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Martha O'Driscoll

Personal information
Birth dateMarch 4, 1922
Place of birthTulsa, Oklahoma U.S.
Date of deathNovember 3, 1998(age 76)
Death placeOcala, Florida, U.S.
SpouseArthur Appleton (1947 - 1998)

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Martha O'Driscoll (March 4, 1922 November 3, 1998) was an American film actress from 1937 until 1947. Growing up in Hollywood, Martha and other young actors had to attend school. Few people know that the “Mar” in the famous Hollywood Mar-Ken School was named, in part, after Martha. Her mother was a financial partner in the school, and the school’s director, Mrs. Bessire's, son's name was William Kent Bessire. The two women decided to name the school after their children -- thus the Mar came from MARtha, and the KEN came from KENt. The school continued as a success, attracting many children who were movie stars or competition ice skaters, and others whose parents were in the entertainment industry until the early 1960s.

Another gorgeous "B" studio actor in the 40s, she started off modeling as a child. Trained in singing and dancing, she was discovered by choreographer Hermes Pan in a local theater production in Phoenix, which led to unbilled bits in musical movies from 1935. They moved to Hollywood in 1935, but Pan was out of town, so they answered an advertisement for dancers and O'Driscoll was given a role in Collegiate (1935), a musical typical of its time in which a playboy inherits a college and, as the new Dean, insists that the students' principal efforts should be directed toward learning how to sing and dance. Betty Grable had an early leading role in the film and it was also unusual in having its songwriters, Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, playing themselves as co-chairmen of the school's music department, but otherwise it was unremarkable and O'Driscoll had little to do as a dancing co-ed.

Once she had her foot in the door, she was groomed in more visible parts and began pitching products for Max Factor and Royal Crown Cola, among many others, in magazine ads, while such endorsements promoted her upcoming pictures in return. She had other small dancing roles in Here Comes the Band (1935), The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935) and The Great Ziegfeld (1936), an Oscar-winning success, in which she was spotted by a Universal talent scout who arranged for her to have a screen test, followed by a contract.

Her roles were initially small - in her first Universal film, a B thriller She's Dangerous (1937), she was billed simply as "blonde girl" and in the Deanna Durbin vehicle Mad About Music (1937) she was billed as "pretty girl". But her face soon became familiar to film fans because of the many endorsements she did, sanctioned by the studio. Her face appeared on such advertisements as Charm-Kurl Supreme Cold Wave and Max Factor Hollywood Face Powder.

Universal loaned O'Driscoll to MGM for parts in The Secret of Dr Kildare (1939) and Judge Hardy and Son (1940), but it was RKO who gave O'Driscoll her first two starring roles, as romantic interest to the cowboy Tim Holt in Wagon Train (1940), and notably as Daisy Mae in the first screen version of Al Capp's comic strip Li'l Abner (1940), an attempt to transfer Capp's stylised county of Dogpatch to the screen which did not really come off, though O'Driscoll was captivating as the beauty desperately trying to win the husky Abner (Granville Owen) for a mate.

Paramount now became interested in the actress and acquired her contract, casting her first as a maid in Preston Sturges's classic comedy The Lady Eve (1941). Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Cecil B. De Mille's epic sea story, had two beautiful stars, Paulette Goddard and Susan Hayward, but O'Driscoll held her own as a Southern belle, her hair in long blond ringlets (it was her first film in color), evincing polite disapproval when Goddard, as a Scarlett O'Hara-like heroine, shocks a society ball with an off-color shanty.

O'Driscoll was then given the lead in an enjoyable B film, Pacific Blackout (1942), with Robert Preston as an innocent man convicted of murder who escapes during a blackout practice and uncovers enemy plans to destroy a US city during a mock air-raid. The actress followed this with a good role as a show- business hopeful in Paramount's Young and Willing (1943), but then the studio let her return to Universal, who cast her in the Olson and Johnson comedy Crazy House (1943), then loaned her to RKO for Richard Wallace's stylish thriller The Fallen Sparrow (1943).

