Margaret Dumont

Active - 1929 - 1964  |   Born - Oct 20, 1889   |   Died - Mar 6, 1965   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Originally an opera singer, American actress Margaret Dumont was engaged in 1925 to act in The Cocoanuts, a Broadway musical comedy starring the Marx Brothers. As wealthy widow Mrs. Potter, Dumont became the formidable stage target for the rapid-fire insults and bizarre lovemaking approach of Groucho Marx. So impressive was her "teaming" with Groucho that she was hired for their next Broadway production, Animal Crackers (1928), in which she portrayed society dowager Mrs. Rittenhouse. Though Groucho would later insist that Dumont never understood his jokes, she more than held her own against the unpredictable Marx Brothers, facing their wild ad-libs, practical jokes and roughhouse physical humor with the straight-faced aplomb of a school principal assigned a classroom of unruly children. Dumont continued appearing opposite the Marx Brothers when they began making motion pictures, co-starring in seven of the team's films, most notably as hypochondriac Emily Upjohn in A Day at the Races (1937). It was for this picture that Dumont won a Screen Actor's Guild award; upon this occasion, film critic Cecilia Ager suggested that a monument be erected in honor of Dumont's courage and steadfastness in the face of the Marx invasion. Although she appeared in many other films (sometimes in the company of other famous comedy teams such as Laurel and Hardy, Wheeler and Woolsey, and Abbott and Costello), it is for her Marx appearances that Dumont--often dubbed "the Fifth Marx Brother"--is best remembered. Dumont made her last professional appearance a week before her death, on the TV variety series Hollywood Palace; appropriately, it was in support of Groucho Marx in a re-creation of the "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" production number from Animal Crackers.

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