Born in 1905 to Mr. and Mrs. Henry L. Canty, Marietta performed on Broadway and the silver screen for 13 years, between 1942 and 1956, in such films as Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Father of the Bride (1950). Besides theater and film, Canty also worked in radio and television, on shows like the “Beaulah Show” with Hattie McDaniel and the controversial sitcom “Amos n’ Andy”.
Marietta’s acting roots began in the capital city, where she performed with the Charles S. Gilpin Dramatic Club (also known as the Charles Gilpin Players) in such plays as “In Abraham’s Bosom” (1930).
Canty auditioned for the Hall Johnson Choir in New York City, where she won a role in “Run Lil’ Children” (1933), thanks to the support of childhood friend and fellow Hartford native Harold Taylor.
Marietta’s career contained many shining moments, one of which was her Broadway role in “Co-Respondent Unknown” (1936), a comedy on New York divorce laws, in which she played a “precocious” domestic. She rejoiced in the fact that she was in a “legitimate Broadway show”. By 1940, she became the first Black woman to appear on a Miami stage when she performed Ayn Rand’s “The Night of January 16th” at Hotel Miami Beach.
After retiring to Hartford from Hollywood by 1956, Canty was active in civic duties through the rest of her life, which included serving as director of the N.E. Annual Conference of the A.M.E. Zion Church from 1956-1983. Marietta also served as president of the Hartford chapter of the National Conference of Negro Women, as officer in organizations such as the NAACP and the YWCA, and as member of the first Board of Directors of the Hartford Urban League.
Canty was clearly honored to be Connecticut bred, having reasoned with Hollywood that her fast talking was because she was from “New England after all”. Upon meeting and conversing with Katharine Hepburn in California about how she liked the sunshine state, she remarked that she preferred Connecticut. Hepburn replied back, “I would have thought something was wrong with you if you didn’t prefer Connecticut”. Spoken like a true Nutmegger.
Sierra Dixon is a Research & Collections Associate at the Connecticut Historical Society.