June 24, 1910
Lake Bluff, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||March 25, 1983
Beaufort, South Carolina, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Hardie Albright (1934-1940)|
Martha Sleeper (June 24, 1910 – March 25, 1983) was a silent film comedienne of the 1920s and Broadway and film actress of the 1940s.
Martha Sleeper reputedly spent her first years on a sheep ranch in Wyoming. Her father, William B. Sleeper, was an official of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville circuit in New York City. Her mother was Minnie Akass. He retired to Los Angeles, California in 1923 because of ill health. She was under contract to Hal Roach studios beginning in 1924, when she was 14 years old. Her father was found dead of heart disease on September 1, 1925, in bed at his home on 1756 North Tamarind Street. Martha, then 15 years old, with her mother and sister, had taken a short trip to New York City. Martha Sleeper is a direct descendant of Edward Akass, who emigrated to the USA from England around 1858.
Martha Sleeper married Cree Stelling, and they made their home on the bluff at Lucy Creek in Beaufort, SC; they had no children.
Dancer who studied ballet
She studied dancing for five years with the Russian ballet master, Louis H. Chalif, in his New York dancing studio. Her first public exhibitions were at Carnegie Hall at his class exhibitions. One of her dancing photos was sent to an uncle in Los Angeles, California. He framed and displayed it on a wall of his home. The home was sold to Emory Johnson and his mother, Emily Johnson. Emily wrote The Mail Man and recommended Martha Sleeper for a part in films after noticing the teenager's photo.
In 1926, aged 16, the young actress wrote and published a book entitled Hollywood Be Thy Name. She wrote the story while doing screen work and performing four hours of school work daily. The volume was a romance of work, adventure, and success in Hollywood.
Martha Sleeper's film career began in 1923 and continued until 1945. Her early comedy efforts with Hal Roach include The Mailman (1923), The Racing Kid (1924), Trailing Trouble (1924), Please, Teacher! (1924), A Ten Minute Egg (1924), Sweet Daddy (1924), and Outdoor Pajamas (1924). She also appeared in a handful of silent Our Gang shorts including: Better Movies (1925), Baby Clothes (1926) and Thundering Fleas (1926),and also had a small role in a Laurel and Hardy short The Chimp (1932). Martha's final movies were mainly in the late 1930s, concluding with a small role in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945).
After achieving prominence on the New York stage, Sleeper left abruptly in 1949. She sailed from New York on a 40-foot schooner. Her destination was the Virgin Islands and a vacation with her husband. However, when she reached Puerto Rico she fell in love with the island and opened a hand-made clothing shop there in 1950. Sleeper sewed native dresses in San Juan and resolved never to return to the US mainland.
Before World War II, Sleeper designed jewelry, selling many of her '"Martha Sleeper Creations" to stores in neighboring islands and on the United States mainland.
Sleeper died in Bayview Nursing Home in Beaufort, South Carolina on March 25, 1983, survived by her husband. She had swum in her backyard pool daily until she became too ill .
Year of birth
Many sources cite 1907 as Sleeper's year of birth, but this appears to be incorrect. She was born just after the 1910 census was taken, and a "Martha Sleeper" does not appear in 1910 census records; however, a "Martha Sleeper" is listed as 9 years old in the 1920 census and 19 years old in the 1930 census. In addition, the Social Security Death Index records the date of birth of a "Martha Stelling" (Sleeper's third husband's surname) who died in March 1983 in Beaufort County, South Carolina (as Sleeper did), as June 24, 1910. This, too, confirms the inaccuracy of sources listing 1907 as the year of her birth, as does Sleeper's 1983 New York Times obituary, entitled "Martha Sleeper Is Dead At 72."
