Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Billy Rose's Jumbo
Born to a peripatetic vaudeville couple, Maggie Reed joined her parents' act as soon as she learned to walk, stopping the show with an energetic rendition of "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate." After touring in a double act with her brother Bud, she made her Broadway debut in the 1934 revue Calling All Stars, where she was billed for the first time as Martha Raye (at first claiming that she chose the name out of a phone book, she later affirmed that it had been involuntarily foisted upon her by "some idiot" and insisted -- nay, demanded -- that her friends call her Maggie). While appearing as a singer/comedienne at Hollywood's Trocadero, she was selected to appear in Paramount's Rhythm on the Range (1936), in which she introduced her trademark song, "Mr. Paganini."
For the next four years she was Paramount's favorite soubrette, overemphasizing her big mouth and gorgeous legs in a series of zany comedy roles. She also proved to be a convincing romantic lead for Bob Hope (a lifelong friend) in such films as Give Me a Sailor (1938) and Never Say Die (1939). Dropped by Paramount in 1940, she moved to Universal, where she was seen to good advantage in The Boys From Syracuse (1940), Abbott and Costello's Keep 'Em Flying (in a dual role in 1941), and Olsen and Johnson's Hellzapoppin' (1941); during this period she also returned to Broadway, co-starring with Al Jolson (with whom she'd previously appeared on radio) in Hold On to Your Hats. During WWII, Raye and her pals Carole Landis, Kay Francis, and Mitzi Mayfair formed a U.S.O. troupe, performing tirelessly under incredibly difficult and dangerous conditions before thousands of enthusiastic G.I.s; the four actresses later starred in a fictionalized retelling of this experience, Four Jills in a Jeep (1944).