Chico Marx


Actor, Comedian
Chico Marx

About

Also Known As
Leonard Marx, Chico [Marx]
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
March 26, 1887
Died
October 11, 1961
Cause of Death
Heart Ailment

Biography

Chico (variously pronounced as "Cheek-o" and "Chik-o") was the dumb but wisecracking, piano-playing Marx Brother, whose character protected the innocent Harpo while flummoxing the all-knowing Groucho. Wearing a dark curly wig, a pointed hat and a goofy grin, he portrayed an Italian stereotype common in early 20th-century vaudeville which would later be deemed offensive. The eldest of the...

Photos & Videos

A Night at the Opera - Publicity Stills
The Big Store - Publicity Stills
At the Circus - Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

Betty Carb
Wife
Mary De Vithers
Wife
Actor. Survived him.

Notes

Age variously given as 70, 75 and 76 at time of death.

"His parody of an Italian offended no one because despite the farcical amorality of his activities, the character came through as an essentially kind and sweet person"--NEW YORK TIMES obituary, October 12, 1961

Biography

Chico (variously pronounced as "Cheek-o" and "Chik-o") was the dumb but wisecracking, piano-playing Marx Brother, whose character protected the innocent Harpo while flummoxing the all-knowing Groucho. Wearing a dark curly wig, a pointed hat and a goofy grin, he portrayed an Italian stereotype common in early 20th-century vaudeville which would later be deemed offensive. The eldest of the brothers, Chico (supposedly nicknamed for his success with "chicks") started his career with brother Harpo, after teenaged jobs as a pianist and wrestler. Such acts as "Fun in Hi Skool" (1911) and ""Home Again" (1914), helped the brothers hone their stage personalities: notably the smart-mouthed con-man (Groucho), the dumb Italian (Chico) and the mute faun (Harpo).

The four older brothers first gained national attention in the zany revue "I'll Say She Is" (1923-1925). Their long running hit "The Cocoanuts" (1925-1928), with book by George S. Kaufman and score by Irving Berlin, assured their stardom. (By this time, Gummo had left the act and was replaced by Zeppo). During the run of "The Cocoanuts," they made an independently-financed silent comedy, "Humorisk," which was never released and has been lost. On the strength of their next Broadway hit, "Animal Crackers" (1928-29), the team was signed to a five-picture contract by Paramount, which was scouting talent for its new sound studio in Astoria, Queens. Although the limitations of early film 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 Marx Brothers' last three Paramount releases, "Monkey Business" (1931), "Horsefeathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933), were box office disappointments, 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 and the films were directed by better comedy-handlers like Norman Z. McLeod and Leo McCarey. The Paramount vehicles de-emphasized typical Hollywood storylines and romantic subplots and simply providing screen space for the Marx Brothers to perform their routines. In the nearly plotless "Monkey Business," they are shipboard stowaways who wreak havoc on a luxury liner, while in "Horsefeathers," they participate in a 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 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 who recast the usually irrepressible trio into the MGM mold. Re-inserting the usual Hollywood storylines, Thalberg set the brothers up as more sympathetic figures and offered romantic sub-plots and musical numbers to appeal to a broader audience. To these elements were added higher production values and the return of Kaufman and Ryskind. The two Thalberg 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 the zany Paramount comedies). But the death of Thalberg marked the end of the well-crafted Marx films. After a quick loan-out to RKO (for the substandard "Room Service" in 1938), the aging team did three flat comedies at MGM. After the war, the 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).

Chico never made a film without his brothers, but he did appear on TV as early as 1949, with such shows as "Silver Theater," "College Bowl" and "The Bigelow Theater." Shortly before his death, he and Harpo filmed a TV pilot about two angels, but Chico's declining health and the show's poor writing doomed it from the start. He led his own orchestra, "Chico Marx and His Ravellis" in the 1940s, tried his hand as a restaurateur in 1946, appeared with Harpo at the London Palladium in 1949 and toured with the show "The Fifth Season" in 1956. Heart disease kept Chico pretty much out of the limelight for several years before his death in 1961. He took less interest in his career than did Groucho and Harpo. A good-natured gambler and womanizer, Chico Marx worked more for the money than the glory. According to Harpo, he was also the team's unofficial agent.

