Appreciating all that makes America special

Actors: The Marx Brothers

Left to right - Julius, Arthur, and Leonard Marx. Uploaded by ronazajac.com.

Picture this: Groucho on guitar and vocals, Zeppo and Gummo on vocals, and Harpo on harp (duh). Well, that’s how the Marx Brothers got their start, as a musical act. Fortunately, they soon realized Groucho’s ability to get laughs, and switched to a comedy format. The rest, as they say, is show business history.

Of course, those weren’t the boys real names. Arthur (Harpo), Julius (Groucho), Leonard (Chico), Milton (Gummo), and Herbert (Zeppo) used their real names until their first appearance on Broadway in their musical comedy revue I’ll Say She Is in 1924-25. They followed that show up with two more comedy hits, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. These two became their first movies, which ended up being little more than films of their stage productions.

Uploaded to Flickr by detoxicide.

Gummo never appeared in films, and the four Marx Brothers became three when Zeppo quit the act following Duck Soup (1933). They made five features for Paramount, including Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup. They then switched to MGM, where they had most of their success with their early films, primarily A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

At their best they were masters of comic timing and repartee. Here are some great lines from their films, and a couple of wonderful scenes:

GROUCHO: I never forget a face. But in your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.

GROUCHO: I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.

GROUCHO: How much would you charge to run into an open manhole?
CHICO: Just the cover charge.

CHICO: I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.

GROUCHO: Remember men, we’re fighting for this woman’s honour; which is probably more than she ever did.

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One Comment

  1. Another personal favorite of mine! If only Hollywood could be this good now…

    A few more facts:

    If you watch the movies, in each one Harpo always makes this dumb grimace look with his cheeks puffed out and his mouth open. It is called the Gookie and he supposedly took his inspiration from a tobacco store owner in his New York neighborhood as a child. The guy evidently would rolls cigars and made the same face while doing so.

    While Harpo played the dolt on screen, off screen he was anything but that. He was a dear friend of Alexander Woolcott and a member of the Algonquin Round Table with the likes of Dorothy Parker, George Kaufman, Edna Ferber and many others in the New York literary world.

    They were seasoned vaudville performers and had already made it big on Broadway long before any of their material made it to film. They were all in their late 30’s and early 40’s when Coconuts was put on film.

    One of my favorite Groucho stories relates to his early days living in California. He tried to join a swim club but was denied membership because he was Jewish. He then asked if it would be alright for his daughter to get in to the pool up to her waist, as she was only half Jewish.