Marx Brothers

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The Marx Brothers
Marx Brothers 1931.jpg
Four of the five Marx Brothers in 1931 (top to bottom: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo)
Medium Film, Broadway, vaudeville
Nationality American
Years active 1905–1949
Genres Word play, slapstick, musical comedy, deadpan
Former members Chico Marx
Harpo Marx
Groucho Marx
Zeppo Marx
Gummo Marx

The Marx Brothers were a family comedy act that was successful in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in motion pictures from 1905 to 1949. Five of the Marx Brothers' thirteen feature films were selected by the American Film Institute (AFI) as among the top 100 comedy films, with two of them (Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera) in the top twelve. The brothers were included in AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars list of the 25 greatest male stars of Classic Hollywood cinema, the only performers to be inducted collectively.

The group are almost universally known today by their stage names: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo Marx. The core of the act was the three elder brothers: Chico, Harpo, and Groucho. Each developed a highly distinctive stage persona.

Harpo and Chico "more or less retired" after 1949, while Groucho went on to begin a second career in television. The two younger brothers Gummo and Zeppo did not develop their stage characters to the same extent. The two eventually left the act to pursue business careers at which they were successful, as well as a large theatrical agency for a time, through which they represented their brothers and others. Gummo was not in any of the movies; Zeppo appeared in the first five films in relatively straight (non-comedic) roles. The performing lives of the brothers was brought about by their mother Minnie Marx, who also acted as their manager.

Brothers' names, family background, and lifetimes

The only known photo of the entire Marx family, c. 1915. From left: Groucho, Gummo, Minnie (mother), Zeppo, Sam (father), Chico, and Harpo.

The Marx Brothers were five brothers born to U.S. immigrants Miene "Minnie" Schoenberg (professionally known as Minnie Palmer, who acted as their manager) and Samuel (born "Simon", nicknamed "Frenchy") Marx. The brothers are best known by their stage names:

Stage name Birth name Born Died Age
Chico Leonard Marx March 22, 1887 October 11, 1961[1] 74
Harpo Adolph (after 1911: Arthur) Marx November 23, 1888 September 28, 1964[2] 75
Groucho Julius Henry Marx October 2, 1890 August 19, 1977[3] 86
Gummo Milton Marx October 23, 1892[4] April 21, 1977[5] 84
Zeppo Herbert Manfred Marx February 25, 1901 November 30, 1979[6] 78

A sixth brother Manfred ("Mannie") was actually the first son of Sam and Minnie, who was born in 1886 and died in infancy,[7][8][9] though an online family tree states that he was born in 1885:

"Family lore told privately of the firstborn son, Manny, born in 1886 but surviving for only three months, and carried off by tuberculosis. Even some members of the Marx family wondered if he was pure myth. But Manfred can be verified. A death certificate of the Borough of Manhattan reveals that he died, aged seven months, on 17 July 1886, of enterocolitis, with 'asthenia' contributing, i.e., probably a victim of influenza. He is buried at New York's Washington Cemetery, beside his grandmother, Fanny Sophie Schönberg (née Salomons), who died on 10 April 1901."[10]

Minnie Marx came from a family of performers. Her mother was a yodeling harpist and her father a ventriloquist; both were funfair entertainers. Around 1880, the family emigrated to New York City, where Minnie married Sam in 1884. During the early 20th century, Minnie helped her younger brother Abraham Elieser Adolf (stage name Al Shean) to enter show business; he became highly successful on vaudeville and Broadway as half of the musical comedy double act Gallagher and Shean, and this gave the brothers an entree to musical comedy, vaudeville,and Broadway at Minnie's instigation.[11] Minnie also acted as the brothers' manager, using the name Minnie Palmer so that agents would not realize that she was also their mother. All the brothers confirmed that Minnie Marx had been the head of the family and the driving force in getting the troupe launched, the only person who could keep them in order; she was said to be a hard bargainer with theatre management.

Of the five brothers, the three that were most commonly associated with the stage title "the Marx Brothers" - Harpo, Chico, and Groucho - remained lifelong performers. Harpo and Chico "more or less retired" after 1949, while Groucho began a second career and became a well-known television host.[11] Gummo and Zeppo both left performing to run a large theatrical agency together, through which they represented their brothers as well as others at times.[12][13] Both also became well-respected businessmen. Gummo gained success through his agency activities and a raincoat business,[14] and Zeppo became a multi-millionaire through his engineering business.[15][16]

Early life

Julius Henry Marx (Groucho) on the left and Adolph Marx (Harpo) on the right holding a rat terrier dog, c. 1906

The Marx Brothers were born in New York City, the sons of Jewish immigrants from Germany and France. Their mother Minnie Schönberg was from Dornum in East Frisia, and their father Simon Marx was a native of Alsace and worked as a tailor.[17][18] (His name was changed to Samuel Marx, and he was nicknamed "Frenchy".)[19] The family lived in the poor Yorkville section of New York City's Upper East Side, centered in the Irish, German, and Italian quarters.

