the marx brothers
marx bros rarities in stock
erich von stroheim
beauty & the beast
birth of a nation
cabinet of dr caligari
the third man
[ m a r x b r o t h e r s : b i o g . ]
"Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse."
- Groucho Marx
marx bros rarities in stock
charlie chaplin |
fritz lang |
erich von stroheim |
t h e m a r x b r o t h e r s f a c t s
- Birth names:
Julius Henry Marx (Groucho Marx)
Leonard Marx (Chico Marx)
Adolph Marx (Harpo Marx)
Herbert Marx (Zeppo Marx)
Groucho Marx: 2 October 1890,
New York, New York, USA
Chico Marx: 22 March 1887,
New York, New York, USA
Harpo Marx: 23 November 1888,
New York, New York, USA
Zeppo Marx: 25 February 1901,
New York, New York, USA
Groucho Marx: 5' 8" (1.73 m)
Harpo Marx: 5' 5" (1.65 m)
Eden Hartford (17 July 1954 - 4 December 1969) (divorced)
Kay Marvis (21 July 1945 - 12 May 1951) (divorced) 1 child
Ruth Johnstone (4 February 1920 - 15 July 1942) (divorced) 2 children
Mary De Vithas (1958 - 11 October 1961) (his death)
Betty Carp (? - ?) (divorced) 1 daughter
Susan Fleming (28 September 1936 - 28 September 1964) (his death) 4 adopted children
Barbara Marx (1962 - 1972) (divorced)
Marion Benda (1927 - 1954) (divorced) 1 son
19 August 1977, Los Angeles, California, USA
11 October 1961
Hollywood, California, USA
28 September 1964,
Los Angeles, California, USA
30 November 1979,
Palm Springs, California, USA
- Causes of death:
Groucho Marx: pneumonia
Chico Marx: heart ailment
Harpo Marx: following heart surgery
Zeppo Marx: cancer
[ t h e m a r x b r o t h e r s : b i o g . ]
How did four nice little boys called
Julius, Adolph, Leonard
and Herbert grow up into the
Marx Brothers? Perhaps because
they never really were nice little boys
- Marx Brothers Rarities in Stock
Groucho Marx seldom ventured any comment
on his own comic style. He felt that humour,
like romance and sex, loses its magic if examined too closely: 'If you talk about those
things, they go away.' When asked why he
thought he was funny, he would answer
simply, 'I'm a funny-looking jerk'. He did
believe, however, that all great comedy is
based on character.
People who had known the Marx Brothers
before they became famous (when they were
still Julius, Adolph, Leonard, Milton and
Herbert), even before they entered show business, all agreed that the five brothers never had
to create the characters they played so convincingly on stage, screen, and television -
they already were those characters. A neighbour of the Marx family in New York City
during the early 1900s remarked:
'They were wild youngsters with a talent for
having fun. The place would be a shambles,
especially if Mrs Marx left them alone. They
would tear down the draperies. There was a
woman across the way. a doctor's wife, who
used to send over notes saying that she was
going to call the police, which probably made
them do it even more.'
the poor marx brothers
The Marx family was poor but, as Groucho said
of his childhood:
'We didn't know it, so we were happy. At
Christmas we didn't have a tree, just a branch,
and we each hung up one of our black socks
and got a half an orange each for Christmas.
All our neighbours even had better garbage
than we did. Harpo used to skate in Central
Park with one ice skate he tied on. When my
Aunt Hannah cooked the clam chowder, she
used the same pot she used for the laundry,
and there was plenty of starch in both.'
Although the Marx Brothers' theatrical
characters were based on real people and
actual experiences, their mannerisms and costumes were developed through trial and error
during their years in vaudeville. For Groucho this all began in 1905 when he joined a '
travelling troupe as a boy soprano. He got the
job out of economic necessity:
'I became an actor because I had an uncle in
show business who was making $200 a week,
and I wasn't making anything, not even an
Although the job didn't last long, and three
times he found himself stranded on the road
without money, Groucho persisted. Eventually
he landed work with the Gus Edwards school
act - his first professional encounter with stage
Three years later Minnie Marx gathered her sons (Groucho, Gummo, and later Harpo) together into a singing act called first The Three
Nightingales, then The Six Mascots. She was
their agent, and sometimes joined the act with
her sister, Hannah. Sam Marx (known as Frenchie), the father of the Marx Brothers, stayed at home with the cooking and
housework, as well as a threadbare tailoring
business. Apparently this pioneering role-
sharing worked out perfectly: Sam was a
superb cook while, in Groucho's words:
'Minnie couldn't make anything except my
But as an agent she was unsurpassed. Groucho often said:
'Without her, we wouldn't have been anything. She was the most
important woman in my life.'
