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Hugh Martin: More than a Little Christmas

By Tim Branson
The 700 Club

CBN.comTim Branson [reporting]: It’s a song that’s cherished the world over. ‘ Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has warmed hearts for over six decades. It was written for the 1944 movie classic, Meet Me in St. Louis. One of its writers still lives today, 91-year-old Hugh Martin.

Hugh was born in 1914 in Alabama. In the mid-1930s, he took his talents to the Big Apple.

Hugh Martin: I made my living for a long time playing piano in saloons and Godly places like that [laughs] making vocal arrangements, coaching singers. Never dreamed I could write a song. It came about through such a fluke.

Tim [reporting]: The “fluke” happened when Hugh and his friend Ralph Blane entered a song writing contest and won. Afterwards they wrote the Broadway musical hit Best Foot Forward. That opened yet another door.

Hugh: It was such a success that we got an offer from MGM studios.

Tim: In Hollywood…

Hugh: In Hollywood, and we went to Hollywood a year after the show. We got the assignment to do Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland.

Tim [reporting]: “The Trolley Song” and others, like “The Boy Next Door,” were instant favorites, earning the two composers an Oscar nomination. But Hugh missed New York.

Tim: You got into a different lifestyle there?

Hugh: Oh, I couldn’t stand Hollywood. It was so sleazy, so corrupt. I really shouldn’t say things about people who were so nice to me but I really couldn’t stand Hollywood.

Tim [reporting]: So he joined the Army to serve his country and get out of his contract with MGM. Ironically, Hugh says it was “The Trolley Song” that saved his life.

Hugh: I was headed for the Battle of the Bulge. I could already hear the guns; it was that close. I’m sure I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for “The Trolley Song” because it hit no. 1 on the Hit Parade just as I hit Europe. They found out they had a celebrity in their rifle squad and took me out of the shooting and put me into a soldier show.

Tim [reporting]: When his service ended, he returned to his beloved Broadway. There he met the notorious Dr. Feelgood.

Hugh: I had a really terrible, shocking doctor who was shooting a lot of celebrities in New York with amphetamines and telling them they were liquid vitamins.

Tim [reporting]: This started Hugh’s 10-year addiction to amphetamines.

Hugh: I didn’t associate the drugs with what was happening to me. Suddenly I couldn’t eat anything. They would force feed me an egg or a glass of milk occasionally to keep me alive.”

Tim [reporting]: When he finally realized the drugs were the problem, Hugh quit cold turkey. But that landed him in a hospital with a nervous breakdown.

Hugh: For the next few months, I thought I was going crazy. I remember shaving one morning and looking at my face and saying that was the face of a lunatic. I’ll never be sane again. [I] was in terrible despair. I couldn’t sleep much. I would sleep a couple of hours, and when I would wake up from those two hours, I would really just be suicidal.

Tim [reporting]: One day, he wandered into the hospital chapel.

Hugh: The dam broke. The tears which I had been holding back for weeks just flowed. I suddenly threw myself on the floor, and I said, “God, if you exist -- and I don’t even know if you do -- if you’ll heal me [and] pull me out of this miry pit, I will do anything for You. I’ll be faithful to You forever.”

Tim [reporting]: Hugh was healed from his addiction and went on to write one of his longest running shows, High Spirits. But he hadn’t put his complete trust in God. That came years later in 1974. He had gone to the hospital for tests and was waiting for a private room.

Hugh: I heard a voice -- not an audible voice but something very compelling -- speaking to me. It called me by name: “Hugh, share your room.” I thought I was having hallucinations or something, and I heard it again. I could feel this voice filling my whole body and soul, and I obeyed it the second time. My roommate was an assistant pastor at a local church, and that’s when it all happened.

Tim [reporting]: His new roommate was given strict orders to stay in bed but he didn’t.

Hugh: Five minutes after they left, he left the bed. I could see it hurt from surgery. I could see him inch himself to his knees, and he was obviously praying. When he inched his way back into bed afterwards, I said, “Brother Lester, I heard what the doctor said and wasn’t it rather reckless of you to do that?” He said, “Maybe it was, but there are times when I just have to honor my Lord.” My eyes filled with tears, and I still feel a little misty eyed about it because he was so devoted and so pure. Something triggered something because I said, “Would you tell me more about your faith?”

Tim [reporting]: That day Hugh gave his life fully over to Jesus.

Hugh: I knew something really big was happening, and it sort of frightened me. It felt so significant that I felt shaken by it and yet it was wonderful because it was a feeling I had never had before -- that I belonged, that there was something bigger than I was who loved me and would take care of me. It was the best moment of my life.

Tim [reporting]: Through the years Hugh has continued his work as a composer. Even today, at 91 years old, he’s still writing songs. And remember that old favorite, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”? Well, Hugh decided it needed a change.

Hugh: Have yourself a blessed little Christmas.

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