Stage beginnings

1911 newspaper advertisement for a Marx Brothers appearance (l–r: Gummo, Groucho, Harpo)

The brothers were from a family of artists, and their musical talent was encouraged from an early age. Harpo was particularly talented, learning to play an estimated six different instruments throughout his career. He became a dedicated harpist, which gave him his nickname.[20] Chico was an excellent pianist, Groucho a guitarist and singer, and Zeppo a vocalist.

They got their start in vaudeville, where their uncle Albert Schönberg performed as Al Shean of Gallagher and Shean. Groucho's debut was in 1905, mainly as a singer. By 1907, he and Gummo were singing together as "The Three Nightingales" with Mabel O'Donnell. The next year, Harpo became the fourth Nightingale and by 1910, the group briefly expanded to include their mother Minnie and their Aunt Hannah. The troupe was renamed "The Six Mascots".


One evening in 1912, a performance at the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas was interrupted by shouts from outside about a runaway mule. The audience hurried out to see what was happening. Groucho was angered by the interruption and, when the audience returned, he made snide comments at their expense, including "Nacogdoches is full of roaches" and "the jackass is the flower of Tex-ass". Instead of becoming angry, the audience laughed. The family then realized that it had potential as a comic troupe.[21] (However, in his autobiography Harpo Speaks, Harpo Marx states that the runaway mule incident occurred in Ada, Oklahoma.[22] A 1930 article in the San Antonio Express newspaper states that the incident took place in Marshall, Texas.[23])

The act slowly evolved from singing with comedy to comedy with music. The brothers' sketch "Fun in Hi Skule" featured Groucho as a German-accented teacher presiding over a classroom that included students Harpo, Gummo, and Chico. The last version of the school act was titled Home Again and was written by their uncle Al Shean. The Home Again tour reached Flint, Michigan in 1915, where 14-year-old Zeppo joined his four brothers for what is believed to be the only time that all five Marx Brothers appeared together on stage.[24] Then Gummo left to serve in World War I, reasoning that "anything is better than being an actor!"[25] Zeppo replaced him in their final vaudeville years and in the jump to Broadway, and then to Paramount films.

Sheet music (1917) for one of the songs from Home Again; from left: Harpo, Gummo, Chico, Groucho

During World War I, anti-German sentiments were common, and the family tried to conceal its German origin. Mother Minnie learned that farmers were excluded from the draft rolls, so she purchased a 27-acre (110,000 m2) poultry farm near Countryside, Illinois — but the brothers soon found that chicken ranching was not in their blood.[26] During this time, Groucho discontinued his "German" stage personality.

By this time, "The Four Marx Brothers" had begun to incorporate their unique style of comedy into their act and to develop their characters. Both Groucho's and Harpo's memoirs say that their now-famous on-stage personae were created by Al Shean. Groucho began to wear his trademark greasepaint mustache and to use a stooped walk. Harpo stopped speaking onstage and began to wear a red fright wig and carry a taxi-cab horn. Chico spoke with a fake Italian accent, developed off-stage to deal with neighborhood toughs, while Zeppo adopted the role of the romantic (and "peerlessly cheesy", according to James Agee)[27] straight man.

The on-stage personalities of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo were said to have been based on their actual traits. Zeppo, on the other hand, was considered the funniest brother offstage, despite his straight stage roles. He was the youngest and had grown up watching his brothers, so he could fill in for and imitate any of the others when illness kept them from performing. "He was so good as Captain Spaulding [in Animal Crackers] that I would have let him play the part indefinitely, if they had allowed me to smoke in the audience", Groucho recalled. (Zeppo did impersonate Groucho in the film version of Animal Crackers. Groucho was unavailable to film the scene in which the Beaugard painting is stolen, so the script was contrived to include a power failure, which allowed Zeppo to play the Spaulding part in near-darkness.)[28] In December 1917 the Marx brothers were noted in a advertisment playing in a musical comedy act "Home Again". [29]

By the 1920s, the Marx Brothers had become one of America's favorite theatrical acts, with their sharp and bizarre sense of humor. They satirized high society and human hypocrisy, and they became famous for their improvisational comedy in free-form scenarios. A famous early instance was when Harpo arranged to chase a fleeing chorus girl across the stage during the middle of a Groucho monologue to see if Groucho would be thrown off. However, to the audience's delight, Groucho merely reacted by commenting, "First time I ever saw a taxi hail a passenger". When Harpo chased the girl back in the other direction, Groucho calmly checked his watch and ad-libbed, "The 9:20's right on time. You can set your watch by the Lehigh Valley."

The brothers' vaudeville act had made them stars on Broadway under Chico's management and with Groucho's creative direction — first with the musical revue I'll Say She Is (1924–1925) and then with two musical comedies: The Cocoanuts (1925–1926) and Animal Crackers (1928–1929). Playwright George S. Kaufman worked on the last two and helped sharpen the brothers' characterizations.

