Celebrity baby name drama from the 1940s

Mary Martin and daughter Heller, circa 1954.
Mary Martin and daughter Heller, circa 1954. © Sony

Broadway star Mary Martin welcomed a daughter on November 4, 1941. The baby was named Mary Heller. When Martin talked to the press about the newborn, though, she left out the name Mary and only mentioned the name Heller.

The actress-mother said they would name the child Heller.

“Down in Texas,” she explained, “Heller means a pert, vivacious youngster.”

One reporter decided to stir up trouble by asking residents of Weatherford, Texas — Mary Martin’s hometown — how they felt about the name Heller. The article was titled, in part, “Texas Town Shocked.”

[Mrs. Martin] announced immediately that she and her husband, Richard Halliday, would name her “Heller” because “that’s what folks in Weatherford call a particularly pert and vivacious girl.”

But the unanimous–and anonymous–consensus here was:

“Why I never heard the likes of that. Little girls aren’t called Heller in Weatherford.”

More anonymous quotes from Weatherford residents:

(1) “A name like that might do in Hollywood but never in Weatherford. We’re too conservative and too conventional.”

(2) “Mary was a little lady and a well-mannered child, certainly not a little devil and I don’t know where she could have gotten an idea like that.”

(3) “I think it’s not a very nice name for a girl to have.”

(4) “It’s probably just one of Mary’s passing whims. When the baby is christened, I’ll bet it will be as Mary and not as Heller.”

Oh, the drama!

The person who offered that last quote was correct, technically, but Mary Heller — who went on to play the role of Liza in Peter Pan with her mother several times — always went by the name Heller.

(In a People article from the early ’80s, Mary Martin altered her story on the origin of Heller. She said the name was inspired by the fact that Heller “kicked like mad” before she was born.)


  • Faber, Nancy. “Mary Martin.” People 23 Nov. 1981.
  • “Mary Martin Names Daughter ‘Heller;’ Texas Town Shocked.” Reading Eagle 5 Nov. 1941: 14.
  • “Mary Will Name Baby “Heller.”” St. Petersburg Times 5 Nov. 1941: 13.

Image: Peter Pan – Original Broadway Cast 1954

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