Martha Vickers an actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age that rose to prominence thanks to her appearance in the 1946 film noir The Big Sleep. Which directed by legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks. Martha’s performance in the film was so successful that she managed to eclipse costar Lauren Bacall; even with reduced time on the screen. However, Martha’s successful performance sadly didn’t yield much of a career afterwards. The actress would end up passing away at the tragically young of 46 after exiting the industry. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Martha Vickers had a beauty that eclipsed Lauren Bacall.
Martha Vickers was an actress who worked for several years in the entertainment industry for receiving her big break in the 1946 film noir The Big Sleep. Directed by legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks and based upon a novel by author Raymond Chandler. The film intended as a starring vehicle for the pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Who had previously achieved success together in the 1944 feature To Have and Have Not.
Although The Big Sleep intended to capitalize on the success of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s chemistry in the film To Have and Have Not. It was Martha Vickers who ended up stealing the show as Lauren’s on-screen younger sister. Martha played the sex-crazed character of Carmen Sternwood. The character was a drug-addled nymphomaniac. Which couldn’t have been further from what the actress who played her was like in real life. Still, Howard Hawks managed to get an effective performance out of the actress. In fact, the performance was so impressive that Martha actually eclipsed her more experienced costars in the eyes of the audience. This came in spite of the fact that numerous of Martha’s scenes cut in order to make room for more of Humphrey and Lauren.
Raymond Chandler personally claimed that he believed Martha Vickers gave a more memorable performance in The Big Sleep than Lauren Bacall; who was a much bigger star at the time of the film’s release. Sadly, the attention that Martha got from her turn in The Big Sleep didn’t pave the way for a consistent career in the entertainment industry. Martha appeared in several more features after The Big Sleep before eventually calling it quits on acting. None of those features proved to be big successes. According to director Howard Hawks, Martha’s roles after The Big Sleep were unsuccessful because they failed to play into the negative character aspects that had made her performance in the film so fascinating. Instead, Martha’s subsequent roles made her into a good girl, which Howard claimed the audience didn’t want to see. Howard may have been correct!
It seems that Howard Hawks’ direction and insistence that Martha Vickers play outside of her comfort zone are big parts of what made Martha Vickers’ role in The Big Sleep so successful. The young actress was certainly outside of her comfort zone when performing in the role of the sex-crazed Carmen Sternwood. According to an on-set anecdote, there was a moment where Howard Hawks instructed Martha to simulate an orgasm for a scene. In response to the request, Martha revealed that she didn’t even know what an orgasm was! An embarrassed Howard Hawks then had to have another crewmember explain to the young actress what he needed her to do. Martha was apparently a virgin at the time, though her performance ended up satisfying Howard.
Following Martha’s appearance in The Big Sleep. She would go onto appear in a dozen more features to decreasing acclaim. With several of those features being other film noirs that attempted to capitalize on her successful performance in the previously mentioned feature. Apparently, Martha came to director Howard Hawks after a string of failures and asked him what he thought was going wrong with her career. It was at this time that Howard apparently expressed that he felt the audience didn’t want to see her as a good girl in films.
Besides Martha Vickers’ roles on the screen, she also married three times throughout her lifetime. One of her husbands was Mickey Rooney, and her marriage to him brought her nearly as much attention as her role in The Big Sleep did! None of the actress’s marriages proved incredibly successful, and she was unmarried at the time of her death in 1971. By the time of her death, Martha had essentially retired from films. She never had a role that matched the success of her performance in The Big Sleep, though she certainly tried! If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Martha Vickers was born in Michigan on May 28, 1925. During her childhood, her family moved around the country. With some of the many states that Martha called home including Texas, Florida, and, eventually, California. It was in California that Martha would come of age and blossom into a star. The young woman’s break into the entertainment industry came when a photographer named William Mortenson hired her to be a model for his still photographs.
It was the still photographs of William Mortenson that ended up bringing young Martha Vickers to the attention of Hollywood. The first producer to take an interest in young Martha Vickers was David O. Selznick. After catching the attention of David, Martha signed a contract with him. However, nothing ended up coming of the contract.
After nothing came of her contract with David O. Selznick, Universal Pictures swept up Martha Vickers and began casting her in some of it’s horror movies. The roles that Martha received with the studio were incredibly miniscule. She appeared as a corpse in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man before receiving slightly bigger roles in the less popular features Captive Wild Woman and The Mummy’s Ghost. Although her career on film wasn’t doing so hot at the time; Martha did find some success as a pin-up model during the early days of World War II.
After achieving success as a pin-up, Martha Vickers was swept up by RKO Pictures and given her most prominent roles yet. Appearing in such features as Marine Raiders and The Falcon in Mexico. Both of these features were released in 1944. Her roles in the films proved the actress’s most successful turns yet. Not long afterwards, Warner Bros. contacted Martha, and her time with that studio led to her most successful period. Of course, that period of brief success was instigated and defined by Martha’s performance in The Big Sleep; released in 1946.
Although Martha never had another success as big as her role in The Big Sleep during her subsequent career. It wasn’t for lack of trying! The actress appeared in numerous other pictures over the ensuing decade before eventually retiring from acting altogether not long before her death at a tragically young age in the 1970s. Some of the films that Martha Vickers could be seen in following her performance as Carmen Sternwood in 1946’s The Big Sleep included The Man I Love the same year. As well as That Way with Women in 1947. Some other of the actress’s features over the remainder of the decade included 1947’s Love and Learn and a pair of films in 1949 called Bad Boy and Alimony.
In 1948, Martha Vickers got married for the first time, though the marriage was incredibly short-lived. Martha’s first husband was a film producer by the name of A.C. Lyles, though the marriage was over the same year that it started. The following year, Martha would marry fellow star Mickey Rooney. Many speculated that Martha entered into the relationship in an effort to boost her own celebrity status. However, Martha didn’t appear in a single feature film during her short-lived marriage to Mickey Rooney.
Martha met Mickey Rooney in 1949, and they were divorced in 1951. Although Mickey was Martha’s second husband, Martha was Mickey’s third wife. Martha and Mickey had a son together in 1950, and they named him Teddy. Despite having this child together, Martha and Mickey’s marriage wasn’t very successful. Mickey had hit the first lull of his career by the time period and was starting to drink heavily. Meanwhile, Martha was in similarly dire straits when it came to her Hollywood career and was unsure about the future.
After divorcing from Mickey Rooney in 1951, Martha Vickers would marry third and final husband Manuel Rojas in 1954. The year after she married the actor, she appeared in 1955’s The Big Bluff. Hoping that her role in the feature would be enough to revitalize her career. Sadly, Martha’s role in the film didn’t bring her much exposure. After the failure of The Big Bluff, Martha ended up transitioning into television and finding some success in the medium. Her last film role was in 1960’s Four Fast Guns. While her final television role was a stint that she did on the show The Rebel.
Although Martha’s marriage to Manuel Rojas didn’t last, it was the most successful marriage that she had during her lifetime. Her and Manuel had two children together and remained married until 1965. Following their divorce, Martha only lived for another six years before passing away at the tragically young age of 46. Martha Vickers passed away from cancer in 1971 at her home in Hollywood, California.
Although Martha Vickers’ breakout role in the 1946 film noir The Big Sleep was so successful that the author of the film’s source material claimed that she had eclipsed costar Lauren Bacall on the screen, Martha’s career on the big screen ended up fizzling out little over a decade later. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that a teenage Martha Vickers had to be instructed by crewmembers what an orgasm was on the set of 1946’s The Big Sleep because she was still a virgin, and did you know that she later became former child star Mickey Rooney’s third wife? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification ell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!