Out of their distinctive costumes, the brothers looked alike, even down to their receding hairlines. Zeppo could pass for a younger Groucho, and played the role of his son in Horse Feathers. A scene in Duck Soup finds Groucho, Harpo, and Chico all appearing in the famous greasepaint eyebrows, mustache, and round glasses while wearing nightcaps. The three are indistinguishable, enabling them to carry off the "mirror scene" perfectly.

Origin of the stage names

The stage names of the brothers (except Zeppo) were coined by monologist Art Fisher[27] during a poker game in Galesburg, Illinois, based both on the brothers' personalities and Gus Mager's Sherlocko the Monk, a popular comic strip of the day which included a supporting character named "Groucho".[30] As Fisher dealt each brother a card, he addressed him, for the very first time, by the names they would keep for the rest of their lives.

The reasons behind Chico's and Harpo's stage names are undisputed, and Gummo's is fairly well established. Groucho's and Zeppo's are far less clear. Arthur was named Harpo because he played the harp, and Leonard became Chico (pronounced "Chick-o") because he was, in the slang of the period, a "chicken chaser". ("Chickens"—later "chicks"—was period slang for women. "In England now," said Groucho, "they were called 'birds'.")[31]

In his autobiography, Harpo explains that Milton became Gummo because he crept about the theater like a gumshoe detective.[32] Other sources report that Gummo was the family's hypochondriac, having been the sickliest of the brothers in childhood, and therefore wore rubber overshoes, called gumshoes, in all kinds of weather. Still others report that Milton was the troupe's best dancer, and dance shoes tended to have rubber soles.[33] Groucho stated that the source of the name was Gummo wearing galoshes. Whatever the details, the name relates to rubber-soled shoes.

The reason that Julius was named Groucho is perhaps the most disputed. There are three explanations:

  • Julius' temperament: Maxine, Chico's daughter and Groucho's niece, said in the documentary The Unknown Marx Brothers that Julius was named "Groucho" simply because he was grouchy most or all of the time. Robert B. Weide, a director known for his knowledge of Marx Brothers history, said in Remarks On Marx (a documentary short included with the DVD of A Night at the Opera) that, among the competing explanations, he found this one the most believable. Steve Allen said in Funny People that the name made no sense; Groucho might have been impudent and impertinent, but not grouchy—at least not around Allen. However, at the very end of his life, Groucho finally admitted that Fisher had named him Groucho because he was the "moody one".[34]
  • The grouch bag: This explanation appears in Harpo's biography; it was voiced by Chico in a TV appearance included on The Unknown Marx Brothers; and it was offered by George Fenneman, Groucho's sidekick on his TV game show You Bet Your Life. A grouch bag was a small drawstring bag worn around the neck in which a traveler could keep money and other valuables so that it would be very difficult for anyone to steal them. Most of Groucho's friends and associates stated that Groucho was extremely stingy, especially after losing all his money in the 1929 stock market crash, so naming him for the grouch bag may have been a comment on this trait. Groucho insisted that this was not the case in chapter six of his first autobiography:

I kept my money in a 'grouch bag'. This was a small chamois bag that actors used to wear around their neck to keep other hungry actors from pinching their dough. Naturally, you're going to think that's where I got my name from. But that's not so. Grouch bags were worn on manly chests long before there was a Groucho.[35]

  • Groucho's explanation: Groucho himself insisted that he was named for a character in the comic strip Knocko the Monk, which inspired the craze for nicknames ending in "o"; in fact, there was a character in that strip named "Groucho". However, he is the only Marx or Marx associate who defended this theory, and as he is not an unbiased witness, few biographers take the claim seriously.
Groucho himself was no help on this point; he was discussing the Brothers' names during his Carnegie Hall concert, and he said of his own, "My name, of course, I never did understand." He goes on to mention the possibility that he was named after his unemployed uncle Julius, who lived with his family. The family believed that he was actually a rich uncle hiding a fortune, and Groucho claimed that he may have been named after him by the family trying to get into the will. "And he finally died, and he left us his will, and in that will he left three razor blades, an 8-ball, a celluloid dicky, and he owed my father $85 beside."[31]

Herbert was not nicknamed by Art Fisher, since he did not join the act until Gummo had departed. As with Groucho, three explanations exist for Herbert's name "Zeppo":

