Martha shipped off for a South Pacific tour with Jack Benny, Carole Landis, Larry Adler and June Bruner. She was a hit from here to Guadalcanal and back.
Now on Radio Hall of Fame, Miss Tilton each week welcomes a famous guest whose career is reviewed in song and story. Personable, unspoiled she manages to delineate her own charming character in each of the songs she sings.
She is slim, vivacious, slightly over five feet tall, with a world of lilt in her voice. Blonde Martha's path to success was never easy -- her father Fred was in the wholesale rug business and that is no guarantee that one is to be an outstanding singer for young rug-cutters. Martha had an up-and-down row to hoe until she impressed Benny Goodman.
That meeting with Benny Goodman affected her life in more ways than one. She eventually married Benny's manager, Leonard Vannerson, who has been a seaman, first class, in the Navy, and whose return to civilian life will find him back in his old position with Goodman's band.
Much of his managing will comprise his wife's activities. When a girl appears in pictures, sings a song, "I'll Walk Alone" which sells a million copies and is on Philco's Hall of Fame, she has already stepped into big business -- a far cry for Martha from the days when she sang hopefully for Sam, the man who made the pants too long.
Martha Tilton is tiny, blue-eyed, blonde, and beautiful. She is also "The First Lady of Swing." She has further done everything you can imagine in singing--with Hal Grayson's and Benny Goodman's bands, with Three Hits and a Miss, and also with her own radio program for a year, named Liltin' Martha Tilton Time. She has made a dozen musical movie shorts, and her famous records "Loch Lomond," "The Angels Sing," and "I'll Walk Alone" have passed the million-copy mark. She has toured the South Pacific and Europe during the war. And right now she is on the Hall of Fame program with Paul Whiteman every Sunday night.
In short, Miss Tilton and the word "excitement" mean one and the same thing. What's more, they always have.
Take what happened to Benny Goodman's manager when he first laid eyes on the diminutive blonde singer some years ago. His name was Leonard Vannerson--and his weight was 200 pounds. He saw Marth, and lost his heart at once ... but not so Martha. She saw only his oversized frame, and she kidded him about his weight until, with considerable anguish, he went on a stringent diet which lost him fifty pounds. And gained him a wife! Martha was so struck by his combined desire to win her and his new streamlined physique that they were married the minute his diet was finished. And he's never gained an ounce of weight back again, either, though now they've been married for five years.
Even their wedding was full of excitement--to the average layman, if not to the participants. It looked like the cast for a musical show, with the setting the charming Wee Kirk of the Heather in Los Angeles. Litle Martha was dressed in a blue net wedding gown and a blue hat trimmed wtih pink camellias. Her sister Elizabeth, then the singer for Bob Crosby's band, was her only attendant--and the best man was none other than Benny Goodman. And since that wedding, there has been an addition to the Martha and Leonard Vannerson home--small Jonathan, aged three, who's already humming around the house.
But it would be difficult not to hang around any house with a Tilton in it. You see, Martha's big family has a monopoly on about two blocks of Hollywood, California--and they all sing like mad. There's Mother and Father Tilton; sister Elizabeth (now singing with Jan Garber's band) and her husband; one grandmother; two aunts, and two uncles. They all live within wo blocks of each other, and evenings they all gather at some Tilton home and break into unanimous song.
It is this community life that Martha most misses during the time she's living in New York City. While East, her life is entirely different. Instead of living in a big, rangy house full of swamrs of Tiltons, she and Leonard live in one room in a Fifth Avenue Avenue hotel. To make it homelike, she scatters potted plants, suitcases and sheet music around; she cooks breakfast in its doll-sized kitchenette ... and sometimes, home from the theater or an evening out, she throws together a hamburger doused in a can of chili and chopped onions. But this completes her menu as a cook.
She loves New York City, which has only recently become a part-time home. In it she sees her dozens of friends: the Andrews sisters, Frank Sinatra, Jo STafford, the Pied Pipers, Benny Goodman, Les Brown. In it, she takes a daily singing lesson--which she never does in California. In it, she goes to all the plays. And some day, in it, she hopes to accomplish her two ambitions; going backstage at the Metropolitan, and meeting Arthur Koestler, whose books she reads while the printers' ink is still wet.
