Oakland Mansion, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Savoy Theater, 1125 Tower Ave, Superior, WI 54880
2727 Pokegama Ave South, Grand Rapids, Minnesota 55744
3154 Glen Manor, Los Angeles, California
1207 Cedar Street, Lancaster, California
842 North Mariposa Avenue, Los Angeles, California
Lomita Theatre, 1063 Narbonne Ave., later 24333 Narbonne Ave., Lomita, California
Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale) Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Francis "Frank" Avent Gumm (March 20, 1886 - November 17, 1935) was a vaudeville performer. He was the father of Judy Garland. He was a closet homosexual who had a string of affairs with other men.
He was born on March 20, 1886, in Tennessee, the son of Clementine "Clemmie" W. Baughs and William Tecumseh Gumm. He married Ethel Marion Milne. His children are Judy Garland, Mary Jane Gumm, Dorothy Virginia Gumm.
The name of Gumm is first recorded in England in the Middle Ages, and in America (in Sussex County, Delaware) in 1782. By way of Virginia, the Gumms arrived in Rutherford County, Tennessee, just after the beginning of the nineteenth century. Francis Avent Gumm was born in 1886 in Murfreesboro, a small town on the River Stones.
There is a small town, Gumm, in Tennessee, hardly even a hamlet, but boasting a cemetery largely occupied by members of the family. They were mostly brickmasons or farm laborers, and the eldest son was usually christened William. Though Frank's grandfather, John Alexander Gumm, was a second son, he followed the family tradition by calling his first son, who was born in 1859, William Tecumseh Gumm. In 1877, this William Gumm married into another old Tennessee family, the Baughs. In the 1880 census, his wife is listed as Elizabeth, but she was known throughout her life as Clemmie. Although the Baughs had bettered themselves materially earlier in the century, when Clemmie's mother, Mary, made her will in 1892, she was only able to sign it with an "X." She left her daughter a town lot on East Main Street, the prettiest thoroughfare in Murfreesboro, with instructions that it be sold and the proceeds used to build a dwelling for Clemmie's new family on the same property. The house in which Frank was born is antebellum, however, which suggests that William inherited rather than constructed it.
The same lot contained a butcher's shop, and as records vary as to whether William was a butcher-grocer or a "merchant," it is probable that, because he had married well, the clerics of Murfreesboro were somewhat at a loss as to how he should be classified. The Gumms were clearly well connected, since Frank was named after a prominent lawyer in the town, Frank Avent. He was the third of five children: the others were named Mary, Emmett, William and Alice. He was a happy, outgoing child, always singing. He later claimed that he had once run away to join a minstrel show. Brought back, he and one of his brothers sang on local trains, passing round the hat. He certainly possessed a photograph of himself, taken when he was about thirteen, in minstrel costume and blackface.
Frank's godfather, George Darrow, was a prominent and wealthy Episcopalian who lived with his wife in Oakland Mansion, the house in which the Confederates had officially surrendered. Darrow arranged for Frank to sing solos with the choir of St. Paul's Church, where Darrow was the treasurer and the Gumms were communicants. William Gumm was widowed in 1895, and at fifteen, his elder daughter, Mary, was not really mature enough to help him look after the four younger children. Frank was nine; and by the time he was thirteen, William had agreed to consign him to the care of George Darrow.
Darrow was also patron of the Grammar School at Sewanee, a town some fifty miles south of Murfreesboro. He arranged for Frank to attend on a choral scholarship, and he accompanied him there himself in June 1899, after receiving a "kind letter" from its principal, Benjamin L. Wiggins. The school's records show that Frank was Mr. Darrow's "protege. "
Frank was soon being praised in the campus newspaper for his choral solos and, more significantly, for his role in the school play--suitablyamorous, apparently, as the prince in The Seven Little Dwarfs.
After three years, he moved on to Sewanee College, later known as the University of the South, where his voice (now a baritone) was a leading feature in musical and dramatic entertainments. He left in 1907, after what he later called "six of the happiest, the most beautiful years of my life."
