The Marx Brothers Biography

All five brothers were born in New York City, New York, USA, and adopted nicknames: Chico (Leonard Marx, 22 March 1887, d. 11 October 1961, Hollywood, California, USA), Harpo (b. Adolph Arthur Marx, 23 November 1888, d. 28 September 1964, Hollywood, California, USA), Groucho (b. Julius Henry Marx, 2 October 1890, d. 19 August 1977, Los Angeles, California, USA), Gummo (b. Milton Marx, 23 October 1892, d. 21 April 1977, Palm Springs, California, USA), Zeppo (b. Herbert Marx, 25 February 1901, d. 29 November 1979, Palm Springs, California, USA). They were urged into showbusiness by their mother Minnie, the sister of Al Shean of Gallagher And Shean.

Chiefly a musical act, Groucho was a boy soprano, Chico a pianist, Harpo a harpist. Eventually settling into a group of four (Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Gummo), they gained success after incorporating zany comedy into their act. By 1924, the year they appeared on Broadway in I’ll Say She Does, Zeppo had replaced Gummo. They made their first collective, non-short film appearance in The Cocoanuts (1929), followed by Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933), all for the Paramount Picture Corporation. Zeppo, who played romantic roles aloof from his brother’s anarchic comedy, bowed out and Chico, Harpo and Groucho moved to MGM where they made A Night At The Opera (1935), A Day At The Races (1937), Room Service (1938), At The Circus (1939), Go West (1940), The Big Store (1941), A Night In Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949). Chico, Harpo and Groucho appeared separately in The Story Of Mankind (1957) and appeared together in a 30-minute television special, The Incredible Jewel Robbery (1959). In the brothers’ films Chico, who in the early 40s had led a band that included 17-year-old drummer-vocalist Mel Tormé, would perform a speciality piano number and Harpo, of course, played the harp. Occasionally, Groucho would sing a comic song, notably ‘Hooray For Captain Spaulding’ and ‘Lydia, The Tattooed Lady’. Also providing musical interludes were supporting players, including Kay Francis, Lillian Roth, Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, Lucille Ball, Kenny Baker, Eve Arden, Tony Martin and Vera-Ellen. Although she made no musical contribution and never cracked a joke, or even a smile, mention must be made of the stately and much-maligned (by Groucho) Margaret Dumont.

After 1950, only Groucho continued a full-time showbusiness career, most notably as host of the television game show, You Bet Your Life. He performed a one-man show at Carnegie Hall in 1972. In 1970 a Broadway show, Minnie’s Boys, paid affectionate tribute to Minnie Marx and her remarkable contribution to the world of comedy.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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