Beautiful and slightly exotic, Yank Cover girl Martha Holliday sure had the looks to stand up and be noticed. By the time she landed in Hollywood, she was an experienced ballet dancer. So, what happened? She was given a chance in a major musical and after that failed, her career sank for good.
Harriette A. Olson was born on August 3, 1922 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Hialmer A. Olson and his wife, Betty G. Olson. She was the youngest of six children: her older siblings were Willard (born in 1906), Kathryn (born in 1908), Vivien Ione (born in 1910), Lester Don (born in 1913) and Byron M. (born in 1915). Her father was an accountant, born in Minnesota. Her mother was born in Sweden and immigrated to the States in the early 20th century.
The family moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma when Harriette was a toddler and she attended elementary and high school there.
Martha started to dance before she turned 10 years old. Her talent was noted and she was soon readying herself to become a pro. She became a professional ballet entertainer while still in high school. She spent her summer vacations traveling around these United States,’ dancing in night clubs all the key cities of the nation. On the day she got her high school diploma and a contract as premiere ballerina with the Pro-Arte Ballet company, of Havana.
After a season with the Havana ballet, Martha returned to the States, went to Hollywood, signed with Warner Brothers. She wanted to act, but they made her teach dancing. She was only 18 then, but for three years she taught some of the biggest stars at that studio how to dance. She set the routines for Jimmy Cagney’s George M. Cohan steps in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and often her legs doubled for those of feminine stars who couldn’t master intricate numbers. Martha’s option lapsed after three years. So she signed with RKO, with the understanding that she could forget dancing and become an actress. But a month later, studio executives asked her to teach dance routines to other players. She taught dancing for some more time.
Martha was patient and waited for her time to come. It did when she was noticed by Don Dilloway, RKO head talent scout. He tested her, and found her a perfect combo for musicals – beautiful, a good dancer, decent actress. She was put into George White’s Scandals, playing the romantic lead opposite Phillip Terry. The movie was the biggest film musical on RKO’s current program, and her career started!
Martha was already 23 years old when she made her debut in The Enchanted Cottage, a wonderful, gentle and very touching movie. The plot alone is such a magical one: A homely maid and a scarred ex-GI meet at the cottage where she works and where he was to spend his honeymoon prior to his accident. The two develop a bond and agree to marry, more out of loneliness than love. The romantic spirit of the cottage, however, overtakes them. They soon begin to look beautiful to each other, but no one else. combine this with superb movie performances by Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire, and we have a winner for the ages.
Her one brief flash of fame was due to her appearing in George White’s Scandals. Now, the movie is a mixed bag with more bad than good, unfortunately. As one reviewer wrote:
I have a feeling that over at RKO they heard that MGM was doing The Ziegfeld Follies and decided to do George White’s Scandals. White who was an actor as well as producer appeared in his own shows and in adoptions over at 20th Century Fox. Here however White is played by Glenn Tryon.
But White himself is extraneous to this story which concerns two backstage plots. White’s number one assistant Philip Terry falls for Martha Holiday whose mother back in the day was chorus girl in the Scandals but who married English nobility and retired. Now Holiday is trying out but lets no one know including Terry. Holiday also has Jane Greer as a rival who is pretty ruthless about getting her way.
The best part of the movie is a love story, but not Martha’s love story. Here is another review from IMDB:
Where it is very funny (and very worth watching) is for the teaming of Joan Davis and Jack Haley as musical revue comics who have to deal with the fact that Haley’s spinster sister (the wonderful Margaret Hamilton) does not approve of her brother being in show business and is determined to keep Davis from marrying him no matter what. Davis and Haley are perfectly matched, and of course it is a delight to see Hamilton playing sister to her “Wizard of Oz” co-star (Haley).
Yes, the movie is a funny and amusing farce when Haley/Davis are on the screen, and it becomes a mush, a bland exercise in romance when Martha and Phillip Terry. Martha does have a few dancing sequences, but she is hardly ever mentioned in the reviews and obviously she was not quite what RKO expected when they made the movie. This hurt her career tremendously, and she was dropped from her contract not long after. In 1947, she signed with the death row Republic Studios.
The Flame was Martha’s first movie for her new studio, Republic. It’s easy to put a summary of it: A woman falls for the victim of an intended blackmail plot. Yep, been there, seen that! The plot is lackluster at best, and fails to give the leads any chance to act (heck, when your leads and John Carroll and Vera Ralston, I somehow doubt they even know how to act!). The best things about the movie is Broderick Crawford who plays the ruffian villain and Constance Dowling as his dancer girlfriend.
Martha followed this by I, Jane Doe, another run of the mill, uninteresting movie. The plot is a typical woman weepie – an American fighter pilot marries a French girl during WW2, but he’s already married to a successful lawyer back in the U.S. However, the European bride follows him back to the US and winds up killing him, and finds herself being defended in court by the wife of the man she has just killed. The only true plus side is the charming Ruth Hussey (love that woman!), and you have to wonder why did the sop marry Vera Ralston (the European wife) when he has Ruth Hussey back home!
Martha’s last movie appearance was in Lulu Belle, an interesting movie. While not a top master piece, it’s a story Hollywood rarely told (IMHO) – about a woman who does everything to climb the ladder of success. There are some good movies of this type, but not enough! Here we have Lulu Belle, played deftly by Dorothy Lamour (she was weird looking, but a decent actress!), who uses men to leave behind her saloon singing job to become a Broadway star. The men are played by George Montgomery, Albert Dekker,Otto Kruger and so on. As you can see, it’s a pretty good cast and the movie definitely works. Unfortunately, it did nothing for Martha’s career.
In June 1945, there was talk of Martha marrying actor Mike St. Angel. a native of Rockford, Illinois. Now this is where all the mumbo jumbo started – I was sure that she married Mike and lived happily ever after with him. NOT! In fact, that totally pushed me of the right track. Namely, Mike St. Angel did marry a Miss Holliday, it just wasn’t Martha but Marjorie. For a time I was sure that Martha and Marjorie were one and the same person – but upon closer inspection, they were two separate entities.
However, there are some interesting similarities. Martha was born on August 3, 1922 – Marjorie was born September 21, 1920 (only 2 years apart). Marjorie, like Martha, was born in the South – in Alabama. Like Martha, she moved as a toddler to another state – just not the same one, Martha moved to Oklahoma and Marjorie to Florida (counted Miami as her home town). She started her career in 1947, while Martha was still in Hollywood. And the girls bear a superficial resemblance, mostly due to their slated eyes. The biggest and saddest similarity if their DOB – Marjorie died, age 48, on June 16, 1969 – the same age as Martha when she died (in 1970).
Martha was dating Robert Graham Paris, Rita Hayworth’s coach. There were rumors the two would elope. Pushed by this info, I did a little research on Paris, and found some interesting things. In the blog, Art Lobster, Robert’s nephew writes that Robert left home (Wyoming,) for New York City, studied acting with some of the best acting coaches of that time (Boleslavsky, Ouspenskaya, and Belasco), and ended up a speech coach in Hollywood. He never married, and there were rumors that he was gay (typical, bachelor men were often branded gay back then 😦 ). Robert was a master gourmet cook, and published his very own cook book, Gourmet Cooking for One. What an interesting man!
After 1946, Martha slide into obscurity. She still acted but only in uncredited roles. All steam was gone from her acting career, and she retired in 1948. I could not find any accounts of Martha ever marrying, so I’ll assume she never did.
Harriette Olson died on November 22, 1970, in Los Angeles, California.