Weatherford native Mary Martin was already something of a local legend by the time she opened up her second dance studio in Mineral Wells, Texas, at the top of the Crazy Water Hotel. Martin, of course, would later go on to star in South Pacific, Peter Pan, and many other movies and Broadway shows in her lifetime. Her son would also be destined for show business: What would Dallas be without Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing?
In the early 1930s, Martin struck an arrangement with Carr and Hal Collins, the owners of the Crazy Water Hotel. In exchange for giving her full use of the rooftop ballroom for her weekly dance classes in Mineral Wells, Martin would agree to sing on their Crazy Crystals radio show two days a week – Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Collins brothers had invested in the hotel and water business in Mineral Wells just prior to the depression. But economic troubles, combined with waning spa tourism and stiff competition from the newer hotel in town, the Baker, meant that the brothers were in a tough spot. In order to keep from going bankrupt, they identified the one product they offered that could be shipped all over the country on the cheap: Crazy Crystals, made by evaporating their famous mineral water into a white powdery substance. They claimed that when a small amount was dissolved into normal drinking water, it was just the same as drinking the healthful water of Mineral Wells.
Hal Collins was one of the first marketers in the country to truly take advantage of radio’s potential for advertising – he knew that in order to sell a product, it had to connect with people emotionally – and what better way to do that than on the radio? Hal knew that most people were looking for a diversion when they turned on their radios: music, stories, and reminders of better times. And so, the Crazy Crystals Radio Show was born – as part variety show, part sermon. The old hillbilly folk songs, shouts and announcements seemed to capture the enthusiastic, knee-slapping gusto of old-fashioned country revival.
The show was recorded and broadcast daily, right from the lobby of the Crazy Hotel, and featured Jack Amlung and his Orchestra, the Crazy Gang of musical comedians, and the Light Crust Doughboys. Many musicians over the years found regular paying jobs playing on the Crazy Crystals program, probably including Western swing legend Bob Wills, who had been playing with the Doughboys.
Soon, the show began to find its way into living rooms all over the country, and the Collins brothers would eventually open up satellite Crazy Crystal offices as far away as Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta. Some of these offices, including the Charlotte office, launched their own Crazy Radio Shows for regional audiences. Crazy Crystals soon became a national craze, and a multi-million dollar empire, sold for only 60 cents or $1 a box.
Although Martin later admitted that she hated singing the hillbilly tunes (she said that she preferred songs like “Stormy Weather”) the performance training and vocal practice she received at the Crazy Water Hotel proved invaluable for the future star. It was there that she learned how to sing into a microphone, and she learned how to whistle and yodel, too. From bandleader Jack Amlung, she learned how to manipulate her voice in order to sing the blues, and adapt it based on musical style. Soon, she became known on the show as “Mary Hagman, the Crazy Girl.”
“This was my first singing job,” Martin said, “Although no money changed hands.”
Martin began to attract a following, and booked her own shows in Fort Worth, Dallas, and beyond. During this time she continued to teach dance and voice at her studios in Weatherford and Mineral Wells.
In the mid thirties, however, a local man who believed that dancing was a sin burned down her Weatherford studio. Martin was distraught, and eventually decided that it was time for her to move on. Not long afterward, she left to go try to make it as an actress in Hollywood.
In California, she earned the name “Audition Mary” because of the many roles that she auditioned for. But her persistence finally paid off when she sang at one such audition for the great Oscar Hammerstein II… and the rest, as they say, is showbiz history.