Born Margaret Teresa Yvonne Reed in Butte, Montana, in 1916, Martha began as a singer and comedy performer early in her life. She was born backstage at a local vaudeville theatre in Butte, Montana where her Irish immigrant parents, Peter Reed and Maybelle Hooper, were performing as Reed and Hooper. Two days after Martha was born, her mother was back doing the act, and Martha began performing in the act when she was three years old. She performed with her brother, Bud, and soon the two children became such a highlight that the act was renamed Margie and Bud. She continued performing from that point on and once attended the Professional Children's School in New York City. Her formal schooling, however, was so minimal and only got as far as the fifth grade. Often she had to have scripts and other written documents read to her by others.
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