|1924||The Racing Kid|
|A Ten-Minute Egg||Mrs. Dugan|
|Seeing Nellie Home|
|Should Landlords Live?|
|Too Many Mammas||The Apache Dancer|
|Every Man for Himself||Lady with rings around her eyes|
|The Royal Razz|
|1925||The Rat's Knuckles||Flirty McFickle|
|Plain and Fancy Girls|
|Bad Boy||Jimmie's Girl Friend|
|Are Husbands Necessary?|
|Big Red Riding Hood||The Maid, Book Store Clerk|
|Sherlock Sleuth||Hotel Operator|
|Innocent Husbands||Girl at Party||(uncredited)|
|Tame Men and Wild Women|
|There Goes the Bride|
|Better Movies||Teenaged 'Vamp'|
|Should Sailors Marry?||Smyrna|
|1926||A Punch in the Nose|
|What's the World Coming To?||Butler|
|Your Husband's Past|
|Baby Clothes||Leggy Lady|
|Mum's the World||The Nervous Little Girl|
|Say It with Babies||Hector's Wife|
|Don Key (Son of Burro)||Maid|
|Long Fliv the King||Princess Helga of Thermosa|
|Never Too Old|
|Along Came Auntie||Marie, the Maid|
|The Merry Widower||(unconfirmed)|
|Crazy Like a Fox||The Bride|
|Should Husbands Pay?||His Wife|
|Bromo and Juliet||Bit Role||(uncredited)|
|Wise Guys Prefer Brunettes|
|1927||The Honorable Mr. Buggs||The Fiancée|
|Jewish Prudence||Rachel Gimplewart|
|The Way of All Pants||(uncredited)
|Love 'Em and Feed 'Em||Martha, a stenographer|
|1928||Pass the Gravy||Daughter|
|Should Tall Men Marry?||Martha Skittle|
|Skinner's Big Idea||Dorothy|
|The Little Yellow House||Emmy Milburn|
|Taxi 13||Flora Mactavish|
|1929||The Air Legion||Sally|
|The Voice of the Storm||Ruth|
|1930||Our Blushing Brides||Evelyn Woodforth|
|Madam Satan||Fish Girl|
|1931||Girls Demand Excitement||Harriet Mundy|
|Ten Cents a Dance||Nancy Clark|
|A Tailor Made Man||Corrine|
|Confessions of a Co-Ed||Lucille|
|The Chimp||Landlord's wife Ethel||(uncredited)|
|Rasputin and the Empress||(uncredited)|
|1933||The Secret of Madame Blanche||Chorus Girl Who Hears 'My Country Tis of Thee'||(uncredited)|
|Midnight Mary||Barbara Loring Mannering|
|Bombshell||Lola's Hair Stylist||(uncredited)|
|Broken Dreams||Martha Morley|
|Hollywood Party||Show Girl||(uncredited)|
|West of the Pecos||Ril Lambeth|
|1935||Tomorrow's Youth||Mrs. Hall|
|Great God Gold||Marcia Harper|
|The Scoundrel||Julia Vivian|
|Two Sinners||Elsie Summerstone|
|1936||Rhythm on the Range||Constance|
|Four Days' Wonder||Nancy Fairbrother|
|1945||The Bells of St. Mary's||Mary Gallagher, Patsy's mother|
- Who Was Who in the Theatre: 1912-1976 vol.4 Q-Z p.2206; compiled from editions originally published annually by John Parker; this 1976 version by Gale Research
- SSDI search engine
- "Mary Sleeper Is Dead At 72," New York Times Obituary, April 7, 1983
- Hayward Daily Review, Silent Film Dream Gal Found in Puerto Rico, May 27, 1955, Page 24.
- Los Angeles Times, Her Youth No Bar To Mature Roles, May 10, 1925, Page 18.
- Los Angeles Times, Keith-Orpheum Former Official Succumbs Here, September 2, 1925, Page A3.
- Los Angeles Times, Here and There, October 29, 1926, Page A8.
- Oakland Tribune, Comedienne Writes, Sunday, October 31, 1926, Page W3.