As a singing act the Marx Brothers were
condemned to second-rate or even third-rate ,
vaudeville, and it was only by accident that
they discovered how funny they could be.
Groucho described the moment:
'We were playing a small town in Texas, a farming town. The farmers came in and tied up
their horses beside the Pantages Theatre. We
were doing a singing act. a mule runs away,
and the whole audience left to catch the mule.
Then they came back. By this time we were so
angry we started making sarcastic remarks.
Like, "Nacogdoches is full of roaches" and
"The jackass is the finest flower of Texass."
Instead of getting mad, the audience laughs.
This is the first time we ever did comedy like
This incident happened in 1912 during ii
tour through Louisiana. Texas and Oklahoma.
After their unexpected triumph they attempted comedy whenever it seemed appropriate,
and in Denison, Texas, The Six Mascots were
received so enthusiastically that they were
invited to stay over, this time with a guarantee.
Wishing to please an audience of teachers who
were there for a conference, Groucho wrote a
comedy sketch based on the Gus Edwards
school act. Groucho became Herr Teacher,
Harpo played the stupid boy, and the other
members of the troupe, who included Gummo,
became the standard school act characters of
that day. This act was called Fun in Hi Skule,
and much of what the Marx Brothers did
afterwards was influenced by it. Most notable
of all, Harpo donned his famous red wig (later
to become blond for the films) and became
himself; Groucho assumed a stern countenance and an air of unqualified authority: and
Gummo played the juvenile straight-man role
that Zeppo later inherited. Then Chico joined
the act as the confidently ignorant 'Eye-talian'.
a night in casablanca
All of the Marx Brothers shows that followed
Fun in Hi Skule, including the films and even
Groucho's TV programme, owed a great deal
to it. You Bet Your Life was the same routine
but in modern dress, with Groucho still playing
Herr Teacher. Horse Feathers is Fun in Hi Skule
graduated to college and Hollywood. As the
great white hunter in Animal Crackers, the
prime minister in Duck Soup, or the bogus
doctor in A Day at the Races, Groucho is still in
many respects Herr Teacher, and his brothers
play almost exactly the same roles as in Fun in Hi Skule.
harpo loses his voice
It was their uncle (Minnie's brother), Al Shean
- himself a big star in American vaudevvvviiiiille -
who had helped to crystallize further each
brother's stage personality. Groucho was allowed to talk incessantly, while Harpo became
mute, and Chico played comic straight-man to
both. According to Groucho, AI Shean felt that
Harpo's voice did not match his whimsical
appearance. Harpo was disappointed, but accepted Uncle Al's dictum. Thereafter Harpo
talked professionally only once again during
his entire career. A quarter of a century later,
he spoke at the end of the stage tryouts for Go
West. The brothers decided that this speech,
whilst comically effective, departed from the
innocent Harpo character, and it was omitted
from the movie. In later life, after his retirement from films, Harpo would not accept any
speaking engagements, and requested that his
family never allow a recording of his voice to
be played. He felt that to allow his voice to be
heard by the public would be unfaithful and
destructive to the character he had created.
Groucho said the question he was most often
asked was, 'Can Harpo talk?' His answer was always, 'Of course not.'
By 1914, Mr Green's Reception, as Fun in Hi
Skule was now called, had established the Marx
Brothers as rising vaudeville stars. They were
not yet, however, known by their famous 'O'
names. This happened while they were touring
Illinois in 1914. Another performer on the bill
with them had a penchant for giving nicknames to his friends. Julius became Groucho
because of his serious demeanour. Adolph
became Harpo for the obvious reason. Leonard
became Chico because of his passion for the
chicks, as girls were then called. (Thus the
correct pronunciation of his name is 'Chicko')
Milton became Gummo because, as he later
'I always had holes in my shoes, so
I'd wear rubbers, or gumshoes, over them even
when it wasn't raining, and I got called
Herbert was only 13 and at home in
Chicago when his brothers were being renamed, but he became Zeppo later. No one,
especially Zeppo, is certain why. They continued to use their real names until 1924, but
the 'new' names eventually took over.
