NORA LOU MARTIN: GENE AUTRY & EDDIE CANTOR'S DISCOVERY

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    Craig_Adams
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    Today March 31, 1921 Nora Mildred Martin was born in Portland, Oregon to Mildred “Cora” (Brandon) and Thomas “Maurice” Martin. Nora’s father was a lumber inspector, who was born at sea on a ship flying the flag of Denmark. Nora, named after her mother Cora (off by 1 letter), had two brothers: Maurice Alva Martin & Howard Thorvald Martin. One younger sister: Flora “Louise” Martin. In 1926 the Martin family moved to St. Helens. By April 1930 the family was living at: 22 Spring St. in St. Helens and Nora was attending St. Helens Grammar School.

    In early 1936 “Uncle Nate” Cohn, talent scout for his KGW Radio children’s show called “STARS OF TOMORROW”, brought his kid troupe to St. Helens for a performance. While the entertainment was going on, Nora was walking around back stage dressed in her little cowgirl outfit with boots. Uncle Nate asked her what she did and Nora replied she sang and yodeled. He thought she sounded very good so Nora began performing on his radio show in Portland.

    On June 9, 1936 the “Stars of Tomorrow” performers were featured as part of Kiddies Day at Jantzen Beach Park. By September 1936 the Martin family had moved back to Portland and Nora began high school at Washington High School. On September 27, 1936 Nora Martin was back on “Stars of Tomorrow” yodeling. By this time Nora was known as “Girl of The Golden West” promoting “Golden West Coffee” which featured a cowgirl on its label.

    In late 1936 NBC Radio’s Stephen M. Janik was in Portland to produce a new NBC Blue Network series called “Hayloft Jamboree.” While checking out the location (The Oriental Theater) where the series would be produced, he spotted Nora back stage. She was very nervous trying to swallow down the dryness in her throat for the Cinderella role she was about to tryout for. “Look, little girl,” said Janik, “you go out there and slay them.” It was sheer accident that he stayed around listening and recognized her five octave range and perfect pitch. “You,” said Janik, “are going places.” Janik was also a Hollywood talent scout, part of his Portland job. “I want to be your manager. I want to talk to your mother.” Nora’s parents signed a lifetime contract to Janik, as her manager, adviser, trainer, coach and protege.

    On January 7, 1937 Nora Martin became known as “Nora Lou”, most likely changed by Janik for Nora’s role as a yodeler on the NBC Blue Network show “HAYLOFT JAMBOREE.” The Western music show was developed by NBC & KEX as an experiment with new talent, to judge whether the Pacific Northwest could match the popularity of NBC Blue’s “National Barn Dance” program from WLS Chicago, also heard on KEX. The program was 30 minutes on Thursday nights. Others on the show were: Julie Lane, The Three Maids, The Sunset Trail Boys, Red River Wranglers, The Roseland Four, Daddy Brooks & His Original Square Dancers.

    On February 19, 1937 Nora Lou Martin won 2nd place at the Oregon Winter Sports Carnival, yodeling contest at Public Auditorium. On March 25, 1937 the last “Hayloft Jamboree” was broadcast on KEX. On April 12, 1937 Nora Lou “Sweet Heart of The West” began yodeling at the “Lonesome Club” for six nights at 4th & Taylor Streets. 25c. On February 5, 1938 was the grand opening of Timberline Lodge. This was carried over KGW and Nora Lou Martin performed on the special broadcast with others, including addresses by Oregon Governor Martin and Portland Mayor Carson.

    In Fall 1938 Nora dropped out of Washington High School. She remembers: “While I was a senior, I was touring for Golden West Coffee, where my picture was on the can, and the principal wouldn’t let me hand in my work late, so I dropped out, I believe in education.” The likeness of Nora on the label of “Golden West Coffee” was only a quintessence. The company had featured a likeness of a cowgirl on its cans since 1925.

    On May 21, 1939 Nora Lou Martin was back at Timberline Lodge during the dedication of the Mt. Hood Ski Lift. Later in the lodge dining room she and others entertained. On November 16, 1939 Gene Autry’s movie “Rovin’ Tumbleweeds” was released by Republic Pictures with Nora Lou Martin & Pals of The Golden West. Both were un-credited. The group Pals of The Golden West was named after Golden West Coffee, another Janik idea. The group was originally called “The Three Pals” but with the addition of Nora and another member added to the group, the name didn’t fit anymore.