  • Harpo's explanation: Harpo said in Harpo Speaks! that the brothers had named Herbert for Mr. Zippo, a chimpanzee that was part of another performer's act. Herbert found the nickname very unflattering, and when it came time for him to join the act, he put his foot down and refused to be called "Zippo". The brothers compromised on "Zeppo".
  • Chico's explanation: Chico never wrote an autobiography and gave fewer interviews than his brothers, but his daughter Maxine said in The Unknown Marx Brothers that, when the brothers lived in Chicago, a popular style of humor was the "Zeke and Zeb" joke, which made fun of slow-witted Midwesterners in much the same way that Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes mock Cajuns and Ole and Lena jokes mock Minnesotans. One day, Chico returned home to find Herbert sitting on the fence. Herbert greeted him by saying "Hi, Zeke!" Chico responded with "Hi, Zeb!" and the name stuck. The brothers thereafter called him "Zeb" and, when he joined the act, they floated the idea of "Zebbo", eventually preferring "Zeppo".
  • Groucho's explanation: In a tape-recorded interview excerpted on The Unknown Marx Brothers, Groucho said that Zeppo was so named because he was born when the first zeppelins started crossing the ocean. He stated this in his Carnegie Hall concert, around 1972. The first zeppelin flew in July 1900, and Herbert was born seven months later in February 1901. However, the first transatlantic zeppelin flight was not until 1924, long after Herbert's birth.

Maxine Marx reported in The Unknown Marx Brothers that the brothers listed their real names (Julius, Leonard, Adolph, Milton, and Herbert) on playbills and in programs, and only used the nicknames behind the scenes, until Alexander Woollcott overheard them calling one another by the nicknames. He asked them why they used their real names publicly when they had such wonderful nicknames, and they replied, "That wouldn't be dignified." Woollcott answered with a belly laugh. Woollcott did not meet the Marx Brothers until the premiere of I'll Say She Is, which was their first Broadway show, so this would mean that they used their real names throughout their vaudeville days, and that the name "Gummo" never appeared in print during his time in the act. Other sources report that the Marx Brothers did go by their nicknames during their vaudeville era, but briefly listed themselves by their given names when I'll Say She Is opened because they were worried that a Broadway audience would reject a vaudeville act if they were perceived as low class.[36]

Motion pictures


The Marx Brothers' stage shows became popular just as motion pictures were evolving to "talkies". They signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and embarked on their film career at Paramount's Astoria, New York, studios. Their first two released films (after an unreleased short silent film titled Humor Risk) were adaptations of the Broadway shows The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930). Both were written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Production then shifted to Hollywood, beginning with a short film that was included in Paramount's twentieth anniversary documentary, The House That Shadows Built (1931), in which they adapted a scene from I'll Say She Is. Their third feature-length film, Monkey Business (1931), was their first movie not based on a stage production, and the only one in which Harpo's voice is heard (singing tenor from inside a barrel in the opening scene).

Horse Feathers (1932), in which the brothers satirized the American college system and Prohibition, was their most popular film yet, and won them the cover of Time. It included a running gag from their stage work, in which Harpo produces a ludicrous array of props from his coat, including a wooden mallet, a fish, a coiled rope, a tie, a poster of a woman in her underwear, a cup of hot coffee, a sword; and, just after Groucho warns him that he "can't burn the candle at both ends," a candle burning at both ends.

During this period Chico and Groucho starred in a radio comedy series, Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel. Though the series was short lived, much of the material developed for it was used in subsequent films. The show's scripts and recordings were believed lost until copies of the scripts were found in the Library of Congress in the 1980s. After publication in a book they were performed with Marx Brothers impersonators for BBC Radio.[37]

Their last Paramount film, Duck Soup (1933), directed by the highly regarded Leo McCarey, is the highest rated of the five Marx Brothers films on the American Film Institute's "100 years ... 100 Movies" list. It did not do as well financially as Horse Feathers, but was the sixth-highest grosser of 1933. The film sparked a dispute between the Marxes and the village of Fredonia, New York. "Freedonia" was the name of a fictional country in the script, and the city fathers wrote to Paramount and asked the studio to remove all references to Freedonia because "it is hurting our town's image". Groucho fired back a sarcastic retort asking them to change the name of their town, because "it's hurting our picture."[citation needed]

MGM, RKO, and United Artists

After expiration of the Paramount contract Zeppo left the act to become an agent. He and brother Gummo went on to build one of the biggest talent agencies in Hollywood, helping the likes of Jack Benny and Lana Turner get their starts. Groucho and Chico did radio, and there was talk of returning to Broadway. At a bridge game with Chico, Irving Thalberg began discussing the possibility of the Marxes joining Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They signed, now billed as "Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Marx Bros."[38]

Unlike the free-for-all scripts at Paramount, Thalberg insisted on a strong story structure that made the brothers more sympathetic characters, interweaving their comedy with romantic plots and non-comic musical numbers, and targeting their mischief-making at obvious villains. Thalberg was adamant that scripts include a "low point", where all seems lost for both the Marxes and the romantic leads. He instituted the innovation of testing the film's script before live audiences before filming began, to perfect the comic timing, and to retain jokes that earned laughs and replace those that did not. Thalberg restored Harpo's harp solos and Chico's piano solos, which had been omitted from Duck Soup.