he stoops to conquer
Harpo's devotion to the harp was not accidental. His grandmother had played, in the
family's travelling magic show in Germany, on
a wondrous instrument without strings. As a
child Harpo would also 'play' on this harp
which was stored in a closet in their New York
apartment, and when he finally got a harp
with real strings he taught himself to play, but in an unorthodox style that in later years
amazed professional harpists.
a night at the opera
Before they were established as stars, however, the Marx Brothers ran through a number
of what were then called musical tabloids: several thinly plotted scenes, as sumptuously
mounted as a tight budget and difficult physical conditions would allow, were held together
by song, dance and comedy. In each of these
shows the brothers enriched their comic
characters and developed routines that would
serve them - with variations - for decades. The
sloping, stooping Groucho walk, for instance,
happened by accident:
'I was just kidding
around one day, and I started to walk funny.
The audience liked it so I kept it in.'
After one failure, the Marx Brothers appeared in the successful On the Mezzanine Floor,
which, along with Home Again, toured Great
Britain in 1922. They opened at the Coliseum
in London. At first, the audience did not
understand the Marx Brothers' humour and
responded by throwing pennies onto the stage.
In those days, Groucho recalled:
'it was the
custom when the audiences didn't like an act -
a pretty dangerous custom, too, since the
English penny was as large as a silver dollar.'
Groucho waded into the shower of coins and
addressed the audience:
hose days, Groucho recalled:
'We came all the way
from America to entertain you, so you might at
least throw some shillings.'
His ad lib won over
the audience, and their entire British tour was
a night in new york
Back in the United States in 1923 they had
serious difficulties with the United Booking
Office, which controlled virtually all of vaudeville. Unable to get work they were forced to
put on their own show. They were helped by a
Pennsylvanian industrialist who owned a
theatre in Philadelphia and the sets and props
from several theatrical flops, and were thus
able to put together I'll Say She Is, their most
ambitious musical tabloid to date. Although
Groucho always referred to this show as 'a real
turkey,' it was a huge success in Philadelphia.
After a tepid road trip, they came to Broadway.
Fortunately, on the night they opened in
1924 a more important show postponed its
premiere, and the most influential New York
drama critics went to I'll Say She Is instead.
Their rave reviews established the Marx
Brothers as permanent superstars.
a day at the races
Two even bigger Broadway hits followed:
The Cocoanuts in 1925 and Animal Crackers in
1928: both were later filmed in New York - in
1929 and 1930 respectively - almost exactly as
they were presented on the stage.
After filming Animal Crackers, the Marx
Brothers left for California, where they remained. Their first three Hollywood pictures
were produced for Paramount by Herman J.
Mankiewicz. writer of Citizen Kane (1940) and
one of Hollywood's great non-conformists.
(Assigned to write a Rin-Tin-Tin picture, he
had the courageous police dog carry the baby
into a burning building instead of out of it. He
was never assigned to a Rin-Tin-Tin film
again.) The Marx Brothers' pictures of this
period - Monkey Business (1931), Horse
Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup (1933) - all
bear the imprint of their iconoclastic producer.
under thalberg's wing
The next two films, A Night at the Opera (1935)
and A Day at the Races (1937), were produced
by Irving Thalberg at MGM. Groucho credited
Thalberg with saving their careers after Duck
Soup had done poorly at the box office.
Thalberg felt that the Marx Brothers were
appealing only to a minority, and that they were missing especially the female audience
that so often decided which film the family
attended. He found the Marx Brothers characters of the Paramount films 'unsympathetic'
because they were not helping anyone. To
remedy this, he reinforced the plots so that
they could stand alone as romantic comedies,
recast the Marx Brothers as helpful avuncular
types rather than totally uninhibited anarchists, and added the kind of lavish production
numbers that a major studio like MGM could
afford. He also allowed the Marx Brothers to
try out material for their next picture in front of
audiences on a road tour; this was especially
helpful, as the Marx Brothers had always
depended heavily on the reaction of live audiences to their ad libs. Thalberg returned to the
original successful formula of George S.
Kaufman who, with Morrie Ryskind, had
conceived and written The Cocoanuts and
Animal Crackers, and at Groucho's behest,
Kaufman and Ryskind were imported from the
East Coast to write A Night at the Opera.
After Duck Soup Zeppo had quit the act and started a talent agency. Zeppo had never been
happy with his role as a straight-man:
always wanted to be a comedian, but I came
along too late, and three comedians in the act
was already enough.'
Gummo, who had been
out of show business since his discharge from
the army in 1919 and never appeared in the
films, joined Zeppo, and the two built their
agency into one of the biggest in Hollywood.
