In an ironic twist, I had stumbled across an interview with Bette Davis and this quote caught my attention. I posted it on Facebook and thought about the many friends of mine in the theatrical community that these words applied to — none more so than the fabulous Marsha Carlton who passed away on July 4. Larger than life barely describes the powerhouse singer and talented actor that Marsha inhabited. She leaves a void that will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill. The outpouring of condolences and kind words has been huge, but not surprising.
I called her “Cousin Marsha” and I was “Cousin Randy” to her and her family for almost four decades. We performed together first at Risky Business cabaret, where she walked into an audition looking every bit the La Porte homemaker and proceeded to blow the roof off the building with a voice that was as unique as she was. We would share many stages, including the Comedy Workshop, and countless cabaret theaters as part of a trio called “Hot, Fat and Sassy.” We loved to be asked, “Which one are you?” To which our standard reply was, “Guess which one I’m not!” We would both host karaoke and she developed a staunch and loyal following that referred to her as “Grandma.” She always had time and patience for them (a sharp contrast to my “take no prisoners” approach to too many bad singers with egos and some good singers with egos!)
When Marsha wasn’t hosting karaoke, she performed in multiple shows with Theatre Under the Stars and in touring productions, working with and befriending major stars like Juliet Prowse, Tammy Grimes, and Maxine Andrews, and these relationships lasted long past the run of any given show. If she ever made an enemy, I never saw it and her acceptance of people from all walks and persuasions attested to that.
She embraced the LGBTQ community and was a fixture in countless fundraisers during the AIDS epidemic and continuing until her health issues made it impossible — which was rare. She epitomized the adage, “the show must go on,” often performing when she should have been resting or recovering. When getting around became difficult, she arrived in a wheelchair, but never let it diminish her ability to belt out a song or two, or a dozen! If there was something she loved more, I never witnessed it.
She was the “darling” of so many groups and organizations over the years including The Rheingolds, a social group that followed her from the Risky Business days and for years afterward; Miss Camp America; The Diana Foundation; EPAH, and many more. She was the first onstage anytime dollars were raised for anyone in need.
I was fortunate enough to witness her determination and spirit last June when, for her birthday, her family gave a party at the nursing home where she was residing. Looking as vibrant as always, she greeted everyone and even sang a song or two accompanied by long time partners, Clay Howell and Jerry Atwood. I could not have imagined that a year later she would be gone. There will be a void for many that will be hard to fill. I gifted her with a photo album with treasured memories, as did her family. There were photos from her days as a beauty queen and my favorite, one of her in full baton-twirling regalia. It brought to mind the countless times I saw her produce that trusty baton and defy age with her prowess. Once, at one of my birthday celebrations, we moved outside and under a streetlamp to watch as she performed, ending with a 20-foot toss in the air, a double spin, and an unbelievable catch!
That was Marsha — unbelievable at times — as an entertainer and as a human being to whom “larger than life” was preferred over “sitting on a street corner” waiting on real life.
Now she is gone, but I imagine her voice ringing out in a heavenly choir, possibly to the chagrin of the other angelic voices. I am heartened that she is reunited with her mother and her son. Rest in peace, Cousin.