Harpo Marx


Actor, Comedian
Harpo Marx

About

Also Known As
Adolph Marx, Arthur Marx, Harpo [Marx]
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
November 21, 1888
Died
September 28, 1964
Cause of Death
Heart Attack Following Surgery

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...

Photos & Videos

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

Family & Companions

Susan Fleming
Wife
Actor. Married from 1936 until his death.

Bibliography

"Harpo Speaks!"
Harpo Marx (1961)

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

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 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.

Life Events

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

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.
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.
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) - A Rufus Over Your Head Now head of state in Freedonia, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) gets a lift (from brother Harpo) to the tea party hosted by the widow Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), who is financing his government, and bamboozles foreign rival Trentino (Louis Calhern), 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.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - State Room This is most of the famed "State Room" sequence featuring Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx along with Harry "Zoop" Welsh as the steward and too many others in A Night at the Opera, 1935.
Go West (1940) - Keep The Baggage Opening scene at the train station "back east," Groucho as hustler "Quale," encountering crackpot brothers, Chico and Harpo as "Joe" and "Rusty," Ed Gargan the ticket agent, in what is often cited as an under-rated Marx Bros. vehicle, Go West, 1940, from MGM.

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 Asace-Lorraine in 1860; died in 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.
Chico Marx
Brother
Actor, pianist, bandleader. Born 1887; died 1961.
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.

Companions

Susan Fleming
Wife
Actor. Married from 1936 until his death.

Bibliography

"Harpo Speaks!"
Harpo Marx (1961)

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