Marx Brothers by Yousuf Karsh, 1948

The first Marx Brothers/Thalberg film was A Night at the Opera (1935), a satire on the world of opera, where the brothers help two young singers in love by throwing a production of Il Trovatore into chaos. The film—including its famous scene where an absurd number of people crowd into a tiny stateroom on a ship—was a great success, and was followed two years later by an even bigger hit, A Day at the Races (1937), in which the brothers cause mayhem in a sanitarium and at a horse race. The film features Groucho and Chico's famous "Tootsie Frootsie Ice Cream" sketch. In a 1969 interview with Dick Cavett, Groucho said that the two movies made with Thalberg were the best that they ever produced. Despite the Thalberg films' success, the brothers left MGM in 1937; Thalberg had died suddenly during filming of A Day at the Races, leaving the Marxes without an advocate at the studio.

After a short experience at RKO (Room Service, 1938), the Marx Brothers returned to MGM and made three more films: At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940) and The Big Store (1941). Prior to the release of The Big Store the team announced they were retiring from the screen. Four years later, however, Chico persuaded his brothers to make two additional films, A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949), to alleviate his severe gambling debts. Both pictures were released by United Artists.

Later years

From the 1940s onward Chico and Harpo appeared separately and together in nightclubs and casinos. Chico fronted a big band, the Chico Marx Orchestra (with 17-year-old Mel Tormé as a vocalist). Groucho made several radio appearances during the 1940s and starred in You Bet Your Life, which ran from 1947 to 1961 on NBC radio and television. He authored several books, including Groucho and Me (1959), Memoirs of a Mangy Lover (1964) and The Groucho Letters (1967).

Groucho and Chico briefly appeared together in a 1957 short film promoting the Saturday Evening Post entitled "Showdown at Ulcer Gulch," directed by animator Shamus Culhane, Chico's son-in-law. Groucho, Chico, and Harpo worked together (in separate scenes) in The Story of Mankind (1957). In 1959, the three began production of Deputy Seraph, a TV series starring Harpo and Chico as blundering angels, and Groucho (in every third episode) as their boss, the "Deputy Seraph." The project was abandoned when Chico was found to be uninsurable (and incapable of memorizing his lines) due to severe arteriosclerosis. On March 8 of that year, Chico and Harpo starred as bumbling thieves in The Incredible Jewel Robbery, a half-hour pantomimed episode of the General Electric Theater on CBS. Groucho made a cameo appearance—uncredited, because of constraints in his NBC contract—in the last scene, and delivered the only line of dialogue ("We won't talk until we see our lawyer!").

The five brothers, just prior to their only television appearance together, on the Tonight Show with Jack Paar, February 18, 1957; from left: Harpo, Zeppo, Chico, Groucho and Gummo

According to a September 1947 article in Newsweek, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo all signed to appear as themselves in a biopic entitled The Life and Times of the Marx Brothers. In addition to being a non-fiction biography of the Marxes, the film would have featured the brothers reenacting much of their previously unfilmed material from both their vaudeville and Broadway eras. The film, had it been made, would have been the first performance by the Brothers as a quartet since 1933.

The five brothers made only one television appearance together, in 1957, on an early incarnation of The Tonight Show called Tonight! America After Dark, hosted by Jack Lescoulie. Five years later (October 1, 1962) after Jack Paar's tenure, Groucho made a guest appearance to introduce the Tonight Show's new host, Johnny Carson.[39]

Around 1960, the acclaimed director Billy Wilder considered writing and directing a new Marx Brothers film. Tentatively titled A Day at the U.N., it was to be a comedy of international intrigue set around the United Nations building in New York. Wilder had discussions with Groucho and Gummo, but the project was put on hold because of Harpo's ill-health and abandoned when Chico died in 1961.[40]

In 1966 Filmation produced a pilot for a Marx Brothers cartoon. Groucho was Pat Harrington Jr. and other voices were Ted Knight and Joe Besser.[41][42]

In 1970, the four Marx Brothers had a brief reunion of sorts in the animated ABC television special The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, produced by Rankin-Bass animation (of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fame). The special featured animated reworkings of various famous comedians' acts, including W. C. Fields, Jack Benny, George Burns, Henny Youngman, the Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson, Phyllis Diller, Jack E. Leonard, George Jessel and the Marx Brothers. Most of the comedians provided their own voices for their animated counterparts, except for Fields and Chico Marx (both had died), and Zeppo Marx (who had left show business in 1933). Voice actor Paul Frees filled in for all three (no voice was needed for Harpo, who had also died). The Marx Brothers' segment was a reworking of a scene from their Broadway play I'll Say She Is, a parody of Napoleon which Groucho considered among the brothers' funniest routines. The sketch featured animated representations, if not the voices, of all four brothers. Romeo Muller is credited as having written special material for the show, but the script for the classic "Napoleon Scene" was probably supplied by Groucho.

On January 16, 1977, the Marx Brothers were inducted into the Motion Picture Hall of Fame.

