Broadway to Hollywood -- And Back

by: Mary Martin

Mary Martin went back and forth between the West Coast world of movie entertainment and the East Coast world of the legitimate stage several times before finally settling in New York in the mid-'40s to be a major Broadway star for the next two decades. This ping-ponging is alluded to in simplified form in the title of Jasmine Records' Martin compilation, Broadway to Hollywood -- and Back. (Actually, she started in Hollywood, but never mind.) The two-and-a-half-hour, 52-track, two-CD set is easily the most extensive collection of Martin's recordings ever released, and yet it is still incomplete. Annotator and compiler Geoff Milne coyly states, "Regrettably, no songs from The Sound of Music or I Do! I Do! were available for inclusion in the set." This is a conceit. Jasmine, like several other European record labels, patiently waits out the 50-year copyright limit on recordings in that territory and then assembles unlicensed discs like this one without paying the original issuing labels a penny for the use of the material. (In the U.S., the same tracks remain under copyright.) As such, this 2006 release could utilize Martin recordings made only up to 1955, and that let out such later musicals as The Sound of Music (1959) and I Do! I Do! (1966). But Milne has put together a fairly comprehensive collection of what was available to him, raiding the racks of 78s and LPs originally put out by Brunswick, Decca, Columbia, and RCA Victor Records as well as excerpts from the actual soundtracks of several films in which Martin appeared and one aircheck from the Kraft Music Hall radio series, on which she was a regular in 1942. He has employed distinctly different organizing ideas for the two discs. Disc one presents recordings of songs Martin sang in musicals and movies between 1938 and 1954, in chronological order from her first studio recording of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," the song that made her name in her Broadway debut, Leave It to Me!, to cast recordings from Peter Pan, including some rare (and sonically dodgy) movie songs and infrequently heard numbers from the West End-only Noël Coward musical Pacific 1860. Concurrently with her stage and film work, Martin also frequently entered recording studios to make records of other material, and for the second disc, Milne makes use of these tracks. Naturally, Martin frequently was called upon to sing show tunes; in fact, she made four studio-cast albums of musicals of the '30s in the early '50s for Columbia. Milne's concept is to assemble the tracks "in chronological order," as he puts it. But what he means by that is, in order by the date of the show in which each song appeared, not by the date on which Martin recorded it. So, for example, her early-'50s recordings of some songs from 1937's Babes in Arms are followed by her 1938 recording of "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love," a song she didn't get to sing in Leave It to Me! This sequencing works better as an academic idea than as a listening experience, since it means that the sound quality improves, deteriorates, and improves again, and that the arrangements vary wildly from the swing charts of the late '30s and early '40s to the more ostentatious ones of the '50s, going back and forth from track to track. The compiler would have been better advised to go in order by recording date; only theater historians pay attention to which song came from which Cole Porter or George Gershwin show in which year, anyway. And the concept excludes songs Martin recorded that did not come from musicals, which has the unfortunate effect of bypassing both of her Top Ten chart hits, "I'll Walk Alone" and "Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep." Milne's grammatically challenged liner notes contain some minor factual errors, also of a chronological nature, the most egregious of which is that they misstate the date of Martin's death. (She died on November 3, not 8, 1990.) ~ William Ruhlmann

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