    On February 24, 1940 the motion picture “Rovin’ Tumbleweeds” opened at the Orpheum Theater. On March 14, 1940 “SONGS OF THE OUTDOORS” debuted on KGW with Nora Lou and Pals of the Golden West. The musical group preferred living in Portland in lieu of Hollywood. Also on the show were: Toley Tolman & The Oregonian Trail Blazers, Mark Daniels, baritone and Abe Bercovitz & The Orchestra. The 30 minute show was on Thursday nights at 6:30pm. By April 1940 the Martin family was living at: 6325 S.E. 46th Ave. in Portland. On May 2, 1940 “Songs of the Outdoors” moved from 6:30pm to 7:30pm.

    By May 1940 Nora Lou was mentioned occasionally in print articles spelled as “Noah” Lou Martin as well. On June 6, 1940 the last “Songs of the Outdoors” program was broadcast on KGW. On July 28, 1940 Nora Lou debuted in theaters in the RKO motion picture “Stage To Chino” where she was a soloist and yodeler with Pals of The Golden West. The movie was nationally released July 26th. Pals of the Golden West consisted of: Howard “Slim” Russell, bass; Bud Jackson, clarinet; Lucky Pulliam, fiddle; Larry Shaw, guitar & Nora Lou, yodeler.

    On May 2, 1941 Nora Lou was back on the NBC Blue Network as part of the new program “GRANDPAPPY AND HIS PALS”, Western drama and music series which premiered on KEX Friday at 8:00pm. Grandpappy’s pals were the group Pals of The Golden West. The show was produced at KEX studios in “The Oregonian” building at: 325 S.W. Alder St. and was a half hour in length. For most of its run the show played on Sunday’s. In addition 23 stations in the West carried the program via NBC Blue. At the time, it was the largest Pacific Coast hook-up, and the only Portland radio program on network radio.

    On July 12, 1941 Nora Lou & Pals of The Golden West were part of a fast-moving variety special on KGW at 8:00pm to celebrate the opening of the new Portland Bottling Co. plant at: 14th & Sandy Blvd. On October 20, 1941 the cast of “Grandpappy and His Pals” left Portland for a West Coast Tour for two weeks. They had been chosen by the the U.S. Army to put on entertainment shows at Army camps in Sacramento, Tacoma, Bremerton, etc. They would return to Portland on Sunday’s to broadcast their NBC Blue program over KEX.

    On March 22, 1942 KGW celebrated its 20th anniversary with a birthday party from the Masonic Temple grand ballroom. The entire staff of artists including Nora Lou & Pals of The Golden West were on the program which was carried on the NBC Red Network at 8:30pm. Also on the program via NBC Hollywood hook-up were Ex-KGW stars such as Mel Blanc, Larry Keating & others. On April 12, 1942 it was announced “Grandpappy And His Pals” was moving to 9:00pm Sunday’s and the program had a changed in format. Nora Lou & Pals of The Golden West were eliminated.

    On April 16, 1942 it was announced Nora Lou & Pals of The Golden West with manager Stephen M. Janik were off to Hollywood to make films for Universal. On July 13, 1942 Norah Lou began appearing on CBS Radio’s “HOLLYWOOD SHOWCASE” (KOIN Monday’s at 9:30pm) through the end of July.

    On July 17, 1942 The Oregonian’s “Behind The Mike” column: “Portland’s Norah Lou not only wowed the audience of CBS Hollywood Showcase last Monday but she wowed the producer, Ken Niles of CBS, to the point that he has issued a statement, “Norah Lou, a 21-year-old cowgirl, is one of the most unusual possible stars the show has produced to date. Also she is a totally different personality from the type of girl that tries to crash Hollywood. None of us here at Columbia Square know’s Norah Lou’s last name. She won’t tell us. All we know is that she was discovered one day by a Hollywood visitor of a large Oregon cattle ranch. Nora Lou was sitting on a corral fence, singing with that remarkable voice of hers.”

    On August 5, 1942 Universal Pictures released “Silver Bullet” which included Nora Lou Martin and Pals of The Golden West. On August 9, 1942 Nora Lou began as a regular on “GENE AUTRY’S MELODY RANCH” program on CBS (KOIN Sunday’s at 3:30pm, 6:30pm EST) for 30 minutes. On August 21, 1942 Universal Pictures released “Boss of Hangtown Mesa” featuring Nora Lou Martin and Pals of The Golden West. On August 27, 1942 The Oregonian “Behind The Mike” column reprinted a CBS Hollywood press release: “Norah Lou, the 21-year-old sensation, who sings on Gene Autry’s program has never worn skirts. She is a cowgirl and has always worn “jeans” and boots.”

    On November 12, 1942 Columbia Pictures released the movie “Laugh Your Blues Away” which included Nora Lou & Pals of The Golden West, un-credited. On January 16, 1943 the motion picture “Laugh Your Blues Away” began its Portland showing at the Paramount Theater. On January 23, 1943 the movie “Silver Bullet” was first seen in Portland at the Capitol Theater. On January 31, 1943 the motion picture “Boss of Hangtown Mesa” began its Portland showing at the Kenton Theater.

