At Mom’s memorial, you asked me to e-mail you the eulogy I had written. I’m very sorry for the delay in getting it to you, there’s just been so much to do.
Attached, please find the eulogy you requested. If you need anything else, please let me know.
Zanah Michelle Martin
I was going to stand up here today and talk about different aspects of my Mom’s life—about how rich she was in her friendships, about how much of the world she saw despite having so little money most of her life, about the huge crush she once had on MGM star Van Johnson, about the day in 1968 that my father walked into the house and announced that they were voting for Richard Nixon and my Mom walked out of the house without a word and drove off in her car and didn’t come back home for hours, and about the stories she told me of her life, like working as an elevator girl in a large Los Angeles department store in the late 1940s and having that wonderful movie character actress Marjorie Main holler at her from fifty feet away: “Hey, honey, where’s the can?”
I decided that I’m not going to do any of that, because that isn’t the essence of Boots Martin. The core of the mother I knew and loved is right here. This is what was most important to her, and I believe this is the most important thing I can talk about today.
We’re here today, in a theater, because the theater was Mom’s temple, her cathedral, her home. I’m here today, because of the theater. My Mom and Dad met and fell in love while working in a dinner theater.
Thanks to Mom, I was raised in the theater, and I’ve always been grateful, because it gave me a love of theater, and acting, and writing that have enriched every day of my life.
During the first 18 years of my life, I saw almost every single show Mom was in. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when she performed at the old JayRob theater in Stan Freberg’s United States of America and sang “Take An Indian to Lunch This Week. Show him, we’re a regular bunch
this week. Show him we’re as liberal as can be.” I’ve never forgotten that lyric.
From about the age of nine until I went off to college, I cued Mom for every single show she did when she was learning her lines. I cued her when she played a ruthless madam running a string of suburban housewife prostitutes. When I was 12, I cued her when she played Miss Adelaide in Guys and
Dolls—opposite Patt Herdklotz who played Sarah Brown. I even got to watch my mother do a striptease singing “Take Back Your Mink.” There’s a formative experience for you.
For four years, I cued Mom and watched her in every comedy and farce she performed at Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse. I watched her perform without dialogue in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds at the Eaglet. I cued her for Arsenic and Old Lace with Hazel Johnson, and for her role as Jenny Diver in Threepenny Opera.
My point is this: I grew up watching every aspect of Mom’s work in the theater. I grew up watching her go to the theater night after night to rehearse or perform.
I grew up knowing that theater was the most important thing on the planet as far as Mom was concerned.
Now, my sister disagrees with me. She believes that family was equally important to Mom, and on one level she’s right. But there are other levels.
My father was the master of making huge mistakes. One of the greatest mistakes he ever made was moving our family out of California. He ripped Mom away from her large extended family, tore her away from all of her friends, took her from everything she had ever known.
But in each new city Dad took us to, Mom found a new home in every theater she walked into, she forged new friendships, she created a new extended family. In the theater.
I know that “Broadway Baby” from Follies was one of Mom’s signature songs and she loved it, but I always felt that her signature song, also from Follies, should have been “I’m Still Here,” because it’s a song about survival and determination and acting and it described so much of her life perfectly.
In good times and bum times, Mom acted.
In her rare plush times, she acted. She got through all of the pretzels and beer times . . . acting.
She grew up in the Depression and World War II . . . acting.
She stood up for civil rights and got through all the turmoil of the 1960s by acting.
She survived a crushing divorce by acting.
She watched each of her children fly the nest, and saw her friends grow old and die, and she acted.
She played sloe-eyed vamps, mothers, and did camp and kept acting and loving every minute of it, even though she always worried about learning her lines, even though every opening night gave her diarrhea. She loved all of it.
As a very young child, I didn’t understand why my mother left me each night to go to a theater rather than stay home with me. I didn’t understand then, but by the time I was nine I had figured it out. I knew that Mom loved her family—my sister and brother and I never doubted that we were loved—but Mom loved and needed theater. She literally couldn’t live without it. Theater was her oxygen, her life’s blood, her reason for being on this planet.
I grew up seeing that, and knowing that, but not fully understanding that until these last few months.
When Mom was blindsided by her diagnosis of congestive heart failure in late August, I watched her passion for acting and her need to do a juicy role in what she called her last musical get her out of her hospital bed and back on her feet and into rehearsal for The Full Monty. As physically weak and emotionally shaken by her illness as she was, if it hadn’t been for that show, I’m not sure she’d have lived as long as she did.
But she did have that show, and there she was, on this stage, doing what she loved and did best, rehearsing for a play . . . with a bunch of college kids whom she’d ordered to tell her to stand up straight whenever they saw her slouching, and loving it when they did just that. She wasn’t consistently on her A Game yet, and she knew it and it worried her, but she was getting closer and closer with each new rehearsal and I absolutely believed that, along with 300 other people, I’d be cheering her on opening night.
The one thing I wanted more than anything else was to see my Mom triumph once again doing what she loved and needed most in the world.
And I needed to watch her walk onto the stage at this year’s Elly Awards and pick up her long overdue Lifetime Achievement award.
Those truly were the most important things in the world to me.
So, I know you’ll understand and agree with me when I tell you that, when I walked into Mom’s apartment that Friday morning in September and realized that she wasn’t sleeping, the first words out of my mouth were “Damnit, Mom, you weren’t supposed to do this yet.”
Growing up as I did, there were only three people in the world who mattered in that moment, only three people I knew who had to be called immediately: My sister, my brother . . . and my Mom’s director, Pam Downs.
I’m Boots Martin’s eldest child. I understand what’s important.
Sometimes you know something without really recognizing it. What I realized most when Mom died was that for 82 years she lived her passion. There are so few people on this planet who can say the same thing about their own lives.
For 82 years, Boots Martin lived her passion.
She had 82 years of being driven by a deep and powerful need, and love, and finding great joy and immense satisfaction every day of living that passion. In good times and bad times, in the midst of all the mess and happiness that comes with children, and friends, and jobs, and politics, and baseball fever, Boots Martin acted, she directed, she taught children’s theater, she wrote plays and song lyrics. For 82 years, she lived her passion.
That’s the biggest lesson I’ll take from my Mom’s life. That’s the lesson I hope to live for the last 30 or 40 years of my own life. That’s the lesson I hope my son makes his own. That’s Boots Martin’s lesson for all of us:
Live your passion. And stand up straight.