Straight Lady: The Life and Times of Margaret Dumont, “the Fifth Marx

Lyons: Globe Pequot. Oct. 2022. 208p. ISBN 9781493060405. $30. FILM
Frequent collaborators Enss and Kazanjian (authors of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans joint biography The Cowboy and the Señorita and The Young Duke: The Early Life of John Wayne) offer film buffs an engaging biography of Brooklynite Margaret Dumont, born Daisy Baker (1882–1965). She is most famously remembered as the deadpan comic foil—a stereotypical stately dowager whom Groucho played off of—in seven of the 13 movies by the Marx Brothers. Enss and Kazanjian argue that Dumont’s Marx Brothers roles were characterized by the actress’s dignity, even as the films poked fun at her age and weight. Dumont, often bedecked in an opera-length necklace, trained in and performed opera before transferring to stage, film, and TV variety shows. She had retired in 1910, after marrying a millionaire industrialist, but when he died during the 1918 flu pandemic, she returned to acting and worked until her death.
VERDICT While comedy fans will enjoy the reprised storylines and biographical vignettes, this multileveled work also offers media scholars a deeper look into Marx Brothers films in which Dumont was epochal and reflective of the era’s gender standards and mannerisms.
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