Nationality: American. CHICO. Born: Leonard Marx in New York City, 22 March 1891 (some sources say earlier). Family: Married Betty Harp, 1912; one daughter. HARPO. Born: Adolph (later used the name Arthur) Marx in New York City, 23 November 1893 (some sources say earlier). Family: Married Susan Fleming, 1936, four adopted children. GROUCHO. Born: Julius Marx in New York City, 2 October 1890 (some sources say 1895). Family: Married 1) Ruth Johnson, 1920 (divorced 1942), one daughter and one son; 2) Kay Marvis Gorcey, 1945 (divorced 1951), one daughter; 3) Eden Hartford, 1954 (divorced 1969). ZEPPO. Born: Herbert Marx in
Career: Chico, Harpo and Groucho all entered vaudeville as singers; Groucho toured with a "girls" singing group; 1910s—their mother formed the vaudeville act The Three Nightingales, later The Four Nightingales, incorporating the brothers; they left vaudeville for the music stage, 1920s; 1925—first big success with Broadway show The Cocoanuts (film version in 1929); 1933—Zeppo left the group to become a theatrical agent and a manufacturer of aircraft parts; 1934—Chico and Groucho appeared in radio show Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel ; 1940s—both Chico and Harpo appeared with their own bands; 1943–44—Groucho in radio show The Pabst Blue Ribbon Show ; 1947–58—Groucho hosted radio quiz You Bet Your Life , also TV version, 1950–58; 1948—Groucho's play, Time for Elizabeth , written with Norman Krasna, produced on Broadway; 1950–51—Chico in TV series The College Bowl ; 1962—Groucho in TV series Tell It to Groucho and toured in one-man show An Evening with Groucho , 1972. Awards: (Groucho): Cannes Festival Special Award, 1972; Honorary Oscar, "in recognition of his brilliant creativity and for the unequalled achievements of the Marx Brothers in the art of motion picture comedy," 1973. Died: Chico died 11 October 1961. Harpo died 28 September 1964. Groucho died 19 August 1977. Zeppo died 13 December 1979.
Too Many Kisses (Sloane) (Harpo only)
The Cocoanuts (Florey and Santley) (Groucho as Mr. Hammer, Harpo as Harpo, Chico as Chico, and Zeppo as Jamison)
Animal Crackers (Heerman) (Groucho as Capt. Jeffrey T. Spaulding, Harpo as the Professor, Chico as Signor Emanuel Ravelli, and Zeppo as Horatio Jamison)
Monkey Business (McLeod) (as stowaways)
Horse Feathers (McLeod) (Groucho as Prof. Quincey Adams Wagstaff, Harpo as Pinky, Chico as Barovelli, and Zeppo as Frank Wagstaff)
Duck Soup (McCarey) (Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly, Harpo as Pinkie, Chico as Chicolini, and Zeppo as Bob Rolland)
A Night at the Opera (Wood) (Groucho as Otis B. Driftwood, Harpo as Tomasso, and Chico as Fiorello)
A Day at the Races (Wood) (Groucho as Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, Harpo as Stuffy, and Chico as Toni)
Room Service (Weiter) (Groucho as Gordon Miller, Harpo as Faker Englund, and Chico as Harry Binelli)
At the Circus (Buzzell) (Groucho as J. Cheever Loophole, Harpo as Punchy, and Chico as Antonio Pirelli)
Go West (Buzzell) (Groucho as S. Quentin Quale, Harpo as Rusty Panello, and Chico as Joseph Panello)
The Big Store (Reisner) (Groucho as Wolf J. Flywheel, Harpo as Wacky, and Chico as Ravelli)
A Night in Casablanca (Mayo) (Groucho as Ronald Kornblow, Harpo as Rusty, and Chico as Corbaccio)
Copacabana (Green) (Groucho as Lionel L. Devereaux)
Love Happy (Miller) (Groucho as Sam Grunion, Harpo as Harpo, and Chico as Faustino the Great)
Mr. Music (Haydn) (Groucho as himself)
Double Dynamite (Cummings) (Groucho as Emil J. Kech)
A Girl in Every Port (Erskine) (Groucho as Benny Linn)
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? ( Oh! For a Man! ) (Tashlin) (Groucho as surprise guest); The Story of Mankind (Irwin Allen) (Groucho as Peter Minuit, Harpo as Isaac Newton, and Chico as Monk)
Skidoo (Preminger) (Groucho as "God")
Beds by Groucho Marx, New York, 1930.
