Known as “The Big Mouth” and considered the female equivalent to Bob Hope, Martha Raye was an American icon in her own right.
She was born Margy Reed in Butte, Montana, to Maybelle Hazel (Hooper) and Peter Reed, Jr., vaudeville performers. She had Irish, German, and English ancestry. Raye made her acting debut before the age of 10 as she toured the nation with her parents variety show “Reed and Hopper”. In her late teens she was hired by band-leader Paul Ash as his lead vocalist and was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout during a New York City concert in 1934. She soon relocated to Hollywood were she began making a name for herself appearing in a string of successful screwball comedies alongside the likes of Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, W.C. Fields, and Joe E. Brown.
With the outbreak of World War II she took a break from film making to focus on entertaining servicemen and women traveling with the USO on many tour stops. She soon became even more famous for her dedication to America, its values, and its soldiers which helped earn her the beloved nickname “Colonel Maggie”.
She continued acting into the late 1980s dividing her time between movies, TV guest spots, and occasional stage appearances. She passed away on October 19, 1994 after a long battle from pneumonia and was buried with full military honors at the Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Martha “Colonel Maggie” Raye was 78 years old.
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