    On September 10, 1943 it was announced Nora Lou had been signed to “THE EDDIE CANTOR SHOW” replacing Dinah Shore, who had left the program after becoming a big singing star. The plan was Nora would be the next Dinah Shore but Eddie Cantor wasn’t going to let that happen so fast. He made Nora sign a five year contract with the stipulation she could NOT appear on other live radio shows, in movies or on stage. On September 29, 1943 Nora Lou lost her spurs, now billed as Nora Martin, singing popular music on NBC Wednesday’s Eddie Cantor “TIME TO SMILE” (KGW 6:00pm – 30 minutes. 9:00pm EST) show as its new singing star. Cantor raved: “She’s just plain magic.” He also had Nora glamorized by Hollywood experts.

    October 6, 1943 Ad: “The Eddie Cantor Show featuring Portland’s own Nora Lou Martin, Eddie’s latest singing sensation. KGW 6 P.M.” On March 11, 1944 Billboard mentioned Nora having been inked by “Standard Radio” for a series of transcriptions. On July 2, 1944 Nora Lou Martin & Eddie Cantor flew in to Portland Airport on United Airlines with Nora appearing on the “620 TIME” program over KGW that night at 9:30, from the stage of the Broadway Theater.

    On July 4, 1944 Nora Lou Martin appeared in Portland with Eddie Cantor for a War Bond show at Multnomah Stadium. On December 31, 1944 Warner Bros. Pictures released “Hollywood Canteen” with Eddie Cantor & Nora Martin. It was also first shown in Portland on this date at the Paramount & Oriental Theaters. On March 7, 1945 it was announced Nora Martin had signed a long-term recording contract with Decca Records. She was in the process at the time recording her first set of twelve sides.

    On June 19, 1945 it was revealed in a letter to Quenton H. Cox, KGW Station Manager that Nora longed for a visit home to Portland. She wished there was a ship to christen or a War Bond show she could do in the Rose City for an excuse to get out of Hollywood for a spell. Summer was coming and even though Eddie Cantor was off his own program for the entire Summer, his show continued on the air with its cast, keeping the program going with no vacation. Janik worked for months to get Nora out of her contract.

    On September 5, 1945 it was reported Eddie Cantor’s people had auditioned 68 singers and hadn’t found the right one to replace Nora Martin. On October 17, 1945 Eddie Cantor & Nora Martin recorded “Around And Around And Around” backed with “You Kissed Me Once” for Decca Records. This was one of the last things Nora did with Cantor before leaving. Getting released from Cantor’s contract proved to be impossible. After she left, Nora was still under contract until September 1948. Whatever she earned Nora had to pay Cantor a certain percentage.

    On February 6, 1946 it was reported Nora with her manager Stephen Janik were back in Portland, visiting her parents after a ten week theatrical tour of the East Coast where she received rave reviews from theater critics from Chicago, Detroit, Boston and held over an extra week at New York’s Loew’s State Theater. On March 9, 1946 Billboard Advance Record Releases: Eddie Cantor & Nora Martin “Around And Around And Around” backed with “You Kissed Me Once” Decca 23529 (Personality Series). On April 13, 1946 Billboard mentioned Nora Martin having written several dozen songs published by “Cross Music” of Hollywood.

    On May 30, 1946 it was reported Nora Martin was being televised by experimental TV station W6XYZ in Hollywood (later in 1947 as KTLA). She was also in the process of buying a ranch and a chain of beauty shops in the Northwest. The first shop would be “Charm House” at 24th & Sandy Blvd. On June 8, 1946 the Rose Festival Pioneer Frolic was held at Multnomah Stadium starring Nora Lou Martin spotlighted during the celebration just before the pioneer parade made it’s way through downtown.

    On July 6, 1946 Nora appeared on CBS Radio’s “HOLLYWOOD BARN DANCE” heard locally on KOIN at 10:15pm. On August 6, 1946 Nora sang at the opening joint sessions of the Military Order of The Purple Heart and its auxiliary at the 14th Annual National Convention in Portland with Audie Murphy and others. Also in 1946 Nora Martin was awarded a citation for her service by the U.S. War Department.

    On August 21, 1946 Nora Mildred Martin, 25, married 43 year old Stephen M. Janik in Portland. The couple would live in Portland at 2830 N.E. Davis St. On August 9, 1947 Billboard Advance Folk Releases: Nora Martin “Nobody’s Waiting For Me” backed by “Careless Sweetheart” Decca 46067 (Folk Series). On September 12, 1947 Nora & Stephen welcomed their first son Stephen Thomas Janik. On November 23, 1947 Nora was given her own radio show “NORA MARTIN SINGS” Sunday nights at 10:15pm. On November 26, 1947 it was reported that Nora Martin’s 78rpm single “Nobody’s Waiting For Me” had sold out in Portland.