Hi Beautiful (1944) was one of five films in which she co-starred with Noah Beery Jnr, the others being Allergic to Love (1944), as a bride who gets hay-fever whenever she is near her husband, Under Western Skies (1945), a pleasant musical about a vaudeville troupe out west, The Daltons Ride Again (1945), as a publisher's daughter in love with one of the notorious outlaw brothers, and Her Lucky Night (1945), in which she is told by a fortune-teller that she will meet the man of her life in a cinema, so she buys two tickets, throws one away and hopes for the best.

O'Driscoll also featured in House of Dracula (1945) and Week-end Pass (1945, as a socialite who runs away to join the WACS and meets a shipyard worker who has won a weekend off with pay). The B movie specialist Don Miller wrote of the latter: "It approached the surprise-hit status . . . Into its slender narrative director Jean Yarborough managed to cram not only several amusing situations but also 10 song numbers, all in 63 minutes."

The following year she made her last Universal film, Blonde Alibi, receiving top billing as a girl who sets out to prove her lover (Tom Neal) innocent of murder. Her last film was Edgar G. Ulmer's Carnegie Hall (1947), after which she retired.

As an Actress/singer/dancer Martha managed to pack 37 film appearances into her 11 years in Hollywood, mostly at Paramount and Universal. She led several Universal B-musicals and RKO melodramas, survived two leading-lady stints with zany funsters Olsen and Johnson (Crazy House and Ghost Catchers), and, in Abbott and Costello's Here Come the Coeds (1945), she had the dubious honor of playing Bud Abbott's sister. Martha toured with Errol Flynn and the USO in the early 40's, performing for the troops all over the world. She played the pretty prairie flower to a couple of notable western film stars including Tim Holt, and was terrorized by the Wolfman, Dracula AND the Frankenstein Monster in her most notable feature House of Dracula (1945)., ,

In 1943, she married a Lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy but they separated ten months later. Following her last film Carnegie Hall (1947) and a final divorce decree from her first marriage, she married a second time to another Naval Officer and Chicago businessman, Arthur I. Appleton, who was President of Appleton Electric Company and heir to an industrial empire. She was only 25, but she retired completely from show business to raise a familhy. She was one of Chicago's most powerful and personable social leaders, serving as an executive in such organizations as the Sarah Siddons Society, the Ways and Means Committee of Chicago's Junior League, and the Women's Board of Boys Club; she was also treasurer of the World's Adoption International Fund, founded by Jane Russell who would later become her son, James' (Jim) godmother. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Martha was a guest speaker at numerous movie-nostalgia conventions, continually putting to rest persistent rumors that she died in the early '70s. "They had three sons, James (Jim) and John of Dallas, and William of Hawaii, and one daughter Linda Potter of San Diego. In the 1980s and 1990s, she was a guest speaker at numerous movie-nostalgia conventions. Like his mother, Jim has a passion for film and has owned a company in Dallas, TX named Productions, for almost 25 years.

She and her husband, Arthur I. Appleton, started Bridlewood Farm, in Ocala, Florida. Bridlewood quickly became one of the top Thoroughbred breeders in the nation. Bridlewood is the proud owner and breeder of Florida Horse of the Year and G1 winner "Forbidden Apple". The achievements of his illustrious dam "North of Eden" earned her the title of Florida Broodmare of the Year.

Arthur & Martha Appleton's Bridlewood Farm is the breeder of close to a hundred stakes winners so far, many of them graded, and their Bridlewood homebreds have earned in excess of $50 million. Under the late Mr. Appleton's guidance, Bridlewood Farm was and still remains recognized as one of the leaders of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.

Martha and Arthur enjoyed a life-long love of travel and art collection. In the 1984 Martha and Arthur built and took delivery of a 138' Bridlewood (Feadship) to further their love of travel and adventure. She and Arthur built and donated the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Fl, a donation believed to be in excess of $35 million and recognized as the largest charitable contribution ever to the state of Florida, in 1987. Its intention was to preserve their collection for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Martha O'Driscoll died on November 3, 1998, in Ocala, Florida. She was entombed in Chicago's Rosehill Cemetery. She is also survived by her two stepsons, Tom of Los Angeles and Arthur Jr. of San Francisco.

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