Life Events

1920

Toured Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit with brothers

1923

Broadway debut, in "I'll Say She Is"

1929

Film debut in "The Cocoanuts"

1940

Worked as bandleader during WWII

1944

Acted in revue "Take a Bow"

1946

Opened chain of Los Angeles restaurants

1948

Made TV debut, without brothers

1949

Played London Palladium with Harpo

1956

Final stage appearance, "The Fifth Season"

1957

Final film, "The Story of Mankind"

Photo Collections

A Night at the Opera - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity photos taken for MGM's A Night at the Opera (1935), starring the Marx Bros. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Big Store - Publicity Stills
Here are several publicity stills taken for MGM's The Big Store (1941), starring Groucho, Harpo, and Chico Marx.
At the Circus - Publicity Stills
Here is a group of Publicity Stills taken during the production of At the Circus (1939), starring the Marx Brothers.
A Day at the Races - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from A Day at the Races (1937). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
A Night at the Opera - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's A Night at the Opera (1935), starring the Marx Bros. and directed by Sam Wood.
Duck Soup - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release movie posters from Paramount's Duck Soup (1934), starring the 4 Marx Brothers.
A Day at the Races - Movie Posters
Here is a group of movie posters for A Day at the Races (1937), starring the Marx Brothers.
A Day at the Races - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken during production of A Day at the Races (1937), starring the Marx Brothers.
At the Circus - Movie Posters
Here are a variety of Movie Posters for the Marx Brothers' At the Circus (1939), both American release and International.
The Big Store - Movie Posters
Here is a group of American movie posters from The Big Store (1941), starring the Marx Brothers.

Videos

Movie Clip

Horse Feathers (1932) - Swordfish "Swordfish" is the password as new college president Wagstaff (Groucho) comes to the speakeasy seeking student-athletes, meeting Baravelli (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) in the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers, 1932.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - Party of the First Part Driftwood (Groucho Marx) and Fiorello (Chico Marx) conduct business relating to an opera singer's contract in a famous scene from A Night at the Opera 1935, the screenplay credited to George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.
Room Service (1938) - Gallstones At The Plaza Broke Broadway producer Miller (Groucho Marx), buddy Binelli (Chico) and their hick playwright Davis (Frank Albertson) are trying to figure out how to handle their giant hotel bill before opening, joined by pal “Faker” Englund (Harpo), then hitting on the idea to trick enforcer Wagner (Donald MacBride), in Room Service, 1938.
Room Service (1938) - Not Dead, Just Dying! Now looking to avoid arrest and having the play shut down in mid-performance, producer Miller (Groucho Marx), pal Binelli (Chico), and the playwright (Frank Albertson), joined by Faker (Harpo), hatch another scheme to thwart furious financier Wagner (Donald MacBride), with support from Ann Miller, in the only Marx Brothers RKO feature, Room Service, 1938.
Rhapsody In Blue (1945) - A Fella's Gotta Start Somewhere First scene for Robert Alda as grown-up Bronxite George Gershwin, with brother Ira (Herbert Rudley) and parents (Rosemary DeCamp, Morris Carnovsky), when a message from Chico Marx leads to a meeting with an insulting Vaudevillian (Andrew Tombes), in Warner Bros.’ bio-pic Rhapsody In Blue, 1945.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - Our Distinguished Guests The stowaways (Chico and Harpo Marx and Allan Jones) have stolen beards from the famous aviators and must impersonate them with help from Driftwood (Groucho Marx) in A Night at the Opera, 1935.
Day At The Races, A (1937) - I Told You To Throw That Race! Harpo Marx is introduced as mute jockey Stuffy, who recklessly wins a race he was supposed to throw, pursued by crooked banker Morgan (Douglas Dumbrille), aided by his horse owner pal (Allan Jones) and then race track hustler Tony (brother Chico), early in A Day At The Races, 1937.
Day At The Races, A (1937) - Either He's Dead, Or... For reasons not quite clear or relevant, sanitarium employee Tony (Chico Marx) has arranged for phony-doctor and new-boss Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) to examine his jockey buddy Stuffy (Harpo Marx), the first routine with all three together, in MGM’s A Day At The Races, 1937.
Duck Soup (1933) - Where's My Stradivarius? Now at war with nearby Sylvania, Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly leads his country (Freedonia) in battle, his brother Zeppo his assistant, then his other brother Chico as the double-dealing Chicolini, his secretary of war, for the moment, in Duck Soup, 1933.
Duck Soup (1933) - These Are My Spies Louis Calhern is the evil Trentino of Sylvania, aiming to stir unrest in neighboring Freedonia (where Rufus T. Firefly, played by Groucho Marx, has just been made head of state), but he’s in trouble because his spies are Groucho’s brothers, Chico and Harpo, in Duck Soup, 1933.
Duck Soup (1933) - Mirror Pantomime None of the Marx Brothers (Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly, head of the nation of Freedonia and Harpo and Chico as spies sent to steal his war plans) knows that all of them are disguised as Groucho, thus the famous “mirror pantomime” sequence with the latter two, in Duck Soup, 1933.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - Fiorello, Tomasso Fiorello (Chico Marx) meets Tomasso (Harpo Marx) backstage for a salami exchange before visiting with old pal and singer Ricardo (Allan Jones) in an early scene from A Night at the Opera, 1935.