Many Happy Returns by Groucho Marx, New York, 1942.
Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx, New York, 1959.
Harpo Speaks! , with Rowland Barber, New York, 1961.
Memoirs of a Mangy Lover by Groucho Marx, New York, 1963.
The Groucho Letters: Letters from and To by Groucho Marx, New York, 1967.
The Groucho Marx Scrapbook , with Richard J. Anobile, New York, 1973.
The Groucho File: An Illustrated Life , Indianapolis, 1976.
The Marx Brothers Scrapbook , New York, 1989.
"Groucho Writes," in Take One (Montreal), no. 11, 1968.
Interview with Groucho Marx, in Take One (Montreal), January 1970.
"Alias Julius Henry Marx," interview with Groucho by J. Adamson in Take One (Montreal), December 1975.
Crichton, Kyle, The Marx Brothers , New York, 1951.
Marx, Arthur, Life with Groucho , New York, 1954.
Zimmerman, Paul, and Burt Goldblatt, The Marx Brothers and the Movies , New York, 1968.
Eyles, Allen, The Marx Brothers: Their World of Comedy , New York, 1969.
Anobile, Richard, Why a Duck?: Visual and Verbal Gems from the Marx Brothers Movies , New York, 1971.
Marx, Arthur, Son of Groucho , New York, 1972.
Adamson, Joseph, Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo: A History of the Marx Brothers and a Satire on the Rest of the World , New York, 1973.
Chesler, Judd, Toward a Surrealistic Film Aesthetic, with an Investigation into the Elements of Surrealism in the Marx Brothers and Jean Vigo , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1977.
Chandler, Charlotte, Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho and His Friends , New York, 1978.
Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies , Chicago, revised edition, 1979.
Arce, Hector, Groucho , New York, 1979.
Marx, Maxine, Growing Up with Chico , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.
Alion, Yves, Les Marx Brothers , Paris, 1985.
Gehring, Wes D., The Marx Brothers: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, 1987.
Marx, Arthur, My Life with Groucho: A Son's Eye View , New York, 1988.
Stables, Kate, Marx Brothers , New York, 1992.
"Horse Feathers," in Time (New York), 15 August 1932.
Rowland, R., "American Classic," in Hollywood Quarterly , April 1947 (reprinted in Penguin Film Review (London), September 1948).
Perelman, S. J., "The Winsome Foursome," in Show (Hollywood), November 1961.
Gili, J.-A., and others, "Sur les Marx Brothers," in Ecran (Paris), January 1972.
Stone, E., "Groucho and Adolf; or, The Summer of 1941," in Journal of Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio), Summer 1973.
Ghezzi, E., "I fratelli Marx nelle strutture del sogno," in Filmcritica (Rome), October-December 1973.
Schippers, K., "'We Were Brothers Long before Warner!' Groucho Marx," in Skoop (Amsterdam), September 1977.
Passek, J.-L., "Groucho Marx," in Cinéma (Paris), November 1977.
Thomson, D., "Groucho Marx: A Retrospective," in Take One (Montreal), November 1977.
Calman, M., "Perelman in Cloudsville," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1978.
"Marx Brothers Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), April 1983.
Winokur, Mark, "'Smile, Stranger': Aspects of Immigrant Humor in the Marx Brothers' Humor," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), July 1985.
Mossis, C.D., "The Ithyphallus as Lacanian Signifier in the Marx Brothers Comedies," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Fall 1987.
Jenkins, H. III, "Fifi Was My Mother's Name!: Anarchistic Comedy, the Vaudeville Aesthetic, and Diplomaniacs," in Velvet Light Trap (Austin), Fall 1990.
Groch, J.R., "What is a Marx Brother?: Critical Practice, Industrial Practice, and the Notion of an Auteur," in Velvet Light Trap (Austin), Fall 1990.
Alion, Yves, "Les cinq premiers films des Marx Brothers," in Mensuel du Cinéma (Paris), February 1994.
Rossi, J.P., "A Night in Philadelphia," in Four Quarters , 8:3–8, no. 1 1994.
Lieberfeld, D., and Sanders, J., "Here Under False Pretenses: the Marx Brothers Crash the Gates," in American Scholar , vol. 64:103–108, no. 1 1995.
Artaud, A., "Artaud on the Marx Brothers," in Vertigo (Paris), 1:45 no. 6, 1996.
Minnie's Boys by Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher, produced on Broadway, 1970.
