Martin Booe is an American journalist, songwriter, musician and longtime resident of Los Angeles, who was known in the 2000s primarily as a food writer and humorist in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Bon Appétit, and numerous other national publications. In the 1990s, he wrote regularly about popular culture for the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Cosmopolitan, Premiere Magazine, and the New York Daily News. Booe has ghost- or co-written three published books, including the 2011 New York Times bestseller, Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant, by Dyan Cannon.
Booe was born in 1960 in Frankfort, Kentucky, to Carolyn Smothers and Caleb Ballard. Caleb died when Booe was an infant. His mother subsequently married John Booe. John had recently returned to Kentucky to run the family business that was established by his mother, Ruth Hanly Booe, in 1919. Today, Rebecca-Ruth Candy is owned by Booe’s younger brother, Charles Booe. Ruth Hanly Booe is an historic culinary celebrity for her invention of Bourbon candy.
Booe is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, where he studied post WWI literature with the renowned scholar, Guy Davenport. He was mentored by Kentucky Poet Laureates-to-be such as Richard Taylor, Ed McClanahan, and Gurney Norman. Booe recalls spending a long afternoon with the author, environmentalist and social philosopher Wendell Berry at his Port Royal home.
At college during the Reagan administration, Booe worked briefly on Capitol Hill as a junior legislative aide for a Kentucky congressman.
Booe moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 1983 to take up the position of rock critic for the Boulder Daily Camera. There, he met the poet Allen Ginsberg, who inspired his interest in Buddhism and encouraged his writing. Ginsberg introduced him to William S. Burroughs, Gary Snyder, and to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. During this time, Booe also became acquainted with fellow Kentuckian/Coloradan Hunter S. Thompson, who once tried to drag him on stage to sit next to him, (specific instructions being, “If I start talking about drugs, throw me an elbow in the ribs.”).
Ginsberg was key in expanding Booe’s interest in American roots music, and Booe has written that the two had "long discussions about the relationship between jazz improvisation and poetry, any kind of creative pursuit.” Partly as the result of his friendship with McClanahan, Booe was allowed into an intimate hangout with Burroughs, Snyder, Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky, along with a small collection of young writers from the Naropa Institute.
“I was 23, I think, and I was the journalist, but very, very shy about asserting myself in that way,” Booe has said. “I was half quivering with humility and half arrogant 23-year-old with his head up his ass. Well, the latter side won, and somehow I had the audacity to jump in and talk to these guys like I was their peer. I was always doing that, which horrifies me to think about now. Anyway, I think they were amused. There were a lot of long-time Buddhists around, and these guys were always checking their egos, and they cut you a wide berth. I think they thought I was almost cool, and maybe worth a shot at winning over. And after I left, I had an odd sensation that they’d given me something, but I wouldn’t understand what it was until a long time later. I’d never been around people who were so comfortable in their own skin.
While in Boulder, Booe learned about jazz at the knee of internationally-known jazz impresario Dick Gibson, who become something of a musical mentor to him. Gibson, a native of Mobile, Alabama, had studied creative writing with William Faulkner, and Booe considers Gibson "one of those people I met along the way who expanded my horizons enormously."
In 1986, after spending a year roaming Europe and trying to write a book, Booe moved to Los Angeles to work for the Los Angeles Daily News. It was a time of collapse for the newspaper industry and the economy in general. Booe tripped through several reporting jobs in a short span of four years, including a stint at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, before going freelance full-time.
Booe’s primary instrument is the guitar, specifically a mahogany Recording King 12-fret guitar of the style popular among itinerant blues players of the 1930s. He chose the guitar for its “unusually dark but focused tone. The wider, shorter neck offers less string tension, so it’s particularly suited to improvisation.” His finger-picking combines heavy alternating bass and free-form blues improvisations. Booe also is adept at acoustic slide guitar. One of his most memorable guitar lessons came from the great Appalachian claw and hammer player Roscoe Holcomb during a visit to the mountains with a high school friend. Later, he was found himself hanging out back stage with Doc and Merle Watson at the Kentucky Theater. Merle showed him some tricks of bottleneck fanciness.
Booe has ghost- or co-written three books: The 2011 New York Times Bestseller Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon (HarperCollins), the voluminous memoir of Russian life under Stalin by George Shirokow entitled Enemy of the State, and the cookbook “Crave” with chef Ludo Lefebvre. Out of the latter came Booe’s comic memoir A Recipe for Madness, which is under revision.