Trailer

Duck Soup - (Original Trailer) In Duck Soup (1933), their masterpiece and one of the greatest comedies of all time, The Marx Brothers take over the tiny nation of Freedonia.
Room Service - (Original Trailer) The Marx Brothers are three zany producers trying to extend their hotel credit until they can get a play mounted in Room Service (1938).
Big Store, The - (Original Trailer) A detective and his zany pals take over a failing department store in The Big Store (1941), starring The Marx Brothers and Margaret Dumont.
Go West (1940) - (Original Trailer) A zany trio head West in search of gold, and end up involved in a long-time feud in Go West (1940) starring The Marx Brothers.
Day at the Races, A - (Original Trailer) The Marx Brothers try to save a pretty girl's sanitarium in A Day at the Races (1937).
Night In Casablanca, A - (Original Trailer) Of all the movie stars in all the world, The Marx Brothers have to parody Humphrey Bogart in A Night In Casablanca (1946).
Animal Crackers - (Original Trailer) The Four Marx Brothers reduce a Long Island mansion to chaos in the film version of their Broadway hit, Animal Crackers (1930).
Monkey Business (1931) - (Original Trailer) The Four Marx Brothers stowaway on an ocean liner in route to America but never mind the plot, it's all Monkey Business (1931).
Night at the Opera, A - (Re-issue Trailer) Three zanies turn an operatic performance into chaos in their efforts to promote their protege's romance with the leading lady in A Night at the Opera (1935), one of the Marx Brothers most popular films.
At The Circus - (Original Trailer) The Marx Brothers team up to keep a circus from going bankrupt while they are At the Circus (1939), co-starring Margaret Dumont.

Family

Samuel Marx
Father
Tailor. Born in Alsace-Lorraine in 1860; died 1933.
Minnie Marx
Mother
Vaudevillian. Born in Germany.
Al Shean
Uncle
Vaudevillian. Brother of Minnie Marx; born 1868; died 1949; half of vaudeville team Gallagher and Shean.
Manfred Marx
Brother
Died in infancy.
Harpo Marx
Brother
Actor, harpist. Born 1888; died 1964.
Groucho Marx
Brother
Actor. Born 1890; died 1977.
Gummo Marx
Brother
Actor, agent. Born 1892; died 1977.
Zeppo Marx
Brother
Actor, agent. Born 1901; died 1979.
Maxine Culhane
Daughter
Mother Betty Carb.

Companions

Betty Carb
Wife
Mary De Vithers
Wife
Actor. Survived him.

Bibliography

Notes

Age variously given as 70, 75 and 76 at time of death.

"His parody of an Italian offended no one because despite the farcical amorality of his activities, the character came through as an essentially kind and sweet person"--NEW YORK TIMES obituary, October 12, 1961

"All his life Chico has had an uncanny talent for turning up prospects. It was he who first put us on Broadway, and made us internationally famous. It was Chico who turned up the producer--Irving Thalberg--who put us into Grade-A movies."--Harpo Marx quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, October 12, 1961