Almanac: Margaret Dumont

Almanac: Margaret Dumont

On October 20, 1882, the actress known as Margaret Dumont was born in Brooklyn.

A Broadway regular by the 1920s, Dumont found lasting fame once she started appearing with the Marx Brothers. Tall and regal in bearing, her character provided the perfect foil to the wisecracking Groucho in a series of films, including the 1933 classic "Duck Soup," set in the mythical land of Freedonia:

Margaret Dumont: "I welcome you with open arms."
Groucho Marx: "That so? How late do you stay open?"
Dumont: "I've sponsored your appointment because I feel you are the most able statesman in all of Freedonia."
Marx: "Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it.  I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing."

Duck Soup (1/10) Movie CLIP - Working His Magic (1933) HD by Movieclips on YouTube

Her character's seeming obliviousness to insult led to the widespread belief – encouraged by Groucho himself – that Dumont was a humorless person who never got the joke … a belief Dumont contradicted in a 1942 interview: 

"I'm not a stooge," she said. "I'm a straight lady. There's an art to playing straight. You must build up your man, but never top him, never steal the laughs from him."

Margaret Dumont died in 1965. But for Marx Brothers fans, her exchanges with Groucho never grow old.

       
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Story produced by Robert Marston.