"I know what you are
thinking, but I don't look anything like him."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
In 1971, the Mariner 9
spacecraft arrived in orbit around Mars - to find it entirely
engulfed in a planet-wide dust storm. The only features clearly
visible were four dark spots. Carl Sagan was so fascinated by these
that his colleagues at Cornell University jokingly called them
"Carl's Marks"; Sagan nicknamed the four spots Harpo,
Groucho, Chico, and Zeppo.
The Marx Brothers were an American family
comedy act that was successful in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in
motion pictures from 1905 to 1949. Five of the Marx Brothers'
thirteen feature films were selected by the American Film Institute
(AFI) as among the top 100 comedy films, with two of them (