Mary Martinet, 76, Broadway dancer

July 25, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Mary Kathryn Martinet, who danced in classic Broadway musicals, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Conn. She was 76 and lived in Cos Cob, Conn.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Woodlawn Road in Roland Park, she was a graduate of Girls' Latin School, where she won awards for playing tennis, badminton and field hockey.

She was the daughter of Eugene Martinet, a singer, vocal teacher and founder of the old Baltimore Civic Opera Company, who appeared in the Broadway operetta Blossom Time.

She was 6 years old when she first appeared at the Lyric: "My father stuck me on the stage to lead the blind Samson in Samson and Delilah," she said in a 1954 interview with The Sun.

Her father recognized her athletic talent and suggested she pursue ballet dancing with Michael Nicholof, an instructor whose studio was in the old Lehmann's Hall on North Howard Street.

"My father did not miss a chance to involve his children in music," said her brother, Leigh Martinet, who lives in Timonium. "We never owned a car in those days and she took the streetcar to her classes."

In September 1945, she boarded a train to New York and studied under renowned ballet masters George Balanchine and Anatole Oboukhoff at the School of American Ballet.

In 1947, she read of an audition for Brigadoon, composed by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Lowe, due to play at the Ziegfeld Theatre. When she arrived, there was a line of 800 dancing hopefuls. Miss Martinet was one of 10 selected by fabled Broadway choreographer Agnes De Mille.

"Well," Miss Martinet said in 1948 Sun interview, "De Mille sits out in the theater with all her clan around her and each person comes out on the stage and does a few easy steps. ... I still don't know what her signals are, but a fellow would take the name of some but not of others and he took my name."

Gerald M. Bordman, author of the American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, said, "In Brigadoon, she was part of the chorus whose work was superb and fiery. She also appeared in Courtin' Time. It was a sweet little show, with more charm than staying power."

After Brigadoon, she was cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Carol Channing. She was sitting on a theater fire escape one day between numbers with Charles Basile, another chorus dancer. They decided to make a dance team -- M'Kay and Charles -- and appeared in a small show, Curtain Going Up, which proved to be a failure. They also had spots on Mel Torme's and Robert Q. Lewis' television shows.

"She was an extremely vibrant woman with a tremendous curiosity," said Annabelle Gold Gamson, a friend and choreographer who danced in On the Town. "She was a fabulous dancer, outstanding -- she was naturally very gifted and she had great training. She was the most gorgeous girl. You could not walk down a street with her without having a great disturbance from the men."

In the 1950s, she also toured in Italy in musical revues and later made dancing appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. She danced on stage for the closing bill at the Roxy Theatre, a Manhattan movie palace demolished in 1960. She also assisted New York choreographers Carol Haney and Hugh Lambert on 1950s TV shows such as the Bell Telephone Hour and Max Liebman Presents.

In 1960, she married novelist Herman Raucher, who wrote Summer of '42, a movie script he then made into a best seller. He survives her.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Aug. 1 at The Field Club in Greenwich.

In addition to her husband and brother, she is survived by two daughters, Jacqueline Leigh Salkin of Old Greenwich, Conn., and Jennifer Brooke Raucher of New York; and two granddaughters.

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