But her last visit to New York almost cured her of ever wanting to live there ... even though she is now doingjust that for several months of each year. On that hastry trip, there was too much excitement even for Martha. It went like this:
She and Constance Dowling came East last Summer, on their way to Europe and a USO tour with Jack Benny. The two girls wore their USO uniforms as they boarded the plane in Los Angeles, and Martha had carefully wired ahead to the manager of the Astor Hotel for reservations for them. "Just for four days while we pass through New York," she specified.
But Fate intervened, as it so often does. Instead of the plane arriving in twenty-four hours, it arrived (due to bad weather) in forty-eight. This landed the two girl singers in New York City at two--in the morning. Unperturbed, they hastened, complete with seven suitcases, to the Astor--where they were turned down cold for a room. They stared at each other in horror. Both of them knew the hotel shortage too well to expect any luck elsewhere. Then Martha remembered that her old friend Harry James and his band were playing on the Astor Roof. Both girls rushed into the elevator and upstairs.
Once there, Martha hastily worked the crowd (most of whom were her friends) for a room--with no success. Meanwhile, Constance was in a telephone botoh, waking all her friends to see if they had an extra bed. One staid and elderly bachelor admitted very, very reluctantly that he did have; in fact, he had two daybeds, one in his breakfast room and one in his living room. "But you girls can only stay overnight," he said emphatically.
"Natch," cooed Constance--and the girls were off. They landed with their seven suitcases at his neat, bachelor-perfect apartment--and they took it over. Instead of leaving in the morning, they left in two weeks. Meanwhile, they had ironing boards in the living room, laundry strung in the bathroom, make-up in the bedroom, and friends everywhere. There was finally no room for the unhappy host--so he left town for ten days!
But that Marx Brothers routine was just Martha Tilton routine. She took it in stride, just as she has taken the events in her life in stride. She was born, like many another beauty, in Texas--in Corpus Christi. Like many another beauty, she made tracks for Hollywood; only she came at the age of seven, without a thing on her mind but the trip. Her father, who is in the wholesale rug business, set up shop in Hollywood and raised his family there. And Martha went calmly through high school, singing only around the family piano along with all the other song-loving Tiltons. One evening, however, she sang at a friend's house in front of amusician--who insisted she have a radio audition. The rest is musical history ... beginning with Sid Lipman's band and continuing with Hal Grayson's.
As for things personal with Martha, they are as follows: she likes sports clothes (and lots of them) in bright colors, with accent on red and blue. She owns only a handful of hats, and seldom wears those. She exercises every morning for about ten minutes, and spends ten other minutes every day lying with her head near the floor--which is excellent blood-treatment for both face and hair.
She reads the usual comic strips, Terry and Dick Tracy ... and every Book of the Month. She has just finished "The Manatee" and pronounced it good. She sees every movie made, and eats any kind of highly seasoned food she sees--especially Spanish and Italian. And some day she'd like to be a radio producer, and to live with Leonrad and their offspring on a ranch in San Fernando Valley with a huge number of horses and dogs: both of which she dearly loves.
All of which we predict will come true--but with a lot of Martha Tilton excitement in the meantime!
Martha Tilton is the tiny, beautiful blue-eyed singing star of Paul Whiteman's "Radio Hall of Fame" show. The petite songstress started her colorful career as the vocalist with the bands of Sid Lipman and Hal Grayson. Later, she joined the vocal group of "Three Hits and a Miss" being the "Miss" in this rhythm quartet which was heard over the airlanes. It was while doing a solo on this program that Benny Goodman heard her and subsequently hired her as the featured vocalist with his famed band. The Corpus Christie, Texasn beauty warbled for the "B.G." fans for three years, leaving Mr. Goodman to star on her own NBC radio program which ran for a year. Supplementing her radio work, Martha has made a dozen musical shorts for Universal, and her records "Loch Lomand," and "I'll Walk Alone" have passed the million record mark. Miss Tilton interrupted her career long enough to make four tours overseas for the USO. The first and fourth were made with the Jack Benny Troupe. She calls the tours the most wonderful experiences of her life, titling them the "Foxhole Follies" for they played to soldier audiences ranging from 500 to 30,000 in size. Married to Leonard Vannerson--Benny Goodman's former manager--now a seaman first-class USN, songstress Martha is currently in New York.
