Sentimental Sunday: Max Broida

BROIDA_Max-as Buster Brodie_portrait_reduced
Max Broida as Buster Brodie- “The Hairless Man,” c1924. In possession of author.

Broida Family (Click for Family Tree)

Sometimes, one falls in love with an ancestor.

Probably, only die-hard family historians truly understand this statement.

But it happens.

For me, Max Broida is one of those ancestors.

It started out as one of those quiet relationships. A casual acquaintance, when as a newly married-in, I asked about the family history.

The picture of “The Seven Brothers” was brought out, and there sat John Broida, the patriarch, surrounded by his dashing seven adult sons. They all looked so handsome in their suits, all of them tailored to a “T” since so many of them were in the men’s fine clothing business. They were serious looking- Max too. But his professional demeanor totally belied what I would learn many years later.

Gertrude (Broida) Cooper, the daughter of one of those dashing sons (Philip Edwin Broida), could name all her uncles, and tell about their family life: wives, children, grandchildren, where they lived, and even businesses. She had an astonishing memory, and attention to detail. She too always looked ‘dashing’- if that word can be used for a woman- as she also was in the clothing business, but fine women’s clothes. She always dressed up and put on her makeup and her heels; she colored her hair a bright red until her very later years, when she softened the color but she would always be a beloved carrothead to me.

Gertrude did not know much about her Uncle Max. She told us that he had worked in movies in Hollywood using the name Buster Brodie, and that he was completely hairless- did not even have eyebrows. She didn’t know the names of any films he was in. He was very short, but so were the majority of the family, being Eastern European. He did not marry. That was about all to the story.

Other family members did not know much about Max either- some even thought that their ‘movie star’ relative was a figment of their father’s imagination! (You doubting children know who you are.)

As a good family historian, of course it is important to document collateral relatives, plus sometimes you can find more information about your direct line. So I delved into the history of each of the seven brothers and their families. And when I got to Max, it happened.

Not much came up in the Google search years ago, but that made him more intriguing, a bit mysterious. Of course, that also made him a challenge- you know, hard to get. Others might have backed down, but not me- Max became more attractive, and it became hard to stop running after him. (Yes, my husband does know…)

It was probably about 2 or 3am one research session when I realized what had happened. I was putting together a filmography for Max, and began watching clips or even whole movies where he might have had just a bit part. He was little and cute. He was enthusiastic. He played silly roles with a completely straight face. He had a funny little voice. Sometimes he seemed an underdog. But he was mesmerizing to me. I couldn’t stop watching. It seemed like he wanted his audience to laugh and be happy, and that was happening to me.

I was addicted. I had to know more about him. The passion ramped up.

So I wrote posts, and the blog became cousin bait. Well, actually we didn’t find cousins, but people who had pictures of Max, knowledge of Max, and interest in Max found us. (Putting a portrait on Max’s Find A Grave memorial helped too.) These folks so kindly shared! I felt like we were breathing life back into Max.

I did more research, and wrote more, and was so pleased to hear back from cousins that they were excited to learn that Max was REAL! They were amazed to learn that he had run away to be in the circus as a young boy or man, and did vaudeville after he tried working in business with family. Apparently a settled family business life just didn’t work for him, so he headed west, to Hollywood. The movie studios were becoming a big business in the 1920s, and talkies appeared; Max wanted to be a part of it all. With a bald head, he probably was happy to get to sunny SoCal and leave the miserable Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania winters behind.

Max never had big parts, usually not even big movies. The two most memorable are in the Wizard of Oz, where he was a Flying Monkey, so we can’t even tell which one he was. He also was in what is still a cult movie, Paramount’s 1932 film, “Island of the Lost Souls.” He had an amazing makeup job in that film: as “The Pig Man,” Max as Broida would be unrecognizable. Part of the reason the film is still popular is because it was the first to use sophisticated ‘monster’ makeup. It is also macabre, and even friends who like scary movies say it was creepy and scary. I could never get through it. In fact, the above portrait found on eBay had another offered by the same seller showing “The Pig Man” in makeup but in a regular shirt. That picture sold as well (but not to me), as did a number of other stills from the movie.

Reverse of Max Broida, as Buster Brodie. Probably a publicity photo.
Reverse of Max Broida, as Buster Brodie. Probably a publicity photo, c. 1924. Owned by author.

I was really excited to see this delightful portrait show up in my automatic eBay searches, since we really don’t have any decent images of Max as an adult other than the “Seven Brothers” picture. The seller had a ridiculous price on it, but all week Max let me know I needed to procure this for the family.  I was just compelled… and I won it.

I was so thrilled to get the picture, and turn it over. The eBay listing had not included an image of the back, nor even mentioned that there was anything on the reverse. (I hadn’t wanted to ask questions and risk others deciding to bid.) I felt like I had won the lottery! I had Max in my house, and with all the info on the back, I knew a whole lot more about him.

This was likely a publicity photo that Max shopped around, trying to get even bit parts. The handsome man in the picture with the slight smile completely hides the zaniness he could exhibit in some of his acting roles, such as in,”Groovy Movie.” To think of him as Buster Brown (advertising shoes), or a circus clown… well, I just can’t call him ‘Buster’ even though that is how he reported himself to census takers. And I don’t want to think of him as “Pigman” at all.

So thanks, Max, for being a crazy family historian’s passion for a while now, and for surprising me with a treasure every now and then. Happy Valentine’s Day to you, wherever you are. xoxoxo


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Thanks to Steve Cox, who wrote, The Munchkins Remember, EP Dutton, 1988, and documented that Max was a Flying Monkey in “The Wizard of Oz.” Steve also shared what he knew about Max and ‘the little people.’
  2. Thanks also to Frank Reighter and his compadres at the Three Stooges Fan Club, who provided some obits and Max’s death certificate.


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