In the early morning hours of Sunday May 2, 1982 Martha Braun launched herself off the O’Donnell Bridge onto the jagged rocks below. She was 54-years-old.
It was a sad ending to a life that started with a great deal of promise, but was tarnished by a short, controversial marriage.
Martha Braun, born in 1928, was the only daughter of Carl and Elizabeth Braun. The Brauns owned and operated the famed Commodore Ballroom and were at one time part owners of Canobie Lake Park; they also operated the ballroom at Lakeview Park in Dracut.
On September 25, 1947 Sun columnist Barbara Brown wrote of the “exciting career of talented Martha Braun” a 19-year-old beauty who had “garnered acclaim galore since being spotted at a Yale football game by a photographer from one of the glossy magazines.”
A graduate of Rogers Hall, the society girl attended finishing school at the Semple School, followed by the Academie Moderne and the Grace Downs Hollywood Modeling School in NYC.
Boasting “perfect” measurements of a 35” bust, 25” waist and 36” hips, young Martha quickly became sought-after for modeling jobs in New York and was named “Miss Valentine 1948,” beating out 17 other girls.
“She’s made several recordings, has sung at some of the plusher nightspots in Gotham and is being coached by two notables in the entertainment world, whose efforts have built some of the brighter lights in that field,” wrote Brown. “This is why girls leave home, this kind of life with its overtones of champagne and caviar. But, it isn’t the way it reads. Martha takes her career seriously and this being so she gets a goodly amount of shut-eye nightly. No night-club beat for her, no cocktail chatter, either. It’s a rough ground to the top and a girl has got to conserve her talents.”
By 1949 word came back to Lowell that the hometown gal, who had won several small television and radio parts, had scored a screen test with 20th Century Fox; the Sun ran a photo of her auditioning for actor/producer Burgess Meredith (you may know better know him as the Penguin from the 1960’s Batman series, or as Rocky Balboa’s trainer Mickey in the Rocky films)
“No Merman or Grable yet, but give the girl a chance,” stated an article in the Sun. “Come a few years or less and the name of Braun may be as familiar to the nation as her dad’s is to Lowell. At least that’s the opinions of the experts in New York and how many times do they miss?”
Then . . . 21-year-old Martha Braun met 34-year-old Billy Daniels, a well-known crooner in 52nd Street jazz spots in New York City.
It was love.
The problem? It was 1949 and he was black, or as all of the news accounts pointed out she was a “wealthy white socialite” and he was a “negro jazz singer.”
When her mother caught wind of the romance in late 1949 she went to New York to try to “cool” it.
“Martha was terribly in love with the man but, I told her she should gravely consider her future,” Mrs. Braun later told the Sun.
Mrs. Braun convinced Martha to return with her to Lowell. She urged her to take a trip around the world to consider whether what she had with Daniels really was love and what she wanted to do.
After a month in Lowell, Martha left a note for her parents at the family home at 140 Clark Rd., stating she did not want to be apart from Billy, and eloped to Weehawken, New Jersey. She called her mother at 2 a.m. the following morning to ask for forgiveness.
“Daniels has a complexion lighter than most South Americans. Martha said he was part Indian, part French and Spanish and might have a trace of some other nationality in him.”
She described her new son-in-law as “suave” in appearance and “cosmopolitan” in makeup.
“While this wasn’t what we had planned for our daughter it is her life,” Mrs. Braun said. “If love is stronger than family influence we can’t stand in her way”
By August 1953, the marriage was over. Martha Braun announced when Billy returned from Europe they would divorce.
“It’s incompatibility; he’s not for me,” she said.
The divorce was finalized the following February, at which time, Martha garnered attention by penning a piece for Confidential magazine titled “My Life with Billy Daniels,” which emphatically stated the color of his skin had no bearing on the failure of their marriage.
“The feeling we had for each other was trampled to death by other women – white women,” she wrote. “They chased him individually and in squads, coyly and with the brazen candor of nymphomaniacs.”
Following the divorce, Martha returned to Lowell; her show business career dead.
In 1960, she married James McGrath, but that marriage too was short-lived.
She dealt with bouts of severe depression. In 1970, 41-year-old Martha was arrested on Route 110 in Chelmsford and charged with driving under the influence and drunkenness, for which she paid $110 in fines.
In 1976, she and her then-boyfriend were accused of assaulting a woman on Fletcher Street; those charges were later dropped.
Over the years, Martha worked at Raytheon, the Sun and as a clerk /typist in the city’s CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) program.
On May 2, 1982, Martha left a note in the kitchen of her home at 140 Clark Rd. for her roommate, Carol Beauregard; in it she expressed her depression, but did not mention suicide. However, she left her mother’s diamonds rings on top of the note.
Just before noon, her body was discovered washed up on the shore behind the Franco American School by Mark Lemieux, a kid throwing rocks into the river.
“I think she was trying to save herself after she jumped. It looked like she tried to swim to safety” Dr. John Karbowniczak county medical examiner stated after examining the scene. “But there’s no mystery to this one; it’s a suicide and she jumped from the bridge.”
Beauregard told the Sun Martha had been suffering from terminal cancer, had undergone two mastectomies and was left penniless.
“For Billy Daniels – the superstar black blues singer – it was a day in which he took the second in a string of lovely white women as his temporary bride,” Landrigan wrote. “But for Martha Braun, that wedding day in New York brought a budding career to a grinding halt, turned close hometown friends and family against her and aided in her eventual financial ruin.”
By the time of their deaths in the early 1970’s, her parents had forgiven Martha for the controversial nuptials, but many others in Lowell’s social circles never did. She and her brother Carl only reconciled a few years before her death.
Beautiful, talented Martha Braun, once the toast of the town, was shunned when she returned to Lowell following the divorce and never regained her popularity or the acceptance of her hometown friends.