The Marvelous McHughs

Just to clarify, this post is about a family of actors who happened to be marvelous, not a vaudeville act called the Marevelous McHughs. This is a blog on which the latter could well be the case! The member who went on to the greatest fame was character actor Frank McHugh (1898-1981) so he gets the photo at top.

It all starts with Edward A. “Cutie” McHugh (1864-1935) and Katherine Curry “Katie” McHugh (1868-1944), owners and proprietors of the McHugh Stock Company of Braddock, Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. While still young, their four children joined the couple in the family business. The oldest Edward McHugh, Jr later became a Broadway stage manager and agent, while Frank, Matt (1894-1971), and Kitty (1902-1954), all became actors like their parents. The McHugh theatre closed around 1930 after the kids had left the nest and were doing quite well for themselves.

Frank seems to have been the one with the most initiative. Around 1915 he left the family theatre, and began working for other stock companies and traveling troupes, as well as vaudeville. By the mid ’20s he had made it to the big leagues, appearing in the plays The Fall Guy (1925) by James Gleason and George Abbott, Fog (1927), Tenth Avenue (1927), Excess Baggage (1927), Conflict (1929); and Show Girl (1929). His first film was the Paramount comedy short If Men Played Cards as Women Do (1929), written by George S. Kaufman.Other shorts included That’s News to Me (1931), The Hot Spot (1931), The Great Junction Hotel (1931), The Big Scoop (1931) and The Wide Open Spaces (1931). I hope you know who Frank McHugh is! He has over 170 screen credits, many of them in bona fide classics. When he was younger he was often a jovial wise-cracking friend; in later years he could be scarier or more imposing when the script called for it. His first feature was Howard Hawks’ The Dawn Patrol (1930). Not too shabby! With Joe E. Brown he appeared in the comedies Top Speed (1930), Going Wild (1930), Elmer the Great (1933), Son of a Sailor (1933), and 6 Day Bike Rider (1934). Other classics include the original screen version of The Front Page (1931), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), the all-star Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Three Men on a Horse (1936), Dodge City (1939), Virginia City (1940), Going My Way (1944), Mighty Joe Young (1949), Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949), and the anti-communist curio My Son John (1952). As for musicals he’s in Bright Lights (1930), Footlight Parade (1933), Gold Diggers of 1935, State Fair (1945), and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), among others. His last performance for the big screen was in the Elvis movie Easy Come, Easy Go (1967).  Naturally throughout the ’50s and ’60s he also did lots of television. His last credit was a 1969 episode of Lancer.

While Frank occasionally had starring roles in films, and was almost always at least pretty high up in the billing, Matt and Kitty were more on the order of extras over the bulk of their careers, although they had larger roles in shorts. Matt first came to prominence in both the Broadway (1929) and screen (1931) versions of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene. Matt generally affected an abrasive “Brooklyn” persona onscreen, which made him particularly castable for can drivers, delivery men and the like. In Star Spangled Rhythm (1941), his actual ROLE was the Spirit of Brooklyn. Of Matt McHugh’s 230 films, among the better known are Freaks (1932), Mack Sennett’s Hypnotized (1932), Fra Diavolo (1933) with Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd’s The Cat’s Paw (1934), Judge Priest (1934), The Glass Key (1935), Barbary Coast (1935), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Boys from Syracuse (1940), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Coney Island (1943), Brewster’s Millions (1945), Salome Where She Danced (1945), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Kill the Empire (1950). Matt was much more prominent in comedy shorts. He actually got to star in some of them, like The Loud Mouth (1932), and Hawkins & Watkins Inc (1932). He supported Andy Clyde in Alaska Love (1932) and Sappy Birthday (1942), Charles Murray in Courting Trouble (1932), Frank Albertson in The Plumber and the Lady (1933), Marjorie Beebe in Sweet Cookie (1933), Walter Catlett in Blondes and Blunders (1940), Buster Keaton in His Ex Marks the Spot (1940) and So You Won’t Squawk? (1941), Hugh Herbert in Should Husbands Marry? (1947), A Pinch in Time (1948) and Trapped by a Blonde (1949), and the Three Stooges in Pardon My Clutch (1948), among many others. His last film was the Eddie Quillan short His Pest Friend (1955).

Of the three performing siblings, Kitty fared least well. She had started out in a double act with her brother Matt as a teenager. Once he broke off and got a role on Broadway, it took her a little while to find her way. She has about five dozen screen credits beginning in 1934, mostly maids, telephone operators and nurses, that sort of thing. Of her features, Follow the Fleet (1936), The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Come Back Little Sheba (1952) are best known, though her roles are small. Her main claim to (minor) fame is in comedy shorts. She made about 16 of them. She was Buster Keaton’s fiance in one of Mack Sennett’s last films The Timid Young Man (1935), she is second billed in Upper Cutlets (1936) with Walter Catlett, third-billed in All Business (1936) with Ford Sterling, second-billed to Edgar Kennedy in Will Power (1936), and plays Leon Errol’s wife in Down the Ribber and Wholesailing Along, both 1936, and Wife Insurance (1937). In The Stupor-Viser she is second-billed to Jack Norton. She is probably best known for her roles in two Three Stooges’ comedies Hoi Polloi (1935), Listen Judge (1952) and Gents in a Jam (1952). She married familiar character actor Ned Glass, also prominent in comedy shorts, in 1935. In 1954, at the age of 51, Kitty McHugh committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. What prompted this sad development (ill health, despondency, a reaction to bad news of some kind) I have not yet been able to uncover, but if I come across something that illuminates it, I will add it to this post. Her siblings Ed and Matt both retired around the time of her suicide; Frank kept going until the end of the ’60s, as we’ve said.

To learn more about vaudeville and traditional show business, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy film shorts, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube