Spellman, Martin “Marty”
Martin Spellman “Marty”
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Martin Spellman was a child actor, but after the war he couldn’t get parts. He spent 27 years in the finance business, and then switched to automobile finance and insurance.
But, that’s only a sketch of his career. Marty’s story, as told to Mar-Ken.org, is enchanting. At the age of 9, Marty very badly wanted a new Columbia bicycle, and he found out that by selling Liberty magazines he could earn some money and get bonus gifts. He tried selling Liberties to people in his neighborhood, but it wasn’t going so well. The idea was to build up a route, and have set customers for the weekly magazine. Each magazine sold for a nickel, and he got to keep a penny and a half of that, plus he got a “greenie” for each five Liberties he sold, and a “brownie” for each twenty-five Liberty magazines he sold. It took only 500 “brownies,” according to the catalog, to earn that slick Columbia bike.
One day to increase his route he rode the Red Car from his home in Mar-Vista to downtown, which was Culver City. MGM Studios was a big place, and it looked like it would have lots of people who could spend 5¢ a week, so Marty went in the front door and walked up to the high counter. The attendant couldn’t see him, so he waited there and walked into the Studio Lot behind the next person to be waved through. As he put it, “I wasn’t there to see a movie.” He started selling Liberties, and while wandering from building to building he walked through an anteroom and stumbled into an enormous office. There was a man sitting at a huge desk. The man turned out to be Irving Thalberg, Jr. the “Boy Genius” MGM Producer, and “it blew his mind that I got in.” Spellman tells us that Thalberg muttered to himself: “with all our police force and security a little kid walks into the studio.” Marty told him his reason for being there, and Thalberg made him promise that he would sell him a Liberty every week. Marty sold the rest of his magazines and went home for the week.
The next week, Liberties in hand, Marty tried to get back on the MGM Lot, but MGM Security Chief Whitey Hendry took him into his office, where Marty made his case. Chief Whitey temporarily relented. He made Marty a deal; get fifteen letters from people on the lot saying you won’t make trouble on the set and you can distribute your magazines. Marty headed straight for Thalberg’s office. He told the producer, “I made you a promise, but now I can’t keep it.” Thalberg said, with a smile, “You tell Chief Whitey if he won’t let you in, I won’t sign his pay checks anymore.” Marty says it was more of a joke than a threat; however, the matter was settled.
Marty sold Liberties for over two years. While on the set he was free to go from place to place, and often he stopped and watched when he heard “Quiet on the set!” He watched, and he learned. He saw all the big stars, and he saw that the directors told them what to do, and they did it. He was a cute kid, polite and friendly, and everyone liked him. He became a familiar figure, getting his Liberties on Tuesday and selling the magazines every day through Friday. For Christmas 1937, they decided to give Martin a very special Christmas present. Clark Gable invited him to work as an extra for a few days on the film “Test Pilot.” That was exciting. But a studio photographer’s picture of Martin selling a Liberty magazine to Myrna Loy was seen in the executive offices and Martin Spellman soon thereafter signed a contract for what was to be the classic film “Boys Town.”
Marty appeared in movies until 1942, when he entered the United States Army Air Corp. He served as a B-29 bomber tail gunner and flew many missions before returning to civilian life after World War II. He came home fully expecting to continue his acting career, but it was not to be. He was no longer a cute kid, and a part that was waiting for him was given to another, with lame excuses by MGM’s bosses. His agent sent him on audition after audition, all for parts that he was too old for. He finally pointed out that he was a man and the parts he should audition for should fit who he is. One last time he got a job before a camera, in a 1957 episode of Dragnet. There were also some theater parts, but as with so many child actors, it became clear that his career path would not stay in show business, and as noted earlier, he worked in finance. Marty has a lot of fond memories of his days on the set. His scrapbook is full of photographs taken with the major movie stars of the day. He is credited with being a good actor, for the years he was given the chance. Many of the films Martin Spellman appeared in are still available – see his filmography credits at the linked websites.
– by Alan H. Simon for Mar-Ken.org
From the January 24, 1940 Mar-Ken Journal:
Martin Spellman is the Business Manager of this issue of the Mar-Ken Journal; he was also a staff artist. Marty wrote an article about graduating senior Kenny Fischer.
From the Mar-Ken 1940 Yearbook, as a Freshman:
MARTIN SPELLMAN – (Born in Des Moines, Iowa)
“Don’t call me junior”. If you’d like to get along with Martie you’d better heed the above. Here, however is one boy who likes almost everything. Talk on his favorite subject – – Science, or the color blue, the book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” or “Les Miserables”, let him hear the song “Melancholy Baby”, and he’s perfectly happy. Martie has quite a few hobbies. Cameras, horses, trains, bows and arrows, and science. He has two ambitions, one is to play the piano well, and the other is to become a lawyer, (if he ever grows up and gets out of school).
From the October 11, 1940 Mar-Ken Journal:
•Martin Spellman was elected Vice-President of the Sophomore Class.
•Jo Stern and Martin Spellman are co-advertising managers for this issue of the Mar-Ken Journal.
From the October 25, 1940 Mar-Ken Journal:
Jo Stern and Martin Spellman are co-advertising managers for this issue of the Mar-Ken Journal.
From the November 8, 1940 Mar-Ken Journal:
Martin Spellman is the Business Manager for this issue of the Mar-Ken Journal.
From the January 10, 1941 Mar-Ken Journal:
Martin Spellman is Business Manager and co-Advertising Manager of this issue of the school newspaper.
From the Mar-Ken 1941 Yearbook, as a Sophomore:
An invaluable asset to any group is “likeable” Martin Spellman. An aid in every activity and class affairs, the originator of many witty ideas, a young man who played his role well, that of Vice-President of his class. . . . . that is Martin Spellman.
Martin Spellman — Des Moines, Iowa
“A gentleman of the press” is what Martin Spellman hopes to be,
And his journalistic approach is a smile for all to see,
He also is a camera fiend – but better than the rest,
Although he swims and roads, — he likes a corny joke the best.
From the Mar-Ken 1942 Yearbook, as a Junior:
Martin Spellman was born in Des Moines, however his love for sunshine and showers brought him to California. He likes to swim, but spends his time joking and reading. His favorite book was “Lost Horizon”, but Ah that music, “Night and Day” and “Rhapsody in Blue” set Marty in a dream world. He is a camera fiend at heart and can always be heard approaching with is repeated question, “You Like that?”
Martin was Secretary of his 1942 Junior Class. He was also Editor of the Mar-Ken Journal in 1942.
From the September 28, 1942 Mar-Ken Journal:
Martin Spellman was elected to the office of President of the French Club.
From the October 13, 1942 Mar-Ken Journal:
•Martin Spellman is the Editor of this issue of the Mar-Ken Journal.
•Martin participated in the “Victory” Senior vs. Junior golf tournament and shot a 53.
•The first annual party sponsored by the seniors as expected was a huge success. With “professional entertainment” holding the spotlight, highlighted by the piano playing of Buddy Pepper and the sensational dancing team of Rod Outten and Marty Spellman and rounded off by delicious food; one of those never a dull moments evenings was had by one and all…
From 1943 Mar-Ken Yearbook; Senior Crossword Puzzle:
This little man is our Vice-president, and we don’t know what we would do without his clowning.
Martin was Vice-President of his 1943 Senior Class. He was also President of Le Cercle Franqais (the French Club) in 1943.
Links to other resources about Martin Spellman:
Internet Movie Database listing:
Story of his “discovery” at MGM:
Also see photos from Mar-Ken Reunion, 1993.