little-known secrets behind the men & women who shaped
his unusual name, Herbert achieved great success
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By Paul Niemann
[September 06, 2007]
Al right, before I get a bunch of hate mail
from all the Herberts in the audience, let me explain that it wasn't
his real name that was unusual. It was his nickname
that was a bit odd. I'd like to reveal his nickname to you at this
point in the story, but that would give away the ending, so I've
sprinkled some hints throughout the story instead.
Herbert was born in New
York in 1901 as the youngest of five brothers who would eventually
"go west" to pursue their careers. The three oldest brothers were
very involved in the family business, while Herbert only dabbled in
it. His next-oldest brother, Milton, worked in women's clothing for
a while. No, he didn't wear women's clothing, but he worked as a
dressmaker before joining his brothers in a behind-the-scenes type
of role. That's enough monkey business about his brothers; let's get
back to Herbert's career.
Herbert had several jobs over the years,
including that of a horse breeder (and speaking of horses, the
brothers preferred a day at the races over a night at the opera), a
grapefruit grower, a commercial fisherman and an inventor. Did
Herbert have much of an impact as an inventor? You bet your life he
did. It is also a role which very few people know anything about.
He created two inventions that were significant, for better or
worse: a wristwatch for cardiac patients and a clamping device that
was used in World War II. His wristwatch for cardiac patients had an
alarm that went off every time it detected an irregular heartbeat.
The inspiration for this device came from a friend who had this
Herbert sold thousands of his patented wristwatch invention, and
it probably saved some lives, but his next invention helped end
thousands of lives as it helped end the war. Known as the Marman
clamp, it was used to strap down the atomic bombs aboard the
airplane that dropped them in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
[to top of second column]
It was his career as an entertainer that earned Herbert his fame
and popularity. His unusual nickname probably helped his career.
Herbert worked with his brothers in his first career; in fact, his
famous older brother, Julius, once claimed that Herbert was the most
talented of all the brothers. Herbert grew tired of that business,
though, and gave it up despite the opportunity it offered him.
You see, unusual nicknames were common in Herbert's family. If
you want proof, you can check with his brothers Leonard, Adolph,
Julius and Milton. They had some pretty unusual nicknames, too. They
were known as Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Gummo.
It was the youngest brother, Herbert -- the "Fifth Marx Brother"
-- who invented both the wristwatch for cardiac patients and the
Marman clamp. You probably remember him by his nickname of Zeppo.
I mentioned earlier that there are some hints spread throughout
this story. If you go back and read it again, you'll find the names
of some of the Marx Brothers' movies, including: "Go West," "Monkey
Business," "A Day at the Races" and "A Night at the Opera." There's
also the Groucho Marx television show, "You Bet Your Life," that was
[Text from file received
from Paul Niemann]
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2007