The Marx Brothers Biography



The Marx Brothers
Adolph Arthur "Harpo" Marx



Born: November 23, 1888 in New York City, NY
Died: September 28, 1964 in Los Angeles


Drawing by Salvador Dali
from an article in Theatre Arts Monthly, October 1939

Harpo was the second oldest and the one who never spoke. Not entirely true. He spoke quite regularly on stage until the production of "Home Again".
Les Marsden had some more information about Harpo's 'speaking career': "He still had a about six lines in "Home Again", but uncle Al Shean simply didn't think he delivered lines all that well. Harpo was so upset that after they had toured the show in vaudeville for awhile and were playing (according to Harpo) the theatre in Champagne, Illinois, Harpo decided to ad-lib all through the performance. A critic in the local newspaper described the show by saying, in part, "Adolph Marx performed beautiful pantomime which was ruined whenever he spoke." Harpo then decided he could do a better job of stealing focus by not speaking. And he really did continue to speak on stage regularly - just whenever he felt like it. For example, on opening night of 'Animal Crackers' he tackled Margaret Irving and proceeded to tell her a well....let's just say a questionable joke. Groucho, Chico and Zeppo came out onstage and did a running commentary. But he did speak extemporaneously onstage on occasion. Just not from a script and not often. Steve Allen has told me (and has also recounted the tale in various books, etc) all about the evening Harpo left show business during Allen Sherman's show in Pasadena, during which he spoke for several minutes to a stunned audience."

Harpo was given the name Adolph, but changed it to Arthur during World War I because it was too 'German'.

Through Alexander Woollcott the theater critic, who was responsible for their first big success in New York, Harpo became a member of the Algonquin Round Table.

In 1936 he married actress Susan Fleming. They adopted four children Bill, Alex, Jimmy and Minnie.


"Harpo's harps" by Les Marsden

"Harpo rarely played the same harp twice in a movie, and in some movies didn't play a harp at all (Go West harp is actually a loom, At the Races is the dismantled frame of a grand piano, and Duck Soup....well, we all know about that one.) They were usually his own harps but he changed models a lot, particularly in the early years. Eventually, he owned two Lyon & Healy Gold-Gilt Concert Grands, model #24. He had those two harps for years and shortly after his death, Susan was asked to judge a harp competition in Israel. She insisted that Bill come along as well because she knew nothing about the mechanics of harpistry. They both decided to take the two harps along and donate them to two university harp departments in Israel, with the only proviso being that they were not to go in glass cases, but instead were to be used. Upon arrival in Israel, the customs agents demanded a 100% duty payment from Susan and she said 'what? I'm trying to donate these harps to you!' and was ready (as she told me) to get back on the plane and take the damn harps back home when a governmental official broke through and announced that they'd be happy to take the harps for free! I've heard from other sources that the harps were marked as Harpo's with small plaques but that they indeed were (and hopefully still are) used as Susan intended." Les Marsden, 1998


Harpo's and Susan's children

Minnie is married to Jerry Eagle

Alex retired from his career as a submarine mechanic with the military. He and his wife Carol and two stepdaughters live in Vallejo.

Jim owned a pottery shop and separate studio in San Luis Obispo. The shop was called 'Mudslingers'. He lost the store in a divorce about 1980 and is now happily remarried (different wife) and works at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

Bill moved to Palm Springs from Pacific Palisades. He still appears in public, playing on Moday nights in a bar in Palm Springs. He's currently (1998) writing a musical review which takes as its subject matter Palm Springs; he's also revising the two-hander touring act he played a few years ago with harpist Carrol McLaughlin as a SOLO act. Since 1995, he is happily married to Barbara.


Susan Marx

Susan Marx died in December 2002. Here is a news item about her:

Susan Marx died shortly before midnight Sunday [22 Dec 2002] at Eisenhower Medical Center after suffering a massive heart attack. She was 94.
Her son, pianist Bill Marx, was at her bedside just hours after concluding a talk about his father in a benefit for the Jewish Community School with a rendition of "Sunrise Sunset."
Bill Marx said there were three phases of his mother's life: her early show biz life as Susan Fleming, her personal life as Mrs. Harpo Marx, and her life of public service as Susan Marx.
Born in Brooklyn, she started her career as a stage actress, working her way up to the top musical revue on Broadway, "The Ziegfeld Follies," in the 1920s.
She followed the opportunities to Hollywood in 1931 when she appeared as John Wayne's love interest in "Range Feud." As a Paramount actress, she actually made more movies than the Marx Brothers, with her peak coming in the 1932 comedy "Million Dollar Legs" with W.C. Fields.
Her best friend, Gloria Stuart, co-star in the blockbuster film "Titanic," remembered she got a big Hollywood buildup for that film.
"The publicity was, she was Susan Fleming with the million-dollar legs," Stuart recalled. "She starred, and her legs were insured for a million dollars."
But Bill Marx said his mother hated the movie business. When she met Harpo Marx at Paramount, she courted him -- even proposing to the silent Marx Brothers comedian three times.
She and Harpo adopted four children.
She began studies to enrich her life with Stuart, whose husband wrote for the Marx Brothers. They studied cooking, stamp collecting and Bonsai tree-shaping.
"She was very forthright, certainly beautifully centered," Stuart said. "When she took up one of her various interests, it was always 100 percent."
Susan Marx is survived by her four children, Bill of Rancho Mirage, Alexander of Vallejo, Jim of Paso Robles and Minnie Eagle of Orange. She had five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.