Many television shows and movies have used Marx Brothers references. Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, for example, have featured Marx Brothers jokes and skits. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) on M*A*S*H occasionally put on a fake nose and glasses, and, holding a cigar, did a Groucho impersonation to amuse patients recovering from surgery. Early episodes also featured a singing and off-scene character named Captain Spaulding as a tribute.

Bugs Bunny impersonated Groucho Marx in the 1947 cartoon Slick Hare and in a later cartoon he again impersonated Groucho hosting a TV show called "You Beat Your Wife," asking Elmer Fudd if he had stopped beating his wife. Tex Avery's cartoon Hollywood Steps Out (1941) featured appearances by Harpo and Groucho. They appeared, sometimes with Chico and Zeppo caricatured, in cartoons starring Mickey Mouse, Flip the Frog and others. In the Airwolf episode 'Condemned', four anti-virus formulae for a deadly plague were named after the four Marx Brothers.

In All In The Family, Rob Reiner often did imitations of Groucho, and Sally Struthers dressed as Harpo in one episode in which she (as Gloria Stivic) and Rob (as Mike Stivic) were going to a Marx Brothers film festival, with Reiner dressing as Groucho. Gabe Kaplan did many Groucho imitations on his sit-com Welcome Back, Kotter and Robert Hegyes sometimes imitated both Chico and Harpo on the show. In Woody Allen's film Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Woody's character, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, is inspired to go on living after seeing a revival showing of Duck Soup. In Manhattan (1979), he names the Marx Brothers as something that makes life worth living.

In Everyone Says I Love You (1996), he and Goldie Hawn dress as Groucho for a Marx Brothers celebration in France, and the song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", from Animal Crackers, is performed, with various actors dressed as the brothers, striking poses famous to Marx fans. (The film itself is named after a song from Horse Feathers, a version of which plays over the opening credits.)

Harpo Marx appeared as himself in a sketch on I Love Lucy in which he and Lucille Ball reprised the mirror routine from Duck Soup, with Lucy dressed up as Harpo. Lucy had worked with the Marxes when she appeared in a supporting role in an earlier Marx Brothers film, Room Service. Chico once appeared on I've Got a Secret dressed up as Harpo; his secret was shown in a caption reading, "I'm pretending to be Harpo Marx (I'm Chico)". The Marx Brothers were spoofed in the second act of the Broadway Review A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.


Films with the four Marx Brothers:

Films with the three Marx Brothers (post-Zeppo):

Solo endeavors:


Film Year Groucho Chico Harpo Zeppo
Humor Risk 1921 The Villain The Italian Watson, Detective The Love Interest
Too Many Kisses 1925 The Village Peter Pan
The Cocoanuts 1929 Mr. Hammer Chico Harpo Jamison
Animal Crackers 1930 Captain Geoffrey T. Spaulding Signor Emmanuel Ravelli The Professor Horatio Jamison
The House That Shadows Built 1931 Caesar's Ghost Tomalio The Merchant of Weiners Sammy Brown
Monkey Business 1931 Groucho Chico Harpo Zeppo
Horse Feathers 1932 Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff Baravelli Pinky Frank Wagstaff
Duck Soup 1933 Rufus T. Firefly Chicolini Pinky Lt. Bob Roland
A Night at the Opera 1935 Otis B. Driftwood Fiorello Tomasso
A Day at the Races 1937 Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush Tony Stuffy
Room Service 1938 Gordon Miller Harry Binelli Faker Englund
At the Circus 1939 J. Cheever Loophole Antonio Pirelli Punchy
Go West 1940 S. Quentin Quale Joe Panello Rusty Panello
The Big Store 1941 Wolf J. Flywheel Ravelli Wacky
Stage Door Canteen 1943 Harpo
A Night in Casablanca 1946 Ronald Kornblow Corbaccio Rusty
Copacabana 1947 Lionel Q. Devereaux
Love Happy 1949 Sam Grunion Faustino the Great Harpo
Mr. Music 1951 Himself
Double Dynamite 1951 Emile J. Keck
A Girl in Every Port 1952 Benjamin Franklin 'Benny' Linn
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? 1957 George Schmidlap
The Story of Mankind 1957 Peter Minuit Monk Sir Isaac Newton
The Incredible Jewel Robbery 1959 Suspect in a police lineup Nick Harry
The Mikado 1960 Ko-Ko
Skidoo 1968 God


Awards and honors

The Marx Brothers were collectively named #20 on AFI's list of the Top 25 American male screen legends of Classic Hollywood. They are the only group to be so honored.

The "Sweathogs" of the ABC-TV series "Welcome Back Kotter" (John Travolta, Robert Hegyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and Ron Palillo) patterned much of their on-camera banter in that series after the Marx Brothers.[43][44][45] Series star Gabe Kaplan was reputedly a big Marx Brothers fan.

