LOS ANGELAS - Tony Martin, the romantic singer who appeared in movie musicals from the 1930s to the 1950s and sustained a career in records, television and nightclubs from the Depression era into the 21st century, has died. He was 98.
Martin died of natural causes Friday evening at his West Los Angeles home, his friend and accountant Beverly Scott said yesterday.
"He's the ultimate crooner who outlasted all is contemporaries," musician and longtime friend Gabriel Guerrero said from his Oregon home. Martin recently sang to Guerrero over the telephone.
Although he never became a full-fledged movie star, he was featured in 25 films, most of them made during the heyday of the Hollywood musicals. A husky 6 feet tall and dashingly handsome, he was often cast as the romantic lead.
Martin found his escape through music while growing up in San Francisco and Oakland amid a poor, close-knit Russian Jewish family, enduring taunts and slights from gentile classmates.
"I always sang," he wrote. "I always played some instrument or other, real or imagined. . . . At first, of course, my music was just for my own fun. I didn't recognize it right away as my passport away from poverty." Performing on radio led to his break into the film business. His first singing role came in the 1936 "Sing Baby Sing," which starred future wife Faye and introduced the Ritz Brothers to the screen as a more frenetic version of the Marx Brothers.
In 1948, he produced and starred in "Casbah," a well-received film musical version of "Algiers" with a score by Harold Arlen and Leo Robin. He made singing tours of Europe and had a yearly contract at London's Palladium.
Martin was born Dec. 25, 1913. His parents divorced when he was an infant.
World War II brought the one big scandal in his life. He enlisted in the Navy in 1941 and was given a specialist ranking. A year later, a Navy officer who facilitated Martin's enlistment was court-martialed, accused of accepting a $950 automobile from him. The singer was not charged but was dismissed from the Navy for unfitness. He asked his draft board for immediate induction into the Army and served three years in Asia.
The scandal lingered over Martin's head after the war, but he managed to rebuild his career with radio, films, personal appearances and records.