220: It’s the Birthday of Harpo Marx

Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx

Today is the 127th anniversary of the birth of Harpo Marx, the second-oldest of the Marx Brothers comedy troupe.

Here are some things you may not have known about Harpo and his brothers.

Adolph Marx was born in New York, and grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He was the third son of Sam and Minnie Marx, their first child, Manfred, didn’t survive infancy. Leonard, better known as Chico was born in 1887, Harpo followed a year later. Groucho Marx, whose birth name was Julius Henry Marx as born about two years after Harpo, followed by Gummo in 1892 and Zeppo in 1901.

The brothers were the nephews of vaudeville star Al Shean. Groucho was the first to begin performing in 1905 as a singer. He was joined by Gummo two years later and Harpo in 1910. They stumbled into comedy during a 1912 performance in Texas when their musical performance was interrupted by a runaway mule outside the theater. When the audience returned, Groucho began insulting the audience, who found the remarks hilarious. Their act gradually evolved to become predominantly comedy-based. Both Harpo and Groucho say that their characters were created by their uncle. Groucho wore a greasepaint mustache; Harpo became known as the silent brother wearing a red wig and carrying a horn, while Chico used a phony Italian accent and Zeppo played the straight man.

Harpo’s name came from the fact that he played the harp, along with several other instruments. In Groucho’s autobiography, he said that Harpo adopted his silent character because he was’t very good at remembering his lines. The only time Harpo spoke on screen was in the movie “Too Many Kisses,” but appropriately, it was a silent film and his line appeared in print on the screen. The first film to be released featuring the Marx Brothers was “The Cocoanuts” in 1929. The last to feature the four brothers together was “Duck Soup” in 1933. After that film, Zeppo stopped performing. Groucho, Chico and Harpo went on to make 10 more movies together, including “A Night at the Opera,” “A Day at the Races” and “At the Circus.”

Harpo married actress Susan Fleming in 1936. They adopted four children. Harpo Marx died on September 28, 1964. He was 75.

Our question, what were the names of the two warring countries in “Duck Soup”?

Today is Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan and St. George’s Day in the nation of Georgia. In the United States it’s National Cashew Day and National Espresso Day. It’s the birthday of former U.S. president Franklin Pierce, outlaw Billy the Kid and actor Boris Karloff.


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