Lori Martin (born April 18, 1947, Glendale, California) is an American actress, born Dawn Catherine Menzer. She was born at 10:02 a.m., and four minutes later, her fraternal twin sister, Doree, arrived. As Martin weighed only 5 pounds and measured just 18 inches at birth, she spent the first few weeks of her life in an incubator, during which time her survival was somewhat doubtful. Her father was Russell C. Menzer (1916-1999), an M-G-M and Warner Brothers commercial artist and art director. She has a younger brother, Stephen, and an older sister, Jean.
When she was six years old, her mother took her to an agent who specialized in child actors and actresses, thinking that performing might be a healthy outlet for her. When later asked what inspired her to be an actress, Martin said that, "the best time in my life was when I was about four. Doree and I had to go live with my aunt in Ponca City, Okla. My mother got sick and Daddy had to go to work every day, so we couldn't stay here. I didn't want to come back. I cried and cried. That was when I decided, if I had to come back, I'd be an actress. I started getting parts immediately and my little brother was signed by the same agent, but he lacked my interest in acting. I just loved it." Martin auditioned so well that her parents soon allowed her to attend them by herself. Her mother recalled that "I'll never forget the first interview she went on. It was for a Chrysler commercial, and my car broke down about six blocks from the studio. I had to stay with the car, but Lori was all for going on in herself. She got out of the car, walked six blocks, found the right office, told the receptionist who she was, went in for her interview and got the job. Since then I've usually waited outside in the car and she's handled everything herself."
As well as appearing in several commercials, including one for which her father designed the set and a Milky Way commercial, she won parts in the films Machine Gun Kelly (1958), The FBI Story (1959), and Cash McCall (1959). She also appeared in several TV shows including Medic, Wagon Train, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Leave It to Beaver, and in Whirlybirds. She also appeared on the NBC interview program Here's Hollywood.
At the age of 12, Martin was the 975th young hopeful to be auditioned for the role of Velvet Brown in the NBC TV version of National Velvet, the role for which she is best remembered. After being included in the final three, she was interviewed a further ten times before winning the part. Ann Doran played her mother, Martha Brown. When she won the role, her name was changed from Dawn Menzer to "Lori Martin". On the change of name, Martin later said that, "I didn't like the name Lori at first. But I like it now. The reason I like it now is I've been brainwashed!" A natural blonde, one of the reasons why Martin won the National Velvet role was because when her hair was dyed black, many thought Lori had a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor at the same age when Taylor starred in the 1944 film version. According to the show's producers, Martin won the role because "she looks like Elizabeth Taylor and is just as good an actress as Elizabeth Taylor was at 12. She is also, obviously, small enough for the role. And of all those kids, she was the one of them who wanted it the most." Indeed, Martin later said that she "wanted the part so bad I couldn't sleep." Whilst filming the TV show, Martin recalls that "one day someone told me that Elizabeth Taylor was going to be in the Thalberg Building. I ran right over hoping to see her and caught a glimpse just as she left. She was just so beautiful! I guess I was pretty at that age, but never anything like her!" At the time she was filming the series, Lori said that “I hope Elizabeth Taylor likes me in the series. I saw her in the movie before I ever got the part and I thought she was wonderful!'
In the National Velvet TV series, Velvet Brown (played by Martin) lives on a dairy farm with her parents, Martha and Herbert, an ex-jockey, Mi Taylor, her brother Donald, and her sister Edwina (who had a boyfriend called Teddy). Velvet owned a thoroughbred stallion named King which she hoped would one day run in the Grand National Steeplechase. The show ran for 54 episodes between 1960 and 1962 (at 8 pm on Sunday evenings) and critics and audiences were extravagant in their praise for Martin’s performances. The show was axed by NBC in 1962 due to the enormous popularity of the competing CBS show, The Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1962, Martin won the role of Nancy Bowden in the film Cape Fear which also starred Gregory Peck, Polly Bergen, and Robert Mitchum. In the film, Max Cady (Mitchum) re-enters the life of a small town lawyer, Sam Bowden (Peck). Eight years earlier, Cady was jailed after Bowden testified that he attacked a young woman. Now out of jail, Cady begins to terrorize Bowden and his family in revenge for his imprisonment, targeting Bowden's daughter Nancy (Martin) in particular. Ultimately, as Cady is fully intent on murdering the entire family and raping its female members in the process, Sam Bowden is left with no option but to try and trap and kill Cady. However, after subduing Cady after a brutal fight, Bowden spares his life knowing that life imprisonment for Cady would be a fate worse than death. Martin later said that she delivered her best performance in her role as Nancy.
Lori jumped on the singing teen idol bandwagon and released her only single on Bob Keane's legendary Del-Fi Records. Recorded at Radio Recorders in Hollywood in September 1963, the girl group-styled, "The House of the Boy I Love", backed with "Mine 'Til Monday" (Del Fi 4201), was mistakenly released with songwriting credits given to the successful team of Barry Mann and Cythia Weil when in fact it was produced by Barry Mann and written by lesser known hit-man, Sylvester Brandford. Brandford's claim to fame was his composition of "Tears On My Pillow" which was a #4 hit in 1958 for Little Anthony & The Imperials. Although Lori's only record went nowhere fast, it has now become quite collectable and sought after among girl group record collectors.
After Cape Fear, Martin appeared in TV shows such as Slattery's People, Sam Benedict, Breaking Point, Please Don't Eat The Daisies and My Three Sons. She also won roles in the films, The Chase (1966) and The Angry Breed (1968).
During the early 1970s, Martin decided to put her acting career on hold. She later recalled that her reasoning behind her decision was that "I'd been in the business long enough to know I'd been stereotyped. My mother was in poor health and I felt I had worked from such an early age I could take some time off and get a college education." A few years later, she tried to reactivate her career but unfortunately she became "discouraged by the many changes in casting and techniques".
Martin later married, has a son, and lives in Westlake Village, California. She occasionally attends autograph signings. In an article which was written at the height of her fame, she was quoted as saying that what she wanted to be when she grew up was "normal". Martin later recalled after her acting career had finished that it "was probably an accurate quote because that's what I wanted and as it turns out, that's what I am."