His father had died a year earlier, splitting the family and leaving Frank, at twenty-one, uncertain of his future. Many of his classmates went on to distinguished careers--one of his closest friends, Henry Gass, was one of the first Rhodes scholars, and eventually returned to Sewanee as professor of Greek. Frank joined one of his brothers and a sister, who were living in Tullahoma, a small town on the railway line halfway between Murfreesboro and Sewanee, and drifted into a job as a bookkeeper and then office manager for Walter D. Fox. He took an active interest in the orphanage which Fox had founded, dabbled in journalism and again sang in the choir, as well as at the local vaudeville house, the Citizens Theater.
In 1912, Frank Gumm found work at the People's Amusement Company of Portland, Oregon, using his experience in Tullahoma to get a job managing a theater; but more importantly, he doubled as a singer.
In the summer of 1913, after almost two years in Portland, he moved to Superior, Wisconsin, a prosperous Great Lakes resort town with a resident population of 45,000, and then in the midst of its influx of holiday-makers. Superior boasted a large number of movie theaters, many of them owned by Ray Hadfield, who took on Frank as a singer in September. Frank's partner at Hadfield's Savoy Theater was Maude Ayres, and the two vocalists were accompanied at the piano by Ethel Marian Milne, with whom Frank fell into an immediate accord. Like him, she came from a remote village, Michigamme, Michigan. She was of Irish stock on the side of her mother, Eva Fitzpatrick, and Scottish on the side of her father, John Milne. Ethel was born in 1893, one of seven children, and grew up in Duluth, where the family had moved. Ethel had moved to Superior and, after a spell working at a Five and Ten, selling sheet music and playing for the "flickers" in the evening, she was taken on by Hadfield.
Frank was homosexual. Given the climate of the time, it may be that Frank thought that marriage could "cure" him. With the years he had already spent in show business, evidently he was not one of those men who discovered their sexual orientation only after marrying. It may be supposed that he intended to put temptation out of the way. He had already been engaged to a girl called Kathryn McGraw, but she became tired of waiting, and turned her attention to a minor vaudeville comic, Joe E. Brown, who later became a Hollywood star. Working before large audiences every night, Frank would have been justified in fearing public exposure and possible blackmail--indeed, these may have been the reasons why he left Portland.
They had recently made friends with Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Aikens, a middle-aged couple vacationing from Grand Rapids in the neighboring state of Minnesota, and from them they learned of a fine opportunity for Frank in that town. With the intervention of the Aikens, the job was confirmed, and Frank and Ethel were married on January 22, 1914, in Superior, an event celebrated with the customary banquet, but also with a dinner on stage at the Savoy for Maude and the bridal couple. They were not able to leave until the end of February, when his contract with Hadfield expired.
The New Grand Theater opened on January 28, 1914, "to show 4,000 feet of fine film." The proprietors, Barlow and Bentz, had it constructed with a stage, enabling stock and vaudeville companies to appear there. The theater seated 450, and stood four-square on the main street of the town. On March 5, the Gumms joined its staff, Frank as "singer and manager," while Ethel took charge of the musical arrangements. Fred Bentz operated the projector, happily leaving the bookings of the films and vaudeville acts to his enterprising new manager. The Gumms attached themselves to the local Episcopalian church, where Ethel played the organ while Frank conducted the choir. They lived with the Aikens, whose large house could accommodate two more people with ease, and whose social prominence made their guests socially acceptable. Ethel ran a series of bridge parties, while Frank joined the local fire brigade.
Frank bought out Barlow's half-share in the New Grand, and he and Ethel threw themselves into activities at the theater with renewed vigor. With the cooperation of local tradesmen, they organized a fashion show to publicize the latest styles for both men and women, and they appeared on stage in April in an act they had worked up themselves, "Jack and Virginia Lee, Sweet Southern Singers."
Frank and Ethel moved from the Aikens' home into a rented house, and then into Hospital Apartments, which had the advantage of having a garden. In September 1915, a daughter was born, whom they christened Mary Jane. Two years later, on Independence Day, the family was increased by another daughter, Dorothy Virginia, always known as Virginia. In a short time, both little girls were conscripted into taking partin the various social and musical activities which their parents so much enjoyed.
In March 1917 the Itasca County Independent hired Frank to report on the social activities of Grand Rapids.
