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Harpo Marx

Harpo Marx

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The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection... Laugh your head off with the funniest siblings on the silver screen with this... more info $59.98was $59.98 Buy Now

The Cocoanuts DVD The legendary Marx Brothers - Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo - made their... more info $14.98was $14.98 Buy Now

The Story Of Mankind DVD Here is the most far-out courtroom thriller you’ll ever see. The setting is... more info $12.99was $19.99 Buy Now

Also Known As: Adolph Marx, Arthur Marx, Harpo [Marx] Died: September 28, 1964
Born: November 21, 1888 Cause of Death: heart attack following surgery
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: actor, comedian, harpist, bellboy

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

This mute, blond-wigged naif Marx Brother evolved from a girl-chasing faun to a sweet innocent. The most fey and absurdist of the brothers, Harpo's art was closer to 19th century French mime than to American vaudeville. He worked as a bellboy while learning the harp which became his trademark. He and older brother Chico formed a comedy duo around the turn of the century, and by the early 1910s he was in vaudeville with Chico, Groucho and Gummo in acts like "Fun in Hi Skool" (1911) and "Welcome Home" (1914), both penned by their uncle Al Shean.The brothers first gained national attention in the revue "I'll Say She Is" (1923-1925). Their long-running hit "The Cocoanuts" (1925-28), with script by George S. Kaufman and music by Irving Berlin, assured the brothers' stardom (by this time, Gummo had left the act and been replaced by Zeppo). On the strength of their next Broadway hit, "Animal Crackers" (1928-1929), the team was signed to a five-picture contract by Paramount. Although the limitations of early sound technology forced the Marxes to subdue their energetic comedy style and penchant for improvisation, the movie public flocked to "The Cocoanuts" (1929) and "Animal Crackers" (1930).The final three...

This mute, blond-wigged naif Marx Brother evolved from a girl-chasing faun to a sweet innocent. The most fey and absurdist of the brothers, Harpo's art was closer to 19th century French mime than to American vaudeville. He worked as a bellboy while learning the harp which became his trademark. He and older brother Chico formed a comedy duo around the turn of the century, and by the early 1910s he was in vaudeville with Chico, Groucho and Gummo in acts like "Fun in Hi Skool" (1911) and "Welcome Home" (1914), both penned by their uncle Al Shean.

The brothers first gained national attention in the revue "I'll Say She Is" (1923-1925). Their long-running hit "The Cocoanuts" (1925-28), with script by George S. Kaufman and music by Irving Berlin, assured the brothers' stardom (by this time, Gummo had left the act and been replaced by Zeppo). On the strength of their next Broadway hit, "Animal Crackers" (1928-1929), the team was signed to a five-picture contract by Paramount. Although the limitations of early sound technology forced the Marxes to subdue their energetic comedy style and penchant for improvisation, the movie public flocked to "The Cocoanuts" (1929) and "Animal Crackers" (1930).

The final three Marx Brothers releases from Paramount, "Monkey Business" (1931), "Horsefeathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933), did not perform well at the box office, although they are now regarded as the team's most inspired comedies. The writing of George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind was replaced by that of another brilliant humorist, S.J. Perelman. The boys were also directed by better comedy handlers, Norman Z. McLeod and Leo McCarey. The Paramount vehicles de-emphasized typical Hollywood storylines and romantic subplots, simply providing screen space for the Marxes to perform their routines. The nearly plotless "Monkey Business" features them as shipboard stowaways who wreak havoc on a luxury liner, while "Horsefeathers" is a similar free-form romp through a college campus. "Duck Soup", usually considered the team's absurdist masterpiece, is a satire on the politics of war, as the brothers run the country of Freedonia into the ground.