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The Marx Brothers' irreverent brand of humor has been described as surrealistic, absurdist, and anarchic. Consistently anti-authoritarian, their films mock serious institutions and professions, figures of authority, and "high art," with special abuse reserved for anyone deemed pompous, rich, or respectable. For example, Horse Feathers ridicules American colleges, Duck Soup takes jabs at governmental officials and international relations, and A Night at the Opera lambastes opera and its rich patrons. At their best, the Brothers not only run circles around figures of authority, but also undermine Hollywood film conventions and the authority of language, from official institutional language with its specialized jargon to everyday language ordinarily taken for granted. They have influenced countless filmmakers, comedians, authors, and playwrights.
The Brothers' individual comic personae were established early in their careers and remained consistent: Groucho's sardonic punster, Chico's immigrant with a phony Italian accent who never comprehends social conventions but creates his own logical alternatives, and Harpo's devious mischief-maker who never speaks but communicates brilliantly with facial expressions and props. Two other brothers, Zeppo and Gummo, participated in their vaudeville acts, with Zeppo continuing as a straight man in their first five films before quitting to become a Hollywood agent. Margaret Dumont joined their vaudeville act and remained a regular cast member during their film careers, always playing the role of a rich dowager.
Vaudeville provided the Brothers with the opportunity to develop their personae and their unique way of relating to one another. First as solo performers and then together as a team, the Brothers perfected their vaudeville skits by improvising in response to the exigencies of each audience. Their first two films were actually vaudeville routines adapted for the screen. Even after relinquishing the vaudeville circuit for film careers, the Brothers continued to improvise around their scripts. For A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races , they refined their film scenarios by testing them before live audiences. Vaudeville exerted the strongest influence on the Brothers' comedic styles; its quick pace and reliance on visual combined with verbal gags were integral to their development. Other important influences were silent films (especially Chaplin) and the scriptwriters who worked with them over the years.
Working in the film industry gradually altered the Marx Brothers' comedy, a process that some commentators have interpreted as one of restraining the more confrontational aspects of their humor. Their earlier films are generally considered to be their best. In Monkey Business , for example, the Brothers are stowaways on an ocean liner, which they terrorize with their pranks before trying to get through Customs with Maurice Chevalier imitations. Duck Soup is considered by many to be their finest, most irreverent film, but it also led to a split from Paramount, their first producer, due to the film's poor box-office performance and to changes in Paramount's administration. Set in the fictional country of Freedonia, Duck Soup casts Groucho as the country's intransigent president, Rufus T. Firefly, who insults everyone, whether friend or foe, and capriciously launches a war that he declines to end because "I've paid a month's rent on the battlefield."
After their switch to MGM, the Brothers' films began to soften their barbed wit. A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races , their first two MGM releases, were their most financially successful films and displayed some memorable zaniness. In A Night at the Opera Harpo and Chico get the orchestra to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the overture to Il trovatore , Groucho sells popcorn in the aisles, Harpo and Chico join the action on stage while Groucho yells "boogie boogie," and they raise and lower inappropriate backdrops behind the confused singers. Nevertheless, under the guidance of Irving J. Thalberg, the Brothers were restrained by more rigid plots and by serious romantic subplots involving young lovers faced with obstacles to their happiness. Placed within the confines of having to help the romantic couples, who were spared from mockery, the Brothers' humor lost some of its all-inclusiveness. Musical interludes became standard elements as well, and while Groucho's singing, Chico's piano playing, and Harpo's harp playing exhibited talented horseplay, other musical performers tended to plod.
Their films following Thalberg's death in 1936 became increasingly formulaic while still displaying some outstanding comic moments. Hollywood of the 1930s, with its Production Code and Wall Street bosses, was not conductive to unleashed anti-authoritarian humor. Following Love Happy , their last film, the Brothers went their separate ways, but all three continued to perform: Groucho as host of a quiz show, You Bet Your Life , on radio and television, and Chico and Harpo as guests on televised variety shows.
A few elements in the Marx Brothers films are disturbing, such as the ethnic stereotypes and the limited roles for women characters who exist solely as the objects of the Brothers' jokes and lechery. Ultimately, the Marx Brothers' humor can be characterized as good satirical fun. Rather than construct a vision of a better society, the Brothers ridicule an immutable society before becoming integrated into the world of success by the happy endings. Their genius lies in casting fresh light on social mores by undermining conventional manifestations of seriousness.