In 1918, the family moved again; and in March 1919, Frank purchased the house on Hoffman Avenue which was to be Judy Garland's first home, and which she would remember as "a little white woodenhouse in a big garden." The house was moved in 1938 (it's now at 2727 Pokegama Ave South, Grand Rapids, Minnesota 55744), but in 1919 it stood on a corner site in the center of the town, a five-minute walk from the theater, three blocks west of the school and across the street from the railway station. Seen today, it is nondescript in an agreeable New England frame style, and much altered: the open porch with a balcony above, which the Gumms had, has since been incorporated into the parlor, a many-windowed, high-ceilinged room. Upstairs there are now three bedrooms, none of them large, and a small bathroom, which then made another bedroom. It is a house only just large enough for a family of four--plus Inga Mooren, a Swedish girl whose family lived on a farm twenty miles away, too far for her to travel back and forth daily to school. She lived with the Gumms, and in return for her board she looked after the house when Frank and Ethel went to the theater in the evening. Inga almost certainly slept in the cottage, which has since joined the house on its present site.
Although the Gumms continued to lead a normal social life, there was a tendency for Frank's evenings to be male-orientated, as he reported in the Independent. At the time Frank joined the Independent, he and Bentz opened a new theater and closed the New Grand. They retained the old name and decreased the seating to the more manageable 385. A seven-piece orchestra was installed in the pit for the opening attraction, Poor Little Pepina starring Mary Pickford. In 1918 they extended their activities to two nearby villages, taking on the leases of the Lyceum in Deer Park and the Eclipse in Coleraine. Frank was often absent on business trips to Minneapolis, Duluth and, most significantly, Eveleth, a small town some miles to the north.
About the time Virginia was born in 1917, Frank made the acquaintance of someone who was to be a major figure in Judy Garland's life: Marc Rabwin. His original name, which he changed at this period was Marcus Rabinowitz. His father, Frank, owned a cinema in Eveleth, which Marc, although only sixteen, helped to run. Frank Rabinowitz also held the local franchise for the W. W. Hodkinson Company, an agency for film distribution, and Marc had first met Frank Gumm on a business trip he made to Grand Rapids in order to persuade the New Grand to book some of the company's films. He had been warned by other film salesmen that the theater owner there was "nuts," constantly pacing the floor when they tried to talk to him, staring at them belligerently with his bulging eyes. Rabwin, who was planning a career in medicine, realized that Frank's manner suggested that he had a thyroid problem. Although the New Grand usually hired films from an exchange in Minneapolis, Rabwin managed to charm Frank sufficiently for him to book some Hodkinson movies.
Rabwin soon established a close friendship with both Frank and Ethel and eventually sold the New Grand his entire portfolio of films. When, at their invitation, he came to stay with the Gumms, Rabwin explained to Frank that he needed medication and saw to it that he was put on some pills which eventually cleared up the thyroid problem.
The friendship continued when Rabwin went on to study medicine at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, and in the winter of 1921, he was woken up in the middle of the night by Frank--a highly agitated Frank, pacing up and down and needing professional advice once more. Ethel was two months pregnant: she wanted an abortion, and Frank wanted his friend to sanction an operation which was then, while not uncommon, both illegal and dangerous. Rabwin came to believe that Ethel's unwillingness to have another child was that she thought that Frank was unfit to be a father becauseof his homosexuality. Rabwin strongly counseled against abortion, and assured Frank that he would never regret having a third child, the future Judy Garland.
Approaching forty, Frank was no longer encumbered by guilt as he sought homosexual satisfaction. He had succeeded in persuading himself that show people were the "rogues and vagabonds" of tradition, not subject to the rules applying to ordinary mortals. Garland later recalled that, after moving from Grand Rapids, her family was not always accepted in the small towns in which it lived. She explained that "vaudeville people were considered sort of wicked," even though, on the surface, Frank was eminently respectable. He had none of the furtiveness traditionally associated with homosexuality at this period and was not in the least effeminate. He was enormously popular, and he used that popularity, and his respectability, to approach other men. There were,of course, rumors, and while the citizens of Grand Rapids refused to believe them, the inevitable speculation grew. Rabwin had no prejudice against homosexuality, but he feared that a small town would prove less tolerant. He wanted to save his friend from public disgrace. That this was a possibility may be judged from Rabwin's later assertion that Frank eventually left Grand Rapids because of a boy.