Writing a story about Martha Tilton is a real pleasure for me--not only is she one of my favorite singers, but she is also one of my closest friends. I know the story of her career very well because I was around when it first started.
Today Martha is a star in the truest sense of the word. She has contracts for movies, records and radio--shehas been overseas to sing for the G.I.s--she receives thousands of requests for pin-up pictures--she signs autographs wherever she goes. But Martha, as a person, hasn't changed one bit from the sweet and sincere girl she was when she earned the modest sum of forty dollars a week as an unknown band vocalist, ten years ago.
Though Martha was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, her family moved to Los Angeles when she was seven, so she always thinks of California as home.
I first met Martha just after she graduated from Fairfax High School in 1935. She was singing on a program over Radio Station KFAC in Los Angeles, her first professional job.
Martha had always sung for fun at home with her younger sister, Elizabeth, and had appeared at a few school functions, but she had never seriously considered a vocal career. One night at a party a radio musician, who was a friend of her father's, heard her sing, and arranged an audition for her at KFAC. The net thing Martha knew she was on the air.
She had only been on the program a few weeks when Sid Lipman hired her as vocalist for his new band, which was to open at the world famous Cocoanut Grove. Martha made forty dollars a week, which seemed like a huge sum to her at the time. Little did she know then that, a few years laer, she would be one of the highest paid band singers in America!
When Lipman closed at the Grove, Martha joined Hal Grayson's orchestra, and went on the road for the first time. She was only seventeen, so her mother traveled with her. Martha and I corresponded regularly and she wrote me all about her job, the people she met, etc.
I'll never forget how surprised I was when I received a letter from Seattle, telling me she had eloped with a young Canadian boy named Dave Thomas. She said her mother was very upset about it. Mrs. Tilton thought Martha was much too young to take on the responsibilities of marriage, especially while traveling with a band. But Martha convinced her mother she could make a go of it, and talked her out of having the marriage annulled.
For a few weeks Martha's letters were filled with her happiness, but gradually I sensed something was wrong, and she finally wrote me that she and Dave had separated. And, in the same letter, she told me she was going to have a baby. I felt that there would be a reconciliation because of the bby, but there wasn't. Marth'a sromance had been one of those whilrwind affairs, and it just wasn't destined to work out.
In the meantime, the Grayson band was playing in the Francisco and doing very well. Martha told Hal about the baby, and he said she could keep working as long as she felt she could, and that he would give her her job back after the baby was born. Martha continued with the band for four months, and then came home to Los Angeles. She had a little boy, and named him Gerald.
After Martha was up and around, she began to think about singing again. She didn't want to go back wit Grayson because his band was going to Honolulu and she didn't want to leave Jerry when he was so young. So she decided that, rather than look for a band job, she would try to get into radio.
She auditioned with a male trio, and her voice blended so well that they hired her. The name of the group was "Three Hits And A Miss." They worked on several programs and were about the best quartet in Hollywood at that time.
Martha was very band conscious, and we constantly listened to records. Our favorite band at that time was Benny Goodman's, and our favorite singer was Heln Ward, Goodman's vocalist. Benny had just come out to the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, where he had his first real success.
Martha and I had been down to hear the band several times and one day we decided it would be fun to go down in the afternoon on rehearsal day. We sneaked into the empty ballroom and stood beside one of the huge pillars right near the stand. We had only been there a few minutes when Goodman spied us. Giving us his famous X-ray eye, he politiely, but firmly, told us to leave--he didn't allow any outsiders at rehearsals. So very sheepishly, we turned around and left.
The "Three Hits And A Miss" auditioned for Benny Goodman's "Camel Caravan" program, and were hired for the show. One day during rehearsal, Goodman's manager happened to hear Martha do a little solo bit, and he suggested to Benny that he audition her for the band. Helen Ward was leaving and they needed a new singer.
So the audition was arranged, and the next day, Martha, nervous as a cat, arrived at the radio station to sing for the exacting Mr. Goodman. She did one song and Benny, with no comment, asked her to do another. Half way through the second number, Goodman walked out of the studio: Martha stopped singing, picked up her purse and left, feeling certain she had flopped.
