What You Should Know About The Forgotten Marx Brother, Gummo

Okay, Mr. Classic Comedy Expert. We all know about your profound love for the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin. You can recite the “Who’s on First?” routine from memory. You’ve seen “Duck Soup” 97 times and “A Night at the Opera” 108. But do you know about the forgotten Marx Brother? No, not that one — the other one.

That’s right: While many could probably name the fourth Marx Brother, Zeppo, who co-starred in their five earliest films and usually took on “straight man” roles, relatively few know there was a fifth Marx Brother, who didn’t appear in any of the Brothers’ films, but regularly performed with them on stage and would go on to be instrumental in their later careers.

So who was Gummo Marx? What did he do for the Marx Brothers’ act? What happened to him? Read on to see these, and other questions answered — plus more than you ever wanted to know about rubber-soled shoes.

Who was Gummo Marx?

Unlike other performing troupes who will often pretend to be related for marketing or humorous purposes — looking at you, Mumford and Sons – the five Marx Brothers really were a group of brothers named Marx, and they were all born into the world of showbiz. Their uncle was legendary comedian Al Shean, and Gummo was actually the first of the five brothers to make it onto the vaudeville stage, as a “dummy” in a ventriloquism act (via Marx-Brothers.org).

As the brothers got older, their mother, Minnie Marx, attempted to assemble them into a singing troupe that was known, under its various configurations, as “The Three Nightingales,” “The Four Nightingales,” or “The Six Mascots.” When the audience proved insufficiently attentive to their singing, though, the brothers would often start to insult them; when the insults got more applause than the music, the troupe shifted focus toward comedy, becoming simply “The Five Marx Brothers” (via Prabook).

Obviously, in the transition to comedy, each Marx brother took on a strange nickname. Julius became “Groucho,” allegedly because of his temperament; Adolph became “Harpo,” because he played the harp. It’s not entirely clear where Milton “Gummo” Marx got his nickname, but it apparently had something to do with his shoes: Depending on which source you believe, he was either known for wearing rubber (“gum”) overshoes, or for sneaking up on people backstage with rubber gum–soled shoes.

What happened to Gummo?

While the three older Marx Brothers — Groucho, Harpo, and Chico — remain iconic even to this day, the younger two never fully developed their onstage personas, and (especially in the case of Gummo) apparently never really enjoyed performing. When the U.S. entered World War I, Gummo was drafted in the army, and reportedly leapt at the chance to serve, figuring, apparently, that risking his life was still preferable to the humiliation of doing vaudeville comedy (via JewAge).

When he returned from the war, Gummo saw no need to seek the spotlight further, instead going into business selling raincoats and dresses. Notably, while he was in the dress business, he also became one of two Marx Brothers to register a patent (Zeppo had three), having invented a “garment organizer” — essentially a fancy box for keeping dresses from getting tangled (via The Atlantic).

Later in life, Gummo reunited with the other spotlight-shunning Marx, Zeppo, and together the two opened a fairly successful talent agency, where they represented both their older brothers and many other Hollywood personalities. Gummo passed away at the age of 83 in April of 1977, and was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, across the hall from Chico (via Find a Grave).

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