The original plan was for Frank and Ethel to travel to California and take the lay of the land, while the children remained behind with Grandma Milne. At the last moment, however, just two days short of Frances's fourth birthday, the girls looked so disconsolate that their parents decided to flip a coin to decide whether or not to take them along. The outcome was that they eventually traveled en famille, paying for the trip, or some of it, by performing on the way, billing themselves as "Jack and Virginia Lee, and the Three Little Lees." The real Virginia recalled: "We'd stop in a town and my daddy would go to the newspaper, or to the theater owner, and offer to play a show that night. That's the way things were done then." They left Grand Rapids on June 8, taking the Great Northern to Seattle, with several stops along the way. The towns in which they chose to stay--Devil's Lake, North Dakota; Havre, Shelby, Whitefish, Kalispell, Montana; Cashmere and Leavenworth, Washington--were those in which there were movie houses likely to hire live performers.
The Gumms did not work after they left Leavenworth, since they wanted to enjoy what was supposed, in part, to be a vacation. They had earned some $300. After staying with friends in Seattle, they went by rail to Portland, where Frank looked up some old friends, and then by sea to San Francisco, where they saw the Golden Gate and visited Chinatown, before finishing the last stage of the journey by rail.
In Los Angeles, they stayed for ten days in a small hotel on Sunset Boulevard as guests of the Rabwins, who put one of their automobiles at their disposal. Frank filed several reports on their journey and its destination for the Independent. He felt compelled to admit to the paper's readers that by taking the bus tour of the stars' homes, the Gumms were merely another set of rubber-necking tourists, but he tried to turn it into a joke: "Gloria Swanson's palatial residence was advertised for sale and open for inspection. We thought of purchasing it, but found that it contained only 40 rooms so didn't bother. Gloria was in New York so couldn't invite us for dinner."
Meeting the cowboy star Fred Thomson was a high point of the visit, since he and his horse, Silver King, were great favorites of the family. In fact, Frank had stopped Thomson in the street. He knew that Thomson was married to Frances Marion, "the celebrated scenario writer" who worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which was the studio above all others that the Gumms wanted to visit. Ordinarily access was almost impossible, but Thomson offered to arrange a visit. At M-G-M's Culver City studio, they watched scenes being filmed for The Red Mill, Tell It to the Marines, Annie Laurie and other movies. They shook hands with Lon Chaney ("who isn't bad looking at all off the screen and is a regular fellow," Frank reported), and saw other stars such as William Haines, Carmel Myers, Buck Jones, Lillian Gish, Marion Davies, Conway Tearle and Myrna Loy. They also visited the studios of William Fox, Warner Bros. and the Film Booking Office. Old friends from Grand Rapids took them to the Hollywood Bowl, and they went in a spirit of skepticism to one of Aimee Semple McPherson's revival meetings--but were sufficiently impressed to return the following week.
Despite the welcome $300 "pocket money" earned on the outward trip, the Gumms did not perform on the return journey. They reached home on July 17, "on the midnight train, two hours late, and pretty tired out ... but glad to be home, which, after all, is the BEST place." In spite of this noble sentiment, Grand Rapids was to be home to the Gumms for only three more months. The song they had sung on the trip, "California, Here I Come," proved in the end to be prophetic. In October 27, 1926, the Gumms left Grand Rapids to move to Los Angeles.
From November 1926 to April 1927 the Gumms lived at 3154 Glen Manor, in the Atwater district of Los Angeles. In March 1927 they moved to Lancaster, California, living at 1207 Cedar Avenue, in Newgrove. At this time, Frank bought and began managing the Lancaster Theater.
Early on April 1935 Frank Gumm lost the lease on his movie theater in Lancaster because he owed $2.000 in back rent. At the time the family was living at 842 North Mariposa Avenue, near the 20th Century Fox studios. Frank leased a new theater in Lomita, a suburb twenty miles from Los Angeles, which he named the Garland's Lomita Theatre. The Lomita Theatre opened for business on May 31, 1924, at 1063 Narbonne Ave., near the Lomita Hotel. (The building’s address later became 24333 Narbonne.)
He died on November 17, 1935, in Los Angeles, CA. Judy Garland had just signed a contract with MGM in September. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Section M, Lot 508, Space 2.
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