David N. Martin 1898-1958

David Martin

David N. Martin

The son of a commercial traveller, David Nathaniel Martin was born in Perth on 15 August 1898.

In 1919 he became publicity manager for Paramount; the following year he was appointed Universal Pictures’ NSW manager.

In 1933 he formed his own company, Imperial Theatres Ltd, and leased the grubby Rialto cinema in Pitt Street.

Martin turned his attention to an even more innovative project: the Minerva Centre in Kings Cross.

 

The Billy Rose of Australia

In 1954, to mark David N. Martin’s first 10 year’s at the helm of the Tivoli Circuit, Frank Doherty profiled him in the Melbourne Argus: ‘Like the pint-sized American impresario Billy Rose, David N. Martin thinks “big”. He will pay fabulous salaries to overseas artists whom he considers the Australian public will like. Like any man who has risen to the top, David N. Martin has not gone through life without his detractors. To some he is not Mr Martin, but Mr Martinet. He works hard, but he expects those who work for him to work hard, too. But walk with him through his theatres when no show or rehearsal is going on, and you will find he knows every chorus girl, every electrician, carpenter, property man, wardrobe assistant, box office ticket seller and usherette by name. He never forgets one. And even if he is dog-tired from a rushed air trip he is the perfect host.’

The son of a commercial traveller, David Nathaniel Martin was born in Perth on 15 August 1898. Like many other energetic youngsters of his time he was attracted to the Young Australia League, with their maxim, ‘education through travel’. In 1911 Martin left school to tour the world for eleven months with a party of YAL boys. Eventually he became the League’s general secretary, then, after a brief period in the Army, he moved to Sydney.

Martin began his show business career arranging advertising for Waddington’s cinema circuit. In 1919 he became publicity manager for Paramount; the following year he was appointed Universal Pictures’ NSW manager. In 1933 he formed his own company, Imperial Theatres Ltd, and leased the grubby Rialto cinema in Pitt Street. Transformed by architect C. Bruce Dellit into the luxurious, stylish, art moderne Liberty, Martin reopened it in March 1934 with a revolutionary screening policy: only two shows a day, at the highest ticket prices in town. With Martin’s clever promotions and careful programming, the Liberty flourished. Eventually, in 1937, it was taken over by MGM as a prestige showcase.

Martin turned his attention to an even more innovative project: the Minerva Centre in Kings Cross. This was designed to give Sydney two much-needed live theatres. The city had struggled with just the Royal and the Tivoli, while Melbourne had the luxury of five: His Majesty’s, the Comedy, the King’s, the Princess and the Tivoli. The larger of Martin’s proposed theatres was to be the Paradise, a Sydney version of New York’s Radio City Music Hall, but it was never built; the site was eventually developed as the Rex Hotel and the Fitzroy Gardens. The smaller theatre, the Minerva in nearby Orwell Street, was intended mainly for drama. It was designed in stylish Art Deco by C. Bruce Dellit in association with Guy Crick and Bruce Furse, with interiors by Dudley Ward. In an adjacent complex were a café, a nightclub, offices and flats.

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Biographical references

Frank Doherty: ‘David N. Martin’, in The Argus, 28 August 1954
Martha Routledge: ‘David Nathaniel Martin’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 15. Melbourne University Press
Frank Van Straten: ‘David N. Martin: World’s Best Variety’, in Tivoli Follies, Unpublished manuscript, 1999
Frank Van Straten: Tivoli, Lothian Books, 2003
John West: ‘David N. Martin’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995