Chico Marx (1887 -1961) Born: Leonard Marx; New York, USA
Harpo Marx (1888 - 1964) Born: Adolf Marx; New York, USA
Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977) Born: Julius Henry Marx; New York, USA
Gummo Marx (1897 - ?) Born: Milton Marx; New York, USA
Zeppo Marx (1901 - 1979) Born: Herbert Marx; New York, USA
The Marx Brothers had an extremely successful career prior to their movie debut in
1929 in 'The Cocoanuts'. It had started when Minnie Marx, the boys' mother, and
sister to Al Shean, of Gallagher and Shean fame, put Groucho on the stage as a boy
soprano with the Gus Edwards School act. In 1908 he was joined by two of his
brothers, Harpo and Gummo. They were billed as 'The Three Nightingales', and, if
the critics are to be believed, the Nightingales were fortunate the Trades Description Act hadn't been drawn up. Their mother soon had the rest of the brothers in on the act! By 1912, when the name was changed to 'The Six Mascots', the act had changed,
too. Inevitably, their natural, undisciplined horsing around had insidiously crept into
their act. They now did a comedy skit called 'Fun in Hi Skule' and with some help from their Uncle Al Shean, they refined (bad word for Marx) their characters. Groucho
stooped and started to wear a black moustache, which later became a black greasepaint
effigy when, one day, he was late for a performance, grabbed a stick of greasepaint
and smeared it across his upper lip. He never changed back to the false moustache.
Harpo donned a red 'fright wig' and lost his voice. He complained bitterly about his
lack of lines, but Uncle Al insisted, and he obviously knew best. Chico adopted his
Italian accent, and Gummo and Zeppo became the comic foils.
The brothers had been playing musical instruments for most of their lives. Harpo had
the greatest talent; he could pick up any instrument, toy with it for a while, and then
play it! Chico played piano in a brothel to earn money for the family, often playing in
two places at once. He would get the job with his expert piano playing, stay a few nights
and then substitute Harpo with his repertoire of two tunes. They looked so alike, no one
could tell the difference, until someone asked Harpo to play something else. Then, he
was generally fired! Harpo took to playing the harp like a duck to water. Virtuoso
harpists have studied his technique in total disbelief and fascination. His mother had
bought him a very old, second-hand harp because she thought it would add class to the
act. Groucho played the guitar, but he only displayed this talent in one film, 'Horse
Feathers' (1932). He generally sang those outrageous songs the way only he could: 'Have
you met Lydia / that encyclopedia / Lydia the tattooed lady.' or 'Hello. I must be going'
and 'Hooray for Captain Spalding'. The brothers' vaudeville act was successful enough
to take them to England in 1924 and onto Broadway where they made it big with 'I'll
Say She Is' and 'The Cocoanuts', which was to be their first sound film in 1929.
It was an essential part of the Marx brothers' modus operandi to hone their art before a
live audience. They needed to get a reaction from the crowd to enable them to time their
jokes and stage business to perfection. Their first eight films were taken out on the road
to be 'tested' and were virtually written as they were performed. They were a director's
worse nightmare. Chico inevitably turned up late, if at all, because he was usually at a
gaming table somewhere or in bed with a woman. While waiting for Chico, Harpo and Groucho would wander off, and when Chico did arrive, the others were nowhere to be found. The brothers were always playing pranks on directors, as well as their co-stars.
The long-suffering Magaret Dumont was often the butt of their jokes. She claimed she
never understood the 'boys', and didn't realize Groucho was being funny off screen or
on. Groucho played up to this admirally.
A Marx Brothers comedy is almost impossible to describe. It's manic, chaotic, totally antiestablishment, throwing insult after insult at any American institution the brothers
could think of. Everything in their path was totally and utterly wrecked. Groucho would
insult all with his barbed wit and leer at any woman, including Magaret Dumont. Harpo
would chase blondes all over the set, honking his horn. What he would have done with
one had he caught her is debatable, as he was the epitome of innocent, childlike gullibility. When he wasn't chasing or playing the harp, he was destroying something or eating it!
Chico would chase women also, but one would be inclined to suspect he knew exactly
what to do with them once caught! Chico was also remorseless and could con anything
out of anyone. Gummo left the act early on, well before the Marx's screen success.
Zeppo appeared in some of the early films as the romantic lead, but opted to leave and
pursue a career as an agent. He figured he was a much better as a businessman than a
Out of this cauldron of chaos and disrespect rose a humour unlike anything else on the
big screen. It is hilariously funny, and when it comes down to the bottom line, it gives us
a chance to laugh at ourselves.
Marx Brothers Movies::
This filmography lists films in which the Marx Brothers appeared as a team or solo:
Humor Risk (1921)
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Animal Crackers (1930)
Monkey Business (1931)
Horse Feathers (1932)
Duck Soup (1933)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
A Day at the Races (1937)
Room Service (1938)
At the Circus (1939)
Go West (1940)
The Big Store (1941)
A Night in Casablanca (1946)
Love Happy (1949)
Movies with one (or more) of the Marxes
A Kiss in the Dark (1925)