But, when she got home, she received a telephone call from Benny's manager, who asked what had happened to her. "Goodman left, so I left too," Martha replied. "Well he liked you very much," said the manager, "and we'd like you to come down and talk to us."
So almost three weeks to the day after Goodman had ordered Martha to leave his Palomar rehearsal, he hired her as his vocalist at a salary of $125 a week.
She used to write me a lot about Loeonard Vannerson, Goodman's manager, and finally she confessed she was in love. But th is time Martha wasn't going to rush into marriage. She was going to be sure it was the right thing. She went with Leonard for the three years that she was with the band. During that time she became one of the most popular singers in the country, and also one of the highest paid band vocalists in the business.
Late in 1939, Martha became very homesick and wanted to return to Los Angeles. The band had only played in California a couple of times since they had left in 1937, and Martha was lonesome for Jerry and for her family. So she left Benny and came home, and went to work for NBC. She had her own program, "Liltin' Martha Tilton Time," and made many guest appearances on the Fibber McGee and Molly program, and others.
In the spring of 1940, the Goodman band came to the coast, and Martha and Leonard were married. They had a beautiful wedding at the Wee Kirk Of The Heaterh in Forest Lawn, and Benny Goodman was the best man. After a honeymoon at Palm Springs, Martha returned to radio and Leonard went on the road again with Goodman.
But, after a few months Martha was so lonesome for Leoneard that she got a release from her program and joined her husband in the East. Leonard had left Benny and was managing Tommy Dorsey. While in New York, Martha did a lot of radio work, and when the Dorsey band hit the road, Martha traveled with Leonard.
When she discovered she was going to have a baby, Martha came back to Los Angeles. She continued towork in radio for a while, when the Capitol Record Company was formed, Martha was one of the first artists they signed.
Luckily, the Dorsey band came to the coast for a long engagement, so Leonard was able to be home when Jonathan was born.
When it came time for the Dorsey band to leave Los Angeles, Leonard quit because he couldn't bear to be separated from Martha and the baby. He expected to go into the service, so he wanted to spend as much time at home as possible. Martha didn't take any steady jobs for a while. She dubbed at studios for various stars who couldn't sign, made records, did radio guests shots, and made a couple of musicals as Universal.
Early in 1944, Leonard entered the Navy and Martha went back to being a full-time career girl. She signed a contract with P.R.C. and was starred in two pictures,"Swing Hostess," and "Crime, Inc." She continued to record for Capitol, and her disc of "I'll Walk Alone" sold over a million copies.
Martha sang on Jack Benny's program several times and, when Jack planned his overseas tour to the South Pacific, he asked Martha if she would go with his troupe. She cancelled a theater tour she had planned for the summer and went to the Pacific with Jack, Carole Landis, Larry Adler and June Bruner.
When Martha returned to the States, she had all sorts of picture and radio offers, but she turned them all down--she needed a rest. The Pacific tour had really knocked her out. Leonard came home on furlough, and he and Martha and the Tilton family had a wonderful reunion. Then Leonard was shipped to the South Pacific, and Martha went back to work.
Martha has had a wonderful career, with all the success and fun that goes with it. But she has managed to remain unchanged and unspoiled. To look at her you'd think she'd be weak and delicate. She's five feet one, and weighs only a hundred and four, but she has the energy of a football player and is athletically inclined. She loves to swim and ride. She still has the same little-girl look she's always had, even when she puts her hair up.
Martha adores her children, Jerry and Jonathan, but she refuses to spoil them. When she's at home, she's very much the mother and housewife. She owns a beautiful house in Hollywood. She loves to putter in the yard and her Victory garden is her pride and joy. Mrs. Tilton has strict orders from Martha to keep it in shape while she is away.
Martha's favorite hobby is collecting records, and she has thousands of them. Her pet singers are Mildred Bailey and Bing Crosby. No matter where she is, she writes Leonard faithfully every day. Leonard is now directing Claude Thornhill's all-Navy show down in the South Pacific.
By the time you read this, Martha probably will be overseas with the Jack Benny troupe in Europe. Jack especially requested Martha for his second U.S.O. tour. When they returned from the Pacific last summer, Jack paid her a nice tribute when he said, "Martha is a great trouper, and one of the loveliest girls I've ever known."
Well, Jack is right. They don't come any better!