One of Zeppo's first deals for the Marx Brothers
was buying the rights to the Broadway hit
Room Service for their next picture in 1938.
Thalberg's premature death during the filming of A Day at the Races marked a crucial point
in the Marx Brothers' career as a team. No
longer did they have their champion at the
biggest studio in Hollywood. Their next three
pictures, At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940),
and The Big Store (1941), were made for MGM
on a production-line basis, and by 1942 they
were ready to retire as a team, each brother
going his own way professionally.
the laughter maker
Groucho, who had published Beds in 1930,
continued to write, eventually writing five
books. He had always aspired to being a writer,
even before wanting to become an actor, and
he was as proud of his literary output as of
anything else he ever did. He was also proud of
being able to make people laugh. He said:
'It's a lot
easier to make people cry than it is to make
Groucho also tried radio
but was unsuccessful until You Bet Your Life in
1948. Although he was known as one of the
screen's great talkers, the visual aspects of his
comic style were important, too. Lee
'The way he
moved greatly enhanced his character'.
Studying the famous dialogues between Groucho and Chico, one immediately becomes aware of Groucho's sense
of movement, even in a static scene. He is
always in motion, yet what he does is so
appropriate to what is being said that it
heightens it while not being obtrusive.
Director King Vidor noted that Groucho's
reactions were always perfect, and that reacting is the most difficult aspect of film acting.
During their first 'retirement' Harpo and Chico
continued to make personal appearances on
stage, in concert, or at nightclubs, sometimes
alone, sometimes together. Occasionally Chico
would join Groucho on a radio broadcast, but
by 1945 Chico, who was an inveterate gambler, was broke. To help Chico, the other
brothers agreed to come out of retirement and
made A Night in Casablanca in 1946. This film.
which satirized Casablanca (1942), was successful but the team disbanded again immediately afterwards. However, a later re-
union, Love Happy (1949), was not successful,
and the team made only one more professional appearance, in a television special called The
Incredible Jewel Robbery (1960). In neither of
these last two productions does Groucho make
more than a cameo appearance. At the time
his own career was soaring with starring roles
in major motion pictures and with his own
successful TV quiz show, You Bet Your Life.
Chico died in 1961 (aged 74), Harpo in 1964
(aged 75), and Gummo in 1977 (aged 80).
Groucho died in 1977 just before his 87th birthday. He had survived his brother Gummo by a few months but wasn't told by his family of his brother's death because of the distress it would have caused him. Zeppo, who was born in 1901, lived in Palm
Springs and had not been associated with show
business for years before he, too, passed away in 1979. He was survived by his ex-wife, Barbara, nearly 30 years his junior, who went on to marry Frank Sinatra.
Others have tried this same kind of irreverent comedy, but none with the elan or style of the Marx Brothers. Groucho, Harpo, Chico,
and Zeppo really were those zany characters
they played on stage and screen.
As children, the Marx Brothers slept four in
a bed, two at each end, and early developed the
respect for each other's privacy and the close
friendship that lasted throughout their lives.
Groucho once said:
'We played every town in America and I
think we were the only group that never fought.
No act in vaudeville got along better than we
did. There never was anyone like my brothers
He was right.
[ m a r x b r o t h e r s : f i l m o g r a p h y ]
Groucho, Harpo. Chico and Zeppo:
- 1926 Humorisk
(unreleased and no cast list)
- 1929 The Cocoanuts
- 1930 Animal Crackers
- 1931 Monkey Business
- 1933 Duck Soup
Groucho, Harpo and Chico:
- 1935 A Night at the
- 1937 A Day at the Races
- 1938 Room Service
- 1939 At the Circus
- 1940 Go West
- 1941 The Big Store
- 1946 A Night in Casablanca
- 1949 Love Happy
The Story of Mankind (separate appearances).
- 1925 Too Many Kisses
- 1936 La Fiesta de
Santa Barbara (short)
- 1943 Stage Door Canteen
- 1944 Hollywood Canteen.
- 1945 All-Star Bond Rally
- 1937 The King and the Chorus Girl
- 1947 Copacabana
- 1950 Mr Music
- 1952 A Girl in Every Port
[ m a r x b r o t h e r s b o o k s ]
[ m a r x b r o t h e r s d v d s ]
[ m a r x b r o t h e r s v i d e o s ]
movie rarities in stock
charlie chaplin |
fritz lang |
erich von stroheim |
4 Disc Set incl.
Harvey, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Rear Window, It's a Wonderful Life
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