Harpo speaks

Harpo never spoke in a movie, but his voice has been recorded, as you can hear here.


Harpo Marx appeared in the following movies:
Film Title Character name
Humorisk - 1920/21 c. Watson  
Too Many Kisses - 1925-01 The Village Peter Pan  
The Cocoanuts - 1929 Harpo  
Animal Crackers - 1930 The Professor  
Monkey Business - 1931 A Stowaway  
The House That Shadows Built - 1931  
Horse Feathers - 1932 Pinky  
Hollywood on Parade No.5 - 1932  
Duck Soup - 1933 Pinky  
A Night at the Opera - 1935 Tomasso  
La Fiesta de Santa Barbara - 1935  
A Day at the Races - 1937 Stuffy  
Room Service - 1938 Faker Englund  
At the Circus - 1939 Punchy  
Go West - 1940 Rusty Panello  
The Big Store - 1941 Wacky  
Stage Door Canteen - 1943  
Screen snapshot No. 110 - 1943  
Hollywood canteen - 1944  
The All-Star Bond Rally - 1945  
A Night in Casablanca - 1946 Rusty  
Love Happy - 1949 Harpo  
The Story of Mankind - 1957 Isaac Newton  


Important dates in the live of Harpo Marx:
23 Nov 1888 Adolph (later Arthur) "Harpo" Marx is born
Jan 1910 Harpo joins The Three Nightingales to form The Four Nightingales
Feb 1910 When joined by Minnie Marx and aunt Hannah Schickler The Four Nightingales become The Six Mascots
1912 Fun in Hi Skule is the first musical sketch of the Brothers. This half-hour 'school act' features the four brothers, Paul Yates and others
1913 Mr. Green's Reception is a followup to Fun in Hi Skule
1914 Home Again is developed from the second half of Mr. Green's Reception
1918 In The Cinderella Girl Zeppo replaces Gummo. This musical comedy is written by Jo Swerling with music by Gus Kahn
1921 The silent movie Humorisk is made with money raised by a friend. Director is Jo Swerling. It was made in two weeks at Fort Lee, NJ. studios and in a studio at 49th St. and 10th Ave. in New York. No copy exists of this (unfinished?) film.
1921 On the Mezzanine Floor (in England: On the Balcony) a musical revue written by Herman Timberg, produced by Benny Leonard
19 May 1924 Stage show I'll say she is, scripted by Will B. Johnstone, opens at the Casinos
1925 Film Too many kisses is released with Harpo in a supporting role. Details are lacking of how he came to be in this, which even seems to pre-date their first real Broadway play
8 Dec 1925 Stage show The Cocoanuts opens at the Lyric and runs for 275 performances, a full season on Broadway, as well as two years on the road.
23 Oct 1928 Stage show Animal Crackers opens at the 44th Street Theater and runs for 191 performances. It was laid off the following summer, went on tour in mid-October.
3 Aug 1929 Film The Cocoanuts released
6 Sep 1930 Film Animal Crackers released
5 Jan 1931 The Marxes appear in the London Palace Theatre
19 Sep 1931 Film Monkey Business released
31 Aug 1932 Film Horse Feathers released
24 Nov 1933 Film Duck Soup released
1934 Harpo tours Russia
15 Nov 1935 Film A Night at the Opera released
7 Dec 1935 Film La Fiesta de Santa Barbara released. Harpo's wig can be seen in Technicolor
28 Sep 1936 Harpo marries Susan Fleming
11 Jun 1937 Film A Day at the Races released
1938 Harpo and Susan adopt William (Billy/Bill) Woollcott
30 Sep 1938 Film Room Service released
20 Oct 1939 Film At the Circus released
6 Dec 1940 Film Go West released
20 Jun 1941 Film The Big Store released
1944 Harpo plays in The Man who came to Dinner
10 May 1946 Film A Night in Casablanca released
3 Mar 1950 Film Love Happy released
1955 Harpo makes a guest appearance in Lucille Ball's show I love Lucy
8 Nov 1957 Film The Story of Mankind released. Chico, Harpo and Groucho appear in this film, but not together in one scene
8 Mar 1959 The TV film The Incredible Jewel Robbery is the last film to have three Marx Brothers
1961 Harpo's book Harpo speaks published
28 Sep 1964 Harpo dies after open heart surgery
16 Jan 1977 The Marxes are inducted to the Motion Picture Hall of Fame


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