The pert blond singer tapped one foot in appreciation of the bouncy song her partner was singing. This was the CBS-MS Curt Massey Time with Martha Tilton. Curt and Martha were singing: "Oh, come with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile," and the show was humming along in its usual carefree manner--almost, that is. For, if things had been entirely normal, the pert blonde woman would have been tapping both feet to their song!
But one of Martha's feet had temporarily lost its tapping ability. It was a foot encased in a plaster cast, definitely immobilized.
"I know love hits you hard," said liltin' Martha Tilton, "but I never expected love to toss me a blow hard enough to break my leg!
"But then I wasn't exactly expecting love. Honestly, I had about given it up. It had been more than five years since I'd seen a man that I thought would interest me romantically. Though my friends all said, 'Why, Martha, you're in show business; Hollywood is the place where good-looking, available men grow like wheat on a Kansas farm--with all those big, strong Hollywood actors on the loose, you'll meet plenty of men!'
"They just don't know the half of it. Five shows a week, a home, and two stalwart sons to look after, take up the hours in a day like my youngsters inhale sodas through a straw. The time is there for a few seconds, then like the soda--it's gone forever!
"So, since my divorce five years ago, I've had no time for romancing. But every girl dreams. Like anything else, if you just do your job and work along steady, I've found everything comes to him who waits."
Martha wasn't looking for love, and she certainly never expected to meet her man while on a publicity trip to the North American Aviation Company! Nor did she expect to fall so hard (in love) that she'd break a leg!
"You just never know, do you?" smiled Martha in her dressing room after the show. "Now, take that publicity visit to North American. Who'd think I'd discovery my Prince Charming? A living, breathing, walking doll!"
Jim Brooks, the doll, assigned to show the singer around the plant, was a test pilot at North American. "The perfect bachelor type, you know" said Martha, "so he got the job!"
This was no ordinary job to Jim Brooks. And it was only a few moments before this wasobvious. Jim outdid himself, becoming suddenly an eager "Textbook on Airplane Assembly" wired for sound! "This is the wing section," he said when they entered the big plant, "and beyond it, the tail assembly. Then comes the nose and radar, that's the ears, and finally," said Jim, pointing in front of them, "here are the fuselages." But, when he said it, his eyes were on Martha.
Martha's reaction to this was, "Yes, it's interesting." And, she thought, "So is he!"
As the tour came to an end, Jim said in a casual voice, "Oh, say, would you like to go to dinner?"
Martha took a second, longer look at the good-looking blond Mr. Brooks, and before she thought, murmured, in an equally casual voice, "To dinner? Why, yes, I'd love it!"
"I was supposed to have dinner with some friends," said Martha, "But I knew, if they were any friends of mine, they'd understand and forgive me. I canceled the date in short order, for I wasn't going to miss an opportunity like this--a jet-propelled test pilot!"
Dinner that night led to other dinners and other dates. Soon Martha found her datebook was filled with only Jim'sname. "See Jim at 6 P.M. Monday; Tuesday--Meet Jim for lunch; Wednesday--Pick up Jim at recording studio." It was no longer a datebook, but Jim's Book!
There was one growing question in Martha's mind during this time when she and Jim were seeing one another like two images in a mirror. That was the question of her two sons' approval of Jim.
Jerry, sixteen, and Jonathan, ten, together with Martha, had made a compact little unit for all the years of their lives. "They were as much a part of me as I was of them," said Martha. We've lived together for so long, that we think as much alike as three thieves in the market. Not that I was thinking of marriage, mind you, but I did want to know how they felt about my seeing Jim all the time. I usually went out only with business associates, but even here the boys always put their stamp of approval on my dates. Now I wanted to be sure they okayed my spending so much time with Jim.
"But the boyswere way ahead of me. One night, I found them waiting up for me when I came home.
"'Come into the kitchen, fellas,' I invited. 'We'll have a bedtime snack. I think there's some turkey left.'
"They took me right up on it. I didn't have to steer the conversation around to the question that was bothering me, either--for, before we even had our Dagwood sandwiches made, Jerry, my eldest, popped up with, 'That Jim's a nice guy, huh?'
"'I think so. Do you like him?'
