Gummo – The Forgotten Marx Brother

Day 169 of Colourisation Project – October 23

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

There’s Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, Chico and then there’s Gummo. Not so familiar with the fans, he was one-fifth of The Marx Brothers, a family comedy act that was successful in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in motion pictures from 1905 to 1949.

Born Milton Marx on October 23, 1892, in New York City, Gummo Marx was the second youngest of five brothers. (The New York census of 1900 lists 1892 as his birth year, his death certificate and his tombstone give the year 1893.)

Photographer unknown – (L to R) Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, and Gummo Marx (circa 1957) Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Gummo, was often referred to as the ‘forgotten’ Marx brother but he was infact the first Marx brother to appear on stage, appearing early on in his Uncle Julius’s ventriloquism act. In 1911 he joined his brothers Julius ‘Groucho’ and Adolph ‘Harpo’ to become the vaudeville singing troupe the Three Nightingales. When brother Leonard ‘Chico’ joined the group, they became known as the Four Marx Brothers.

In 1917, Gummo left the group to enlist in the U.S. Army during the First World War and youngest brother, Herbert ‘Zeppo’ took his place. Gummo always played the straight role but was never totally at ease on the stage. Gummo had stopped performing with his brothers before they became stars on Broadway and before they began their highly successful film career. On his return from the war, he went into business. But after a failed dress-making business he fell into into show business management, managing his brothers and establishing himself as a successful talent agent representing other top talent of the time, including Glenn Ford.

His nickname, and those of his brothers, came about because a comic strip called “Knocko the Monk”, triggered a brief spate of nicknames ending in -o. Chick-o was christened thus because he was the brother who chased the chicks, Harp-o”, obviously the brother who played the harp and Grouch-o because he had a propensity towards moodiness. According to Groucho, Zeppo was named after the Zeppelin airships and Gummo’s nickname came from his penchant for rubber shoes.

The Marx Brothers were collectively named #20 on AFI’s list of the Top 25 American male screen legends and are the only group to be so honored.

Gummo Marx died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 21, 1977, at his home in Palm Springs, California at the age of 84. He is buried next to wife Helen at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, (across the hallway from older brother, Chico.)

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“There is a story about two brothers who went fishing. One brother caught all the fish. They changed positions on the boat, they changed rods but the fish always came on the line of the same brother. So the next day, the brother who hadn’t caught any fish decided to go out alone. In the early morning he baited his hook, threw his line into the water and waited expectantly. A fish rose out of the water, looked at the fisherman and said, ‘Hey where’s your brother?’ I mention this story because I seem to be in the same boat with the second fisherman. I am the fifth Marx Brother.”  –  Monkey Business – The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers  – Simon Louvish

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