    On December 14, 1947 the Portland Police PAL club presented The PAL Show in the Pacific International Livestock Exposition pavilion. The show was headed by Frank Sinatra, with Roddy McDowell, Nora Martin and other stars. PAL provided guidance and recreation for youngsters. On February 29, 1948 “Nora Martin Sings” became “SONGS BY NORA MARTIN” with Abe Bercovitz KGW Musical Director, Glenn Shelley & his organ and Phil Irvin, announcer. On December 19, 1948 was the last broadcast of “Songs By Nora Martin.” On July 2, 1949 Nora & Stephen welcomed their second son Robert Martin Janik.

    On March 8, 1952 Nora Martin reunited with Pals of The Golden West on the new KGW program “NORTHWEST SQUARE DANCE” Saturday nights at 9:30pm, broadcast from “Neighbors of Woodcraft” auditorium aka hall at: 1410 S.W. Morrison St. Nora and Pals had performed here ten years earlier on “Grandpappy & His Pals.” On November 1, 1952 “Northwest Square Dance” became “HAPPY VALLEY RANCH.” Same line-up but now at KGW studios. On May 2, 1953 the last “Happy Valley Ranch” show aired on KGW. On February 19, 1954 Nora’s father Thomas Maurice Martin died at age 79 in Portland.

    On March 19, 1955 Nora’s husband Stephen M. Janik was made Manager of the real estate department of Dean Vincent, Inc. Stephen had been handling investment properties in Portland since 1946. On October 23, 1955 Nora’s mother Mildred Cora Martin, 51, married 45 year old Henry George Weimer in Portland. On July 7, 1957 it was announced Nora’s husband Stephen was now Supervisor of the business investment department at Ward Cook, Inc.

    In 1960 Nora was diagnosed with breast cancer requiring radical treatment, two mastectomies. She overcame that challenge, joining the American Cancer Society and going public with her cancer story. By September 1960 the Janik family was living at: 4006 E. Burnside St. On March 25, 1965 it was announced Nora Janik was County Residential Chairman of the Multnomah County Unit of the Oregon Division of the American Cancer Society. On March 12, 1966 it was announced Nora Janik was elected to the Board of The YWCA.

    On September 20, 1966 Nora Janik was elected 3rd Vice-President of the Multnomah County Unit of the American Cancer Society. On February 19, 1967 it was announced Nora Janik was named Chairman of The Residential Division for the 1967 Crusade Against Cancer for the Multnomah County Unit of the Oregon Division of the American Cancer Society. On September 23, 1967 it was announced Nora Janik was re-elected 3rd Vice-President of the Multnomah County Unit of the American Cancer Society.

    On May 21, 1969 Nora Janik was honored by the Multnomah County Unit of the Oregon Division of the American Cancer Society and awarded the Order of The Red Sword, the country’s highest volunteer honor. On October 3, 1970 it was announced Nora Janik was elected Service Rehabilitation of the Multnomah County Unit of the American Cancer Society. On September 4, 1971 Nora’s mother Mildred Cora Weimer died at age 67 in Portland. On September 13, 1971 Nora’s stepfather Henry George Weimer died at age 61 in Portland.

    By October 1972 Nora Janik was American Cancer Society co-coordinator for “Oregon Reach To Recovery Program.” She had developed his program to help women to recover from breast cancer surgeries; established an early detection center at Good Samaritan Hospital, one of only seven in the nation. On September 22, 1973 Nora Janik was elected First President of the Oregon Division of the American Cancer Society. Re-elected in 1975.

    On October 9, 1976 Nora Janik was elected President of the Oregon Division of the American Cancer Society, the first woman to do so. On February 14, 1979 Nora’s husband Stephen M. Janik died at age 76. On August 22, 1988 Nora’s brother Maurice Alva Martin died at age 60. In 1995, Nora was named one of six women awarded the “White Rose,” saluting Women of Achievement.

    In her last decade Nora had to deal with numerous medical and mobility issues. She never complained and always had a bright spirit. She was buoyed by her countless friends. Her door was always open and usually a friend would be there visiting, talking about current events and families.

    On January 30, 2014 Nora Martin Janik passed away at age 92 in Beaverton. On February 12, 2014 An Irish Wake was held at 4:00pm at the Multnomah Athletic Club. Private interment was at Mt. Calvary Cemetery. In one of Nora’s last journal entries she wrote, “The joy of giving is truly the joy of living.” “Life is about friends-everyday angels.”

    Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this biography more complete.

    References: Billboard magazine, IMDb, The Oregonian.

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