"The boys couldn't say yes fast enough! 'I think he's swell!' agreed Jerry, who is sort of airplane happy himself. And Jonathan said stoutly, 'Me, too! I think he's keen. Boy, I'm gonnabe a test pilot when I grow up!'"
As the months rolled by, Martha and Jim realized they were fallingin love. "Even though we argued something fierce! I used to think we had a personality clash," said Martha. "When we get upset, we are both as stubborn as mules, and as immovable in our opinions as a battleship stuck on a sandbar. In short, we each wanted our own way!
"But we learned to compromise. That is, I found I wasn't going to get my way all the time! After a quarrel, I'd stomp off and wait for Jim to call. He didn't.
"So I called Jim! The nice thing about those fights was the making up--and we never stayed angry! Fortunately, we find we can laugh at everything--even ourselves. Jim has a divine sense of humor."
After twelve monthsof courtship, Martha came in one night and again found her sons waiting up for her. "Hi, Mom, want to have a little snack in the kitchen?"
"They had 'conspiracy' written on their faces as plain as George Washington's face on a dollar bill. As soon as we got to the kitchen, the conversation got underway. It started off in high with Dagwood sandwiches, and jumped from 'chicken goes good with mayonnaise' to--'and you sure go good with Jim!'
"'Say,' said Jerry, 'are you going to marry him?'
"'Yeah," said Jonathan, 'are you going to marry him?'"
Conspiracy it was, thought Marsha. "'Well, would you like it if I did?'" she asked.
"'Oh, boy, I'll say!' they agreed in unison," she laughed.
So Martha and Jim tried to decide on a wedding date. "It was like trying to find room for another piece of cheese in one of those Dagwood sandwiches," said Martha. "There just wasn't any room for a wedding day in our schedules!"
"Let's see," said Jim the next afternoon, when they met outside the network, "I have a special flight coming up this weekend ..." They both had their black datebooks in their hands, and together they worried over the months and days.
"Golly," said Martha, "that puts us way up into June. Say--how about a June wedding?"
"That's a long way off!" said Jim.
Finally it was agreed! When the blooms came out in June, they'd be married. But fate, which had kept them apart for a year, must have had conscience pangs, for she stepped in again!
It was that very next weekend, at the last of April, that Martha found she was free from her busy radio schedule for a few days, and took off for a Palm Springs rest. "This was the weekend of Jim's special flight," said Martha, "and I intended to get some quiet!
"I was no sooner settled, and calm as a clam in a cool bay, when Jim flew in. He literally came right out of the blue."
"Look, my flight has been canceled," he said. "We've got the rest of today and all of tomorrow! Let's get married now! Enough of this nonsense!"
"Golly," shrieked Martha, "I'm not ready ... I mean, I've only got this sunsuit and one blue print dress with a sagging hem ... and we haven't any place to live ..." Martha's arguments weren't getting across to Jim at all. He just looked at her with the solid determination of a set-jawed test pilot!
Martha saw the square jaw. She knew what that meant. She'd have to compromise.
"Oh, who cares what I wear! Pack the bag, Liz," she called to her sister. "We're flying to Las Vegas!"
And they were happily married in the Sand Hotel on May 3, 1953.
"It was such a pretty wedding," said Martha. "Loads of flowers, carnations, glads and lilies! I even found time to buy myself a little white lace hat, which sat on top o fmy head bravely trying to ignore the droopy dress--I hadn't time to find another, so the hem still sagged! No matter what I was wearing, I couldn't have been happier."
After the wedding, honeymoon thoughts had to be postponed, since Martha was due back in Hollywood for the radio show the very next day. "It was all so fast," she laughed, "I felt like saying to Jim, 'Thanks for marrying me. Now if you'll just drop me off at CBS--I'll see you later.'
"But when? We still didn't have a place to live! Jim was in his Manhattan Beach apartment, and I still had to work in Hollywood every day! That meant I'd have to stay in the Hollywood home with my children and parents!
"It was three infinite days before I was able to take time out and get to the beach!"
The rest is history.
Martha met Jim at the foot of the hill that led up to the apartment--their honeymoon cottage. "Darling ..." said Martha.
"Sweetheart..." replied Jim, and immediately kissed his bride, taking her into his arms and picking hyer up bodily--a maneuver adequately suited to test pilots! Suspended six feet in the air, Martha clung to Jim. They mounted the hill and approached--and crossed--the threshold!
