MARX BROTHERS


MARX BROTHERS
MARX BROTHERS, U.S. theatrical comedy team. Zany and irreverent, their wild and impromptu humor appealed to lowbrows and intellectuals alike. Originally, there were five Marx Brothers. All were part of a vaudeville act called "Six Musical Mascots" (their mother, Minnie, a sister of the vaudeville actor al shean , was the sixth). The brothers, all born in New York, were CHICO (LEONARD, 1891–1961), HARPO (ADOLPH, later ARTHUR, 1893–1964), GUMMO (MILTON, 1894–1977), GROUCHO (JULIUS, 1895–1977), and ZEPPO (HERBERT, 1901–1979). When their mother left the act, they became "The Nightingales" and played in vaudeville as singers and comedians until they reached the Palace Theater in New York in 1918. They made their Broadway debut in 1924 in a revue called I'll Say She Is. By that time, the brothers had developed a distinct comic style. CHICO donned a pointed hat over a deadpan face and affected an Italian accent. He was also an accomplished piano player, and he frequently broke the comedy with a turn at the keyboard. HARPO, with a battered hat over a frizzled wig of blond curls, never spoke during the act. He used two means to communicate – a bulb horn on stage and a romantic harp. He played the harp at concerts as well as in films. GROUCHO, wearing a swallowtail coat, chewing a long cigar and wearing a large black moustache, was master of the insult. After the brothers' film career had ended, Groucho confirmed his reputation as a wit as the master of ceremonies on a TV weekly quiz show. ZEPPO, the straight man of the team in the movies, left the act in the early 1930s, and became a successful theatrical agent. GUMMO, who was in the act only briefly, also became a successful agent. Their succession of stage and film comedies – such as The Cocoanuts (1929); Animal Crackers (1930); Horse-feathers (1932); Duck Soup (1933); A Night at the Opera (1935); and A Night in Casablanca (1946) – were considered cinema classics which continued to attract audiences on their many replays. Harpo's autobiography, Harpo Speaks, appeared in 1961. Groucho wrote Groucho and Me (1959), an autobiography, and Memoirs of a Mangy Lover (1963). His prolific and unconventional correspondence was published as The Groucho Letters in 1967. The Library of Congress asked him for the letters and papers, which included the manuscripts of his books. In one celebrated letter, he wrote Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania in 1964 to tell him he had heard him mispronounce a Yiddish term. "If you are going to campaign in Jewish neighborhoods," Groucho counseled, "rhyme mish-mash with slosh." The comedy world of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo was   wildly chaotic, grounded in slapstick farce, lowbrow vaudeville corn, free-spirited anarchy, and assaults on the myths and virtues of middle-class America. Groucho was larger and more antic than life. His humor was based on the improbable, the unexpected, the outrageous. Animal Crackers gave Groucho his most celebrated character, Capt. Jeffrey T. Spaulding, a bumbling African explorer ("My name is Captain Spaulding, the African explorer," Groucho sang, "did someone call me schnorrer?"). Groucho was a master of the ad lib and refused to follow the scripts of his plays and movies, although some of them were turned out by such masters of comedy as george s. kaufman and S.J. Perelman . Groucho supplemented his meager formal education by reading omnivorously. For some years he carried on a correspondence with the poet T.S. Eliot, and in 1965 he was invited to speak at a memorial for Eliot. Typically, he used the occasion to say something outrageous: "Apparently Mr. Eliot was a great admirer of mine – and I don't blame him." -BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Eyles, The Marx Brothers (1966); K.S. Crichton, The Marx Brothers (1951); O. Levant, A Smattering of Ignorance (1940, 19592), on Harpo Marx. (Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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