Boots Martin, one of the stalwart actors during the later seasons of JayRob, passed away on September 22nd, just a few days before she was to receive one of the first two ‘Lifetime Achievement’ awards from the Elly awards. Her career was highlighted by Marcus Crowder in the obituary which was published in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday, October 2nd.

Boots Martin, 82, a legend  in Sacramento regional theater

           Boots Martin, a legendary regional actor and leading presence in Sacramento theater, died of complications from congestive heart failure on Sept. 22. She was 82.

Ms. Martin was adored by audiences and fellow performers alike for her outstanding body of work throughout the region, particularly at the venerable Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse and at all incarnations of the Chautauqua  Playhouse.

“Theater and family were her twin passions,” said her daughter Tracy Martin  Shearer.

Ms. Martin’s career included performing in more than 240 plays, directing  at least 50, and work in radio and film. She also taught children’s acting classes and helped administratively at both the Stagedoor and Chautauqua  theaters.

Born Ruth Dougherty in San Francisco, Ms. Martin was reared in San Jose. Her father died when she was 1, and she and sister Doris were then reared by their single mother.

“They suffered extreme poverty when she was a child into her teenage years, and the Depression was a great influence on her all of her life,” Shearer said.

Ms. Martin’s mother ran a children’s theater company and the fledgling thespian received her performing start there. Bitten by the theater bug, Ms.  Martin studied her craft through high school and at San Jose State College.

Ms. Martin ran her own touring repertory company in the early 1950s, eventually marrying traveling salesman James Martin in 1957. The couple moved about the Midwest for several years before divorcing in 1970. Ms. Martin brought her three young  children Zarah, Tracy and Glen to Sacramento, settling in Fair Oaks.

Ms. Martin began performing at theaters across the region, including the J Robb [sic, JayRob] Theater, the Eaglet and the Old Eagle, and worked with the T Street  Players.

“She didn’t have any judgment about theater,” Shearer said. “As long as a role was fun and good and entertaining, she was interested in it.”

Ms. Martin was a constant at the popular Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse, performing in its first show “Convertible Girl” in 1973. Laura Darzell, who ran  the theater with her husband, Jerry Grisham, said Ms. Martin had a flexible talent that went well beyond the comedies they presented there.

“She could do any role,” Darzell said. “We never put on a show without knowing who our actors were going to be and she was always one of the first ones  we would go to, whether for a lead or not, because she could do everything so  well.”

As the two women became great friends, Ms. Martin also helped at the box office and later lived in a cottage behind Darzell’s Sacramento home until her  death.

Highlights of Ms. Martin’s career are many but include a production of “The Belle of Amherst” at the Eaglet Theatre, a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”  that included actors Hazel Johnson and Dan Harlan, and the two-person play “Vigil,” which she and Timothy Busfield starred in at B Street Theatre.

A personal favorite of Ms. Martin’s was a book-on-tape reading of Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel “Ramona” about the federal government’s mistreatment of  American Indians. She was very proud of performing in “Paint Your Wagon” at the California State Fair, and her résumé also included Blanche from “A Streetcar Named  Desire” and Yenta from “Fiddler on the Roof.” She also gave a signature  performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Broadway Baby” that she like to reprise for  revues and benefits.

Ms. Martin also often performed with Rodger Hoopman in his annual production of “Scrooge.”

“Everybody loved working with her,” Hoopman said. “Part of it was the spirit she brought. She was just so enthusiastic about everything she did as well as  having this wealth of knowledge from having done so many things.”

In recent years, her work moved from Matthew Barber’s romantic comedy, “Enchanted April” to Samuel Beckett’s absurdist drama “Endgame.” She was  preparing for a role in “The Full Monty” at American River College at the time of her death.

“She didn’t in any way cheat us to pursue this fun, exciting world,” Shearer  said. “She always said, ‘I love doing this, I love these people.’ “

Boots Martin sings “Broadway Baby” as Hattie in Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” in a Davis Musical Theatre Company production. Her career included performing in more than 240 plays, directing at least 50, and work in radio and film.

More Information

  • Born: Feb.  1, 1929
  • Died: Sept. 22, 2011
  • Survived by: Children Zarah Martin, Tracy Martin Shearer, Glen Martin; and five  grandchildren
  • Services: Celebrate the life of Boots Martin at the  American River College Theatre, 4700 College Oak Drive, at 1 p.m. Oct. 15.  Friends may contact family members directly if they have questions at (916)  275-7066 or tmartin shearer@sbcglobal.net.
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