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"Martha Brooks" was the primary stage name of broadcaster Irma Lemke (1908-1999) during her career at WGY in Schenectady, NY. She began working at the station in 1931, and her "Martha Brooks Show" aired from 1937 to 1971. In the late 1930's she became a television pioneer as well, as she wrote, produced, and often starred in live, on-air productions over WGY's television station, WRGB-TV. The Martha Brooks papers span 1924 to 1991 and contain correspondence, speeches, scripts and short stories, clippings, station publications, audiotapes, and film, but mainly photos from many of her early TV productions.
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The Martha Brooks Papers span the years 1924 to 1991, with the bulk of the material dated between 1940 and 1960. This collection includes photos (approximately 300), correspondence, speeches, scripts and short stories, certificates, clippings, station publications, station program schedules, audio tape, film, framed objects, personal items like jewelry, and other items.
Martha Brooks (nee Irma Lemke Forman) (1908-1999) was an American broadcast producer and on-air personality at station WGY-Radio and WGY-TV in Schenectady, NY from 1931 to 1971.
Born on April 25th in Binghamton, NY, Irma Lemke was a 1925 graduate of Albany High School, where she was active in theatrics, and, after high school, attended Emerson College in Boston where she majored in British literature.
Her first job out of college was with the Jenkins Television Company in Jersey City. It is believed she was the world's first television program director, male or female. That ended however in 1931 when the US Communications Commission ruled that television was not yet ready for commercial use. Still, such primitive conditions did not prevent Brooks from producing live 24-hour coverage of the opening of the Lincoln Highway, a telecast which featured Ruth Etting, Ethel Barrymore and vacuum tube inventor Lee DeForest.
Brooks joined WGY radio in 1931. She played a small role on a Christmas Eve program. Other acting roles at the station quickly followed including playing the role of "Miss Anne" on "Frontier Days" and on the East Coast version of "One Man's Family," prior to that show's coast-to-coast transmission. In time, Brooks began to write and produce programs along with starring in them. She wrote, directed and performed in "The Mister and the Misses" with Gene O'Haire, and she worked on the series "The FBI in Action," which ran from 1945 to 1955. Typical of the time, Brooks often worked under various other professional names; among them: Alice Lee Underwood, Joan Davis, and Sarada Gray.
In the late 1930s, the station asked her to host its female-oriented, consumer affairs show "Market Basket". . . And to change her name one more time, this time to something with the same initials as the program. Thus was born "Martha Brooks."
Brooks's/Lemke's legendary morning radio talk show, "The Martha Brooks Show" began on the air in 1937 and would endure for 34 years. Originally the program's content was typical "women's news" of the era--fashion tips, interior design, cooking, etc. But, with time, Brooks expanded the perimeters of her program and would bring to the airwaves thoughtful discussion on such once taboo subjects as marital strife, childbirth, and menopause. Brooks said of her program's progression, "I was looking around for something more serious than topics like interior decorating and household hints. I felt that the listening audience of this day and age might appreciate maturity in their programming."
In 1945, Brooks married David Boris Kroman, an area math teacher. Shortly thereafter, the couple took to the air with a morning program, "Breakfast with the Brooks." Kroman would later helm a highly-viewed academic quiz show over WGY-TV.
Just as WGY had been a pioneering force in radio broadcast, so too would they in television.
WRGB-TV began experimental broadcasts in 1928. In the early 1940s over WRGB, Brooks starred in the station's--and some believe the nation's--first commercially-sponsored program, "Keeping Your Home Shipshape." For it, Brooks assumed another alias, Mrs. Ima Fixit, and starred on the program opposite a puppet created by Joe Owens.
Other early WRGB productions in which Brooks appeared included full presentations of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "The Sorcerer," and "Pinafore." As one of the few people on the planet to know anything about television, Brooks often found herself called upon to try to educate and train others about the new medium. New York agencies frequently sent up famous names so that Martha could put them through their TV pacings.
Throughout it all, Martha Brooks remained on radio creating documentaries like "Portrait of a City" and doing her daily talk show, which over the years would feature interviews with the likes of Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Imogene Coca, Estelle Winwood, Lillian Roth, Faye Emerson, Gene Autry, Beatrice Lillie, Eva Gabor, Gloria Swanson, Diana Barrymore, Gertrude Berg, Rudy Vallee, Uta Hagen, Sir Cedric Hardwick, Ed Begley, Maragret Truman, Thomas E. Dewey, and others.
Martha Brooks retired from the air in 1971. She died in 1999.
Organized as thirteen series:
The Martha Brooks papers were donated to the Library of American Broadcasting, part of the University of Maryland Libraries, by Jane Barton, a friend of Brooks, in May of 1999.
Part of the Special Collections and University Archives