That's when it happened!
Was it the lack of oxygen--the rarefied air at this hilltop altitude? Or was it a sudden giddy feeling on Jim's part because of his closeness to his heart of hearts?
No matter what the reason. It's just that, as they crossed the threshold, Jim suddenly tripped and weakened his grip--in fact, relinquished it altogether. Martha dropped to the floor.
Jim saved himself after the stumble, but Martha's thump still echoed against the living-room walls!
"And that's the news that hit the front pages," said Martha. "I was hurt in two places from the bouncing, but mostly it was my ankle. It was broken!
"It almost killed Jim! He has taken an unmerciful riding from his friends. He's received letters and newspaper clippings from buddies all over the world! And the mean things they write on them! Well!
"I don't have to tell you how said it was for me. But we didn't realize how funny it was, either, until the next night when Jim went down to the corner drugstore for a pack of cigarettes. That's when the papers came out. There was Jim and there was I, big as life, but half-hidden by the plaster cast, staring up at hime from the front pages of all the papers.
"He said, upon coming home, 'It was very funny, you know, sort of a feeling that it must be happening to two other people!'
"We practically said it together, 'This-can't-be-happening-to-us!' But it had! That's when we laughed!
"So you see," said Martha, "everything comes to him (or her) who waits. You may be lonely for a time, or you may have held a dream for a good many years, but if you just work along steadily, and have patience, your dreams will someday come true. And whenthey do you can bet it'll be sudden--perhaps as sudden as a broken leg!
"We're waiting and dreaming now for a house. In Brentwood, we hope, halfway between Jim's work and mine. And I know one thing for sure! That is, Jim's only going to carry himself across that threshold!"
"MARTHA TILTON," From "XXX", Published 1974.
The singer of the Big Band Era known as the "Liltin' Miss Martha Tilton" was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on November 14, 1915. Her parents played the piano and sang a great deal at home. The Tiltons moved to Los Angeles when Martha was seven months old. In her early teens after some coaxing from her friends she sang to the accompaniment of a small group at a party. They asked her to join them when they played on a local radio station. She only did it for fun but was asked to stay on as a regular. She was, however, never paid.
An agent heard her on the air and got her a booking at the Coconut Grove singing with Al Lippan's band. Then she toured for two years with Hal Grayson's aggregation before becoming the distaff member of "3 Hits and a Miss." That group was joined by several other singers, among them Jo Stafford (married to Paul Weston and living in Beverly Hills) to form a swing chorus for Benny Goodman's radio show. When Goodman's girl singer left, Martha got the job and over the next three and a half years of one-nighters, radio programs, and recording sessions became quite a name. Martha also found time to appear in four movies: Sunny (1941), Swing Hostess (1944), Crime, Inc. (1945), in which she gave an exceptionally good performance, and The Benny Goodman Story (1956).
When she left Goodman, NBC showcased her for several seasons on her own radio program. Beginning in 1951, she and Curt Massey (living in Palm Springs) began an eight-year stint for Alka-Seltzer over CBS Radio. Then they did another five years again with Country Washburn's Orchestra on NBC-TV. When that went off the air in 1964, Martha retired so completely she doesn't even sing around the house.
Although she has no gold records, Martha cut a few big hits: "I'll Walk Alone," "How Are Things in Glocca Mora," "Time After Time," and "And the Angels Sing."
She has fond memories of the Swing Era but doesn't miss it one bit. During one two-year period at the height of her career she had only one day off. She summed up her feelings in a recent interview: "I'm very grateful for what happened to me. I was well paid for what I loved doing most--singing." Although she likes hearing from fans and contemporaries, Martha never initiates the reunions. She and her three children have an excellent rapport on the new sound sin music but they seem quite uninterested in their mother's career. Says Martha with a laugh, "Sometimes it kind of bugs me that they're not more impressed."
She and her husband, an aerospace executive with North American-Rockwell, live in Los Angeles' Mandeville Canyon with their teenage daughter, in a home with a swimming pool and tennis court. Two days after they were married in 1953, her husband, then a test pilot, picked her up, stumbled and broke Martha's leg. The story broke every newscast and paper in the country with the theme "Martha Tilton breaks leg on wedding night."