December 14, 2005 Encinitas, California, United States …. [Wendi Rogers/ANN]
He was a huge success story during Hollywood’s golden era. Hugh Martin penned some of the most memorable songs and worked with some of the top entertainers of his era.
He wrote the original songs for the classic Hollywood musical “Meet Me In St. Louis” starring Judy Garland, and he wrote and co-wrote many other memorable and original songs.
Perhaps his best-known tune, which is still considered a seasonal classic, is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” He worked with stars such as Gene Kelly, Andy Williams, Lucille Ball, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney and many others who defined Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s.
He was in the heart of it all — success, fame and fortune. But he wasn’t happy. And one day, he said, he “hit rock bottom.”
“It was a turning point in my life. Things were going great. I thought I was pretty successful and I thought I was pretty good too. I really had an inflated idea of my virtue,” Martin told ANN in a telephone interview.
But then, he added, “God had to bring it to my attention that I was not all I thought I was. I had a nervous breakdown. A full-blown nervous breakdown. I was diagnosed as being mentally unsound. That was 1960.”
Martin wandered into the hospital chapel one day, “having nothing else to do,” and was “suddenly overwhelmed with what a wretch I was. … I threw myself on my face and begged the Lord to heal me. I said, ‘I don’t even know if you exist, but if you do I’ll give myself to you for the rest of my life’ … to make a long story short, he did heal me and I did give myself to him.”
It was 14 years later, in another hospital, that he met a Seventh-day Adventist gentleman, who shared the hospital room, marking the beginning of his life today.
Martin describes the show business world as “wonderful in a way but very temporal, very superficial.” He says they lived to glorify themselves. “Everybody was out to look as good as he could and impress people as much as he could. It was a very self-centered existence.”
“You were restless and competitive and didn’t have the peace and contentment that you have found,” his good friend Del Delker tells him.
Now, he says, “It’s a totally different world. A wonderful world, and so much better than the other one,” he says.
It was Martin’s dream to accompany Delker, a lady with a huge singing voice, he reminisces. “It was me running after Del, not the other way around,” Martin laughs in a sing-song voice that somehow sounds like an old movie.
He heard her on the Voice of Prophecy, a worldwide radio ministry of the Adventist Church, and “fell in love with Del’s voice.”
What he did next he describes as “a very amazing thing. I packed my bags and went to Newbury Park [California] and just decided I was going to become Del’s accompanist.”
But when she first met him, Delker says, “We were all set. We had a broadcasting group; I had an accompanist. At the time he first went there to Newbury Park I was already settled into another program. But there were changes made and all of a sudden I found myself needing an accompanist.”
Martin adds, “Miracles do happen. I did end up playing the piano for her. …My dream came true.” And it did for several years. They traveled together for four years, bringing their music to thousands.
“It was God’s timing, wasn’t it?” Delker comments.
Martin doesn’t miss a beat: “It sure was.”
“What amazed me was the change in his life even as I was watching,” says Delker, who affectionately calls him Hughy. “I asked him to tell [his story] in front of audiences.”
But, “I was very shy and didn’t think I could do it.”
“Well, you can talk a leg off of me,” Delker told him.
So he did. The two shared their stories with thousands across the country, and at 91, he still loves to talk about it.
“He’s 91 going on 14,” says Delker, who speaks with Martin as often as twice a week.
Martin responds, “I’m in love with life and that keeps you young.”
He’s since helped to turn “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” into “Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas,” with Christian lyrics sung by Delker.
“I just wish everyone could hear this version,” she says.
Does Martin still correspond with his old Hollywood pals, and does he share what he’s found? “Yes I do. I do whenever I can.” But, he says, “I try to do it without being sanctimonious. But I do slip it in whenever I can.”
He admits that “most of them are dead. I don’t know why I’m so lucky to still be here. All of the lovely stars that I worked with at MGM are gone.”
He signs off from his home in Encinitas, California: “It was my pleasure, always to talk to Del, and also to talk about Jesus. There’s nothing I’d rather do.”
Listen to an interview with Hugh Martin on Ground 7 News, the Adventist News Network podcast.