Calabi Gallery

Featuring an Eclectic Array of Primarily 20th Century Artwork

Marta Becket

The Spirit of Amargosa by Marta Becket, 1999 – NOT FOR SALE

Marta Becket was born in 1925 in New York. As her father was a newspaper reporter, she was introduced to the arts at an early age, attending the best opera, ballet, and theater around. By the time she was three years old, she had developed a strong desire to dance. When she was six she moved briefly to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with her mother, and then to Philadelphia where she began developing as an artist under the guidance of Antonio Cortizas. By the time she was twelve she returned to New York, where she spent her high school years ballet dancing at Washington Irving High School. While amazing her dance teachers with her natural talent, she also studied piano and art.

Becket continued to dance everywhere from nightclubs to large theater restaurants. She danced in the Corps de Ballet at Radio City Music Hall, and in the 1946 revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical Showboat at the Ziegfeld Theater. She played in the George Abbott and Herb Ross musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn staring Shirley Booth, at the Alvin Theater. Her second Abbott musical, Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell, was set to the music of Leonard Bernstein. Simultaneously, she illustrated two books for Doubleday Publishers, George Balanchine’s Stories of the Great Ballets, and another by Walter Terry.

Despite her success, Becket wanted to dance her own dances, design her own costumes, and create her own show. After Wonderful Town closed, the Broadway gypsy began a repertoire of her own choreography in 1954, The Mirror, The Carpet, and The Lemon, which remained in her routine until 1979. During the production of her repertoire, she secured a job in a window display studio designing sets for department stores to pay rent.

In 1959 Becket met her future husband, Tom Williams, who instantly showed interest in her program, and expressed genuine desire to become her manager, road companion, and life partner. They were married in 1962. At this time Beckett began to sell her paintings in Greenwich Village. This fueled the start of her more serious painting, of large allegorical subjects, street scenes, city parks, and many theatrical subjects. In 1965 she exhibited a solo show at a small gallery in Carnegie Hall, which unfortunately opened during the famous New York blackout. Her imaginative paintings linger between reality and symbolism.

The Beckets then began to tour throughout the country, performing Marta’s repertoire. In the spring of 1967 they discovered the Amargosa Hotel in Death Valley Junction, where she immediately felt as if time had stopped. The couple rented and renovated the tiny abandoned theater located behind the hotel, and opened its doors on February 10th, 1968, renaming it the Amargosa Opera House. After a terrible flash flood in the summer of 1968, Beckett was inspired to paint an entire audience on the theater interior. The murals took her four years to complete. On the west wall, a marble statue is painted holding a scroll written in Latin which reads, “the walls of this theater and I dedicate these murals to the past without which our times would have no beauty. Fin 1972.” Since this time, the Opera House has been featured on television, premiering on The Great Mohave Desert for National Geographic. After her completion of the theater walls, she moved on to the ceiling, which took her an additional two years.

In 1983, her husband Tom left the Death Valley Junction behind to pursue other interests. Fortunately, Mr. Thomas J. “Wilget” Willett stepped in as stage manager and Master of Ceremonies. Since this time nine later works have been incorporated into the program. In 2001, the Las Vegas Art Museum exhibited a retrospective of Becket’s art “spanning over six decades.” The feature length documentary Amargosa was recently completed, and has aired on Discovery and Sundance channels. Beckett presently continues to dance, act, and paint.

“My imagination has carried me on a journey from the past to present. From New York to Death Valley Junction…. and a tiny theater nobody wanted. I am grateful to have found the place where I can fulfill my dreams and share them with the passing scene… for as long as I can.” – Marta Becket

– From Marta Becket: A Theatrical Portrait: The Artist, The Performer, And Her Amargosa Opera House

Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House and Hotel Official Website