Friday, October 23, 2009

The Mysterious Fifth Marx Brother

More elusive than the famed "fifth Beatle," Milton "Gummo" Marx somehow managed to avoid the spotlight that shone so brightly on his four brothers yet was perfectly content that it was so, an attitude so decidedly un-American it's a wonder Joe McCarthy didn't go after him instead of the Communists. Always uncomfortable on stage, Gummo left the act when he was drafted shortly before the Armistice in 1918. After the war, he worked as a theatrical agent, representing among others his brother Groucho.

That's Gummo on the bottom of the pile there.

He earned his nickname either because he frequently wore rubber overshoes (a.k.a. galoshes or gumshoes) or because he crept up on people as quietly as a "gumshoe" (detective). I've read both theories.

In honor of his birthday today (he was born in 1892), here's the famous "elephant in my pajamas" scene from 1930's Animal Crackers. Admittedly, this has nothing to do with Gummo, but any excuse in a storm, right?


Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Ah, a lovely tribute to an oft-forgotten Marx. According to the book "Groucho, Harpo, Chico and sometimes Zeppo" -- if I remember correctly -- Gummo was often Groucho's understudy in early stage productions, and at least a few critics seem to have professed a preference for the Gummers at the time, which is borderline unbelievable. But who knows, since I don't think any footage of him acting exists.

KC said...

Gummo looks a bit like Mel Brooks--weird.

Mythical Monkey said...

at least a few critics seem to have professed a preference for the Gummers at the time

I did not know that.

You know, assuming that the critics who saw him weren't delusional, there could have been a couple of things going on: either Gummo was a very talented but very shy man (ala what's her name, Susan Boyle?, that British singer who was a YouTube sensation a while back) or he was like the youngest kid in a talented sports family who initially looked better than he really was because he'd grown up playing against high levels of competition (his own brothers) -- say, Jesus Alou, the younger and less successful brother of Matty and Felipe. Possibly, also, by the time he was old enough to get seriously involved in the stage act, he was already so jaded, it held no appeal for him.

Or, of course, the memories of critics dimmed over time and it made a better story to say, "Well, you know, the real talent was Gummo."

I guess we'll never know, but it's an interesting question to think about.

Mythical Monkey said...
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Mythical Monkey said...

Gummo looks a bit like Mel Brooks--weird.

Maybe he is Mel Brooks. I mean, I've never seen them in a room together. You know?

Ford Fairlane said...
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Mythical Monkey said...

Mule, how is it possible that we walked out of Home Alone and yet stayed for every single second of Ford Fairlane?

To quote my favorite philosopher, "It does not compute."

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

That's easy: the whole thing was done with the white of an egg :-)