Ralph G. Martin, a Best-Selling Biographer, Dies at 92

January 14, 2013 | Students

By MARGALIT FOX

January 13, 2013

Ralph G. Martin, a best-selling author of political and celebrity biographies whose subjects included the Kennedys, Golda Meir and Winston Churchill’s mother, died on Wednesday in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. He was 92.

His family confirmed the death.

The author or co-author of some 30 books, Mr. Martin was perhaps best known for “Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill,” a two-volume biography of Winston Churchill’s beautiful American-born mother, the former Jennie Jerome.

Volume 1, published in 1969 and further subtitled “The Romantic Years, 1854-1895,” takes its subject from her opulent girlhood (her father was a New York financier said to be worth $10 million) through the death of her first husband, Lord Randolph Churchill. It spent more than 30 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Mr. Martin’s other best-selling titles include Volume 2 of “Jennie,” “The Dramatic Years, 1895-1921,” published in 1971; “The Woman He Loved” (1974), about King Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson; “A Hero for Our Time” (1983), about John F. Kennedy; and “Charles & Diana” (1985).

Ralph Martin Goldberg was born in Chicago on March 4, 1920, and moved with his family to Brooklyn when he was 8; he took the name Ralph G. Martin as a young man.

He studied at the City College of New York before earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1941.

After graduating, young Mr. Martin hitchhiked around the country, fetching up in Brigham City, Utah, where he took a job on the local paper, The Box Elder News Journal, as the managing editor, chief reporter, society reporter, women’s page editor and rewrite man. The vacancy (it was all one job) had arisen after the previous jobholder was hospitalized; when he died, the next day, Mr. Martin’s first assignment was to write his obituary.

Enlisting in the Army at the start of World War II, Mr. Martin was a combat correspondent in Europe for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes and later for Yank, the Army’s weekly magazine.

In the 1940s and ’50s he held editorial positions at magazines including The New Republic, Newsweek and House Beautiful, where he was executive editor. He was also a member of Adlai E. Stevenson’s presidential campaign staff in 1952 and 1956.

A former resident of Westport, Conn., Mr. Martin is survived by his wife, Marjorie Pastel Martin, whom he married in 1944 in a ceremony conducted by New York’s mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia. (Mr. Martin had previously interviewed La Guardia for Yank.)

Also surviving are three children, Elizabeth Martin Greenbaum, Tina Martin and Maurice Martin; a sister, Naomi Van Clair; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Martin’s other books include “Ballots & Bandwagons” (1964), a study of presidential nominating conventions; “Golda: Golda Meir, the Romantic Years” (1988); “Henry and Clare: An Intimate Portrait of the Luces” (1991); and “Seeds of Destruction: Joe Kennedy and His Sons” (1995).

Originally published by The New York Times