See also


  1. "Chico Marx, Stage and Film Comedian, Dies at 70; Oldest of 5 Brothers Took Role of Italian Piano Player. Team Business manager". New York Times. October 12, 1961.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Harpo Marx, the Silent Comedian, Is Dead at 70 [sic]; Blond-Wigged, Horn-Tooting Star Scored on Stage and in Films With Brothers Harpo Marx, Silent Comedian, Dies". New York Times. September 29, 1964. Harpo Marx, the blond-wigged, nonspeaking member of the Marx Brothers team, died tonight at 8:30 in Mount Sinai Hospital. He was 70 years old [sic].<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Groucho Marx, Comedian, Dead. Movie Star and TV Host Was 86. Master of the Insult Groucho Marx, Film Comedian and Host of 'You Bet Your Life,' Dies". New York Times. August 20, 1977. Los Angeles, August 19, 1977 Groucho Marx, the comedian, died tonight at the Cedar Sinai Medical Center here after failing to recover from a respiratory ailment that hospitalized him June 22. He was 86 years old.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 1900 Census shows birth year as Oct 1892 and his WWI draft registration says 21 Oct 1892 Roll #1613143, on his death certificate and his grave the year 1893 is given.
  5. "Gummo Marx, Managed Comedians". New York Times. Palm Springs, California, April 21, 1977 (Reuters) Gummo Marx, an original member of the Marx brothers' comedy team, died here today. He was 83 years old.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Zeppo Marx Dies on Coast at 78; Last Survivor of Comedy Team; 'Tired of Being a Stooge'". New York Times. December 1, 1979. Zeppo Marx, the surviving member of the Marx Brothers comedy team who left the quartet in 1934 for other businesses, died yesterday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif. The youngest of the brothers, he was 78 years old and had lived in Pal ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Adamson, Joe (1973). Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo: A Celebration of the Marx Brothers. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 6–8. ISBN 0-340-18807-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Louvish, Simon (June 2000). Monkey Business. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-312-25292-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Timphus, Stefan. "Family and Friends - The Marx Brothers." The Marx Brothers Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, Zeppo. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 August 2010.
  11. 11.0 11.1
  12. The Marx Brothers : Their World, Their Movies, Their Lives, Their Humour and Their Legacy by Robert G. Anstey
  13. Louvish, Simon. Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers. Thomas Dunne Books; 1st U.S. edition (2000). Also e-text at Google Books
  14. Current Biography, The H. W. Wilson Company, retrieved 2011-11-29<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Marman Twin – Herbert Zeppo Marx – Marx Brothers
  16. Marx Brothers at the Internet Movie Database
  17. La famille paternelle des Marx Brothers (French)
  18. "Mrs. Minnie Marx. Mother of Four Marx Brothers, Musical Comedy Stars, Dies". New York Times. September 16, 1929.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Samuel Marx, Father of Four Marx Brothers of Stage and Screen Fame". New York Times. May 12, 1933.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Marx and Barber.
  21. Kanfer, pp. 35–36.
  22. Marx, Harpo (1961). Harpo Speaks. New York: Limelight Editions. pp. 112–113. ISBN 0-87910-036-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Runaway Mules Gave Marx Bros. Cue to Comedy". San Antonio Express. July 20, 1930.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. [1] Archived May 18, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  25. Chandler, p. ???.
  26. "Groucho's Threat Against Nixon and 9 More Marx Brothers Stories" at mental_floss.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Joe Adamson, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo: A Celebration of the Marx Brothers New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.
  28. Kanfer, pp. 139–140.
  29. The labor world., December 15, 1917, Image 2 {Library of Congress accesed December 26, 2015
  30. Marx, Groucho (1976). The Groucho Phile, p. 31.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Groucho Live At Carnegie Hall
  32. Marx and Barber, p. ??.
  33. Louvish, S. (1999). 'Monkey business: The lives and legends of the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo with added Gummo.' London: Faber & Faber.
  34. Marx, G. (1976). The Groucho Phile. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, p. 30.
  35. Marx, Groucho and Me.
  36. Kanfer.
  37. "BBC Radio 4 Extra - Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel". 2014-05-31. Retrieved 2014-08-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Harpo was a very skillful bridge player, and a consistent winner in the highest circles.[citation needed]
  39. Johnny Carson. Museum of Broadcast Communications Retrieved 2010-08-20.
  40. Gore, Chris (1999). The Fifty Greatest Movies Never Made, New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