The financially-troubled Paramount released the Marx Brothers following "Duck Soup", but the team (now minus Zeppo) was picked up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, at the behest of production chief Irving Thalberg. Thalberg recast the usually irrepressible brothers into the MGM mold. Re-inserting the usual Hollywood storylines, he set the brothers up as more sympathetic figures and offered romantic subplots to appeal to a broader audience. The change was most evident in Harpo, who had begun his screen career as a red-wigged satyr, chasing girls and generally behaving in an amoral (as opposed to immoral) fashion. Now he became more elf than satyr; blond, de-sexed and sometimes maudlin, Harpo became "adorable."

The higher production values and Hollywood gloss of the brothers' first MGM films, "A Night at the Opera" (1935) and "A Day at the Races" (1937) revived their popularity (though many fans find these films a dull let-down from early efforts). Thalberg's untimely death marked the end of the well-crafted Marx films. After a quick loan-out to RKO (for 1938's sub-standard "Room Service"), the aging team did three flat comedies at MGM. After the war, they reunited for the undistinguished "A Night in Casablanca" (1946) and "Love Happy" (1949). They last appeared in the same film--though separately--in Irwin Allen's all-star flop "The Story of Mankind" (1957).

Harpo had always done a good deal of solo work, including a small role as an Italian peasant in the Richard Dix film "Too Many Kisses" (1925). He toured the USSR in 1934 (where he discovered his name was spelled "Exapno Mapcase" in Russian) and spoke onstage for the first time in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1940). He spent the last 20 years of his life appearing on TV (including a now classic episode of "I Love Lucy"), in nightclubs and concerts, both as a comic and as a serious harpist. He married actress Susan Fleming in 1936 and adopted four children. By all accounts, Harpo in private life was inseparable from his screen character: a kind, childlike man who looked on life as a big game.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Going Hollywood: The War Years (1983) Himself (Archival Footage)
2.
 The Story of Mankind (1957) Isaac Newton
3.
 Love Happy (1950) Harpo
4.
 A Night in Casablanca (1946) Rusty
5.
6.
 The Big Store (1941) Wacky
7.
 Go West (1940) "Rusty" Panello
8.
 At the Circus (1939) Punchy
9.
 Room Service (1938) Faker [Englund]
10.
 A Day at the Races (1937) Stuffy
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1904:
Formed comedy team with brother Chico
1910:
Joined Groucho, Gummo and Chico in "The Four Nightingales" act
1920:
Toured on Ketih-Albee vaudeville circuit with brothers
1923:
Broadway debut, in "I'll Say She Is"
1925:
Film debut, in "Too Many Kisses"
1929:
Talking film debut, in "The Cocoanuts"
1934:
Toured the Soviet Union
1940:
Spoke onstage for first time in "The Man Who Came to Dinner"
1957:
Last film, "The Story of Mankind"
1963:
Retired due to heart problems
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"While Groucho and Chico were concerned with the elaborate flip-flops of their plots, Harpo was having fun. He was always wise to their maneuvers, and would often offer an assist or miraculously inspired suggestion to help the monkey business along. But invariably at some point in the scramble, Harpo and the pace would slow down and he would withdraw to the comfort of his harp. Then he would play sweet music. Love and bliss would shine in his eyes. And the pathos of being a cheerful misfit and a buffoon to maniacs would be revealed. There was no common sense in the character. It was a whimsey, a hare-brained caricature. But it sweetly suggested life's derangements and something of its haunting mystery."--Bosley Crowther in THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 29, 1964

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Susan Fleming. Actor. Married from 1936 until his death.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Samuel Marx. Tailor. Born in Asace-Lorraine in 1860; died in 1933.
mother:
Minnie Marx. Vaudevillian. Born in Germany.
uncle:
Al Shean. Vaudevillian. Brother of Minnie Marx; born 1868; died 1949 half of vaudeville team Gallagher and Shean.
brother:
Manfred Marx. Died in infancy.
brother:
Chico Marx. Actor, pianist, bandleader. Born 1887; died 1961.
brother:
Groucho Marx. Actor. Born 1890; died 1977.
brother:
Gummo Marx. Actor, agent. Born 1892; died 1977.
brother:
Zeppo Marx. Actor, agent. Born 1901; died 1979.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Harpo Speaks!"

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