Wednesday, 11 June 2014
Martha Hyer Passes On
Martha Hyer was born on 10 August 1924 in Forth Worth, Texas. Her father, Julien C. Hyer, served one term in the Texas Senate and later served as a judge. During World War II he served in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the U.S. Army, and took part in the the prosecution of war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. As a child Martha Hyer enjoyed riding horses and actually wanted to be a cowgirl when she grew up. She earned a bachelor's degree at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and later took acting classes at Pasadena Playhouse.
Martha Hyer made her film debut in an uncredited role in The Locket in 1946. She appeared in uncredited roles in the films Born to Kill (1947) and The Woman on the Beach (1947) before receiving her first female lead role in the Western Thunder Mountain in 1947. For the remainder of the Forties she starred mostly in Westerns, appearing in such films as The Velvet Touch (1948), Gun Smugglers (1948), Roughshod (1949), The Judge Steps Out (1949), Outcasts of Black Mesa (1950), and The Lawless (1950). She made her television debut on an episode of The Lone Ranger in 1950.
In the Fifties Miss Hyer appeared in such films as Oriental Evil (1951), Wild Stallion (1952), Yukon Gold (1952), Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), Riders to the Stars (1954), and Down Three Dark Streets (1954). It was with Sabrina in 1954 that she was finally able to break free of the Westerns and films noir in which she had been appearing. In the film she played Elizabeth Tyson, the rich fiancée of David Larrabee (William Holden). For the rest of the Fifties she appeared in such films as Cry Vengeance (1954), Francis in the Navy (1955), Kiss of Fire (1955), Battle Hymn (1957), The Delicate Delinquent (1957), My Man Godfrey (1957), Houseboat (1958), Some Came Running (1958), The Best of Everything (1959), and The Ice Palace (1960). On television she guest starred on such shows as Fireside Theatre, Schlitz Playhouse, Private Secretary, Public Defender, Four Star Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, Playhouse 90, Climax, and Rawhide.
In the Sixties Martha Hyer appeared in such films as The Right Approach (1961), The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961), The Man from the Diners' Club (1963), Wives and Lovers (1963), The Carpetbaggers (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), First Men in the Moon (1964), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), The Chase (1966), The Night of the Grizzly (1966), The Happening (1967), Once You Kiss a Stranger... (1969), and Crossplot (1969). She guest starred on such TV shows as Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Bewitched, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Burke's Law, The Name of the Game, It Takes a Thief, and The Virginian.
In the Seventies Miss Hyer appeared in the film The Day of the Wolves (1971) and on the TV shows The Young Lawyers; O'Hara, U.S. Treasury; and McCloud. She the retired from acting.
There can be no doubt that Martha Hyer was beautiful. In fact, in the Fifties she was often compared to Grace Kelly. And while Hollywood was content to use her only in Westerns in her early years and later in sophisticated, rich women roles, she was also a talented actress with a good deal of range. She was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Some Came Running with good reason. Miss Hyer excelled in the role of schoolteacher Gwen in the film, a role very different from the many sophisticates she had played in previous films. She also did well as the plain spoken owner of a boarding house, Mary Gordon, in The Sons of Katie Elder. And while Picture Mommy Dead is not necessarily a good film, Miss Hyer does well in a role quite unlike those of her earlier career, playing a scheming gold digger intent on driving her rich husband's daughter mad.
As was often the case with many of Hollywood's lesser known actresses, much of Martha Hyer's best work was done in television. One of her best performances was in the Route 66 episode "An Absence of Tears", in which she played a blind woman bent on avenging her murdered husband. She was also remarkable in several guest appearances on Burke's Law, on which she played a number of different roles. Perhaps the best was "Who Killed Wade Walker", in which she played a sultry, alcoholic nightclub singer who may or may not have committed murder. While Martha Hyer may be best known for her roles in Westerns and as rich sophisticates, she was actually capable of playing many different roles. She was far more than the mere substitute for Grace Kelly she was often viewed as.