  41. Scheimer, Lou; Mangels, Andy (2012). Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation. Raleigh, NC: Two Morrows Publishing. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-60549-044-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Beck, Jerry (2009-07-22). "Filmation's Marx Brothers?". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved 2014-05-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Marx, Groucho, Beds (1930) Farrar & Rinehart, (1976) Bobbs-Merrill
  • Marx, Groucho, Many Happy Returns (1942) Simon & Schuster
  • Crichton, Kyle, The Marx Brothers (1950) Doubleday & Co.
  • Marx, Arthur, Life with Groucho (1954) Simon & Schuster, (revised as My Life with Groucho: A Son's Eye View, 1988) ISBN 0-330-31132-8
  • Marx, Groucho, Groucho and Me (1959) Random House, (1989) Fireside Books ISBN 0-306-80666-5
  • Marx, Harpo (with Barber, Rowland), Harpo Speaks! (1961) Bernard Geis Associates, (1985) Limelight Editions ISBN 0-87910-036-2
  • Marx, Groucho, Memoirs of a Mangy Lover (1963) Bernard Geis Associates, (2002) Da Capo Press ISBN 0-306-81104-9
  • Marx, Groucho, The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx (1967, 2007) Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-306-80607-X
  • Zimmerman, Paul D., The Marx Brothers at the Movies (1968) G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • Eyles, Allen, The Marx Brothers: Their World of Comedy (1969) A.S. Barnes
  • Robinson, David, The Great Funnies: A History of Film Comedy (1969) E.P. Dutton
  • Durgnat, Raymond, "Four Against Alienation" from The Crazy Mirror: Hollywood Comedy and the American Image (1970) Dell
  • Maltin, Leonard, Movie Comedy Teams (1970, revised 1985) New American Library
  • Anobile, Richard J. (ed.), Why a Duck?: Visual and Verbal Gems from the Marx Brothers Movies (1971) Avon Books
  • Bergman, Andrew, "Some Anarcho-Nihilist Laff Riots" from We're in the Money: Depression America and Its Films (1971) New York University Press
  • Marx, Arthur, Son of Groucho (1972) David McKay Co. ISBN 0-679-50355-2
  • Adamson, Joe, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo (1973, 1983) Simon & Schuster
  • Kalmar, Bert, and Perelman, S. J., The Four Marx Brothers in Monkey Business and Duck Soup (Classic Film Scripts) (1973) Simon & Schuster
  • Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies (1973, 2nd ed. 1979) University of Chicago Press
  • McCaffrey, Donald W., "Zanies in a Stage-Movieland" from The Golden Age of Sound Comedy (1973) A. S. Barnes
  • Anobile, Richard J. (ed.), Hooray for Captain Spaulding!: Verbal and Visual Gems from Animal Crackers (1974) Avon Books
  • Anobile, Richard J., The Marx Bros. Scrapbook (1974) Grosset & Dunlap, (1975) Warner Books
  • Wolf, William, The Marx Brothers (1975) Pyramid Library
  • Marx, Groucho, The Groucho Phile (1976) Bobbs-Merrill Co.
  • Marx, Groucho (with Arce, Hector), The Secret Word Is GROUCHO (1976) G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • Byron, Stuart and Weis, Elizabeth (eds.), The National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy (1977) Grossman/Viking
  • Maltin, Leonard, The Great Movie Comedians (1978) Crown Publishers
  • Arce, Hector, Groucho (1979) G. P. Putnam's Sons
  • Chandler, Charlotte, Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho & His Friends (1978) Doubleday & Co., (2007) Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-14-005222-4
  • Marx, Maxine, Growing Up with Chico (1980) Prentice-Hall, (1984) Simon & Schuster
  • Weales, Gerald, Canned Goods as Caviar: American Film Comedy of the 1930s (1985) University of Chicago Press
  • Gehring, Wes D., The Marx Brothers: A Bio-Bibliography (1987) Greenwood Press
  • Barson, Michael (ed.), Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel: The Marx Brothers Lost Radio Show (1988) Pantheon Books
  • Allen, Miriam Marx, Love, Groucho: Letters from Groucho Marx to His Daughter Miriam (1992) Faber & Faber ISBN 0-571-12915-3
  • Eyles, Allen, The Complete Films of the Marx Brothers (1992) Carol Publishing Group
  • Gehring, Wes D., Groucho and W.C. Fields: Huckster Comedians (1994) University Press of Mississippi
  • Mitchell, Glenn, The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia (1996) B.T. Batsford Ltd., (revised 2003) Reynolds & Hearn ( ISBN 0-7134-7838-1)
  • Stoliar, Steve, Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House (1996) General Publishing Group ISBN 1-881649-73-3
  • Dwan, Robert, As Long As They're Laughing!: Groucho Marx and You Bet Your Life (2000) Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.
  • Kanfer, Stefan, Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx (2000) Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 0-375-70207-5
  • Bego, Mark, The Marx Brothers (2001) Pocket Essentials
  • Louvish, Simon, Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers (2001) Thomas Dunne Books ISBN 0-312-25292-7
  • Gehring, Wes D., Film Clowns of the Depression (2007) McFarland & Co.
  • Keesey, Douglas, with Duncan, Paul (ed.), Marx Bros. (2007) Movie Icons series, Taschen
  • Marx, Bill, Son of Harpo Speaks! (2007) BearManor Media ISBN 1-59393-062-3

External links