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R.I.P. Tony Martin, singer and star of golden-age film musicals

The singer Tony Martin, who became a fixture of Hollywood musicals in the 1930s and 1940s, has died at the age of 98. Not to be confused with Dean Martin or Tony Bennett (though he had a similar appeal), Tony Martin was born Alvin Morris in San Francisco, and as a teenager played in a band led by Tom Gerun that also included future jazz great and big band leader Woody Herman. He adopted the stage name “Tony Martin” after heading for Hollywood in the mid-30s.

One of Martin's first movie appearances was an uncredited bit part in the Astaire-Rogers classic Follow The Fleet (1936). He was soon elevated to supporting parts in such pictures as Pigskin Parade, a college musical noteworthy for the first screen appearance of the 14-year-old Judy Garland; Banjo On My Knee (1936); Ali Baba Goes To Town (1937); Kentucky Moonshine (1938), where he played straight man to the Ritz Brothers; Ziegfeld Girl (1941); and the down-market Marx Brothers vehicle The Big Store (1941). He also starred in the 1948 Casbah, a low-budget remake of the French classic Pepe Le Moko (which Hollywood had already remade in 1938 as Algiers, with Charles Boyer).

After a stint in the U. S. Air Force during World War II, during which he performed for a time with Glenn Miller’s band, Martin returned to movies, but he also devoted more of his time to a successful recording career, landing Top 10 hits such as "I Get Ideas," "To Each His Own," and "Stranger In Paradise." From 1954 to 1956, he also hosted the 15-minute NBC variety program The Tony Martin Show. Martin was married to two leading ladies of classic movie musicals, Alice Faye and the legendarily leggy Cyd Charisse. The latter union lasted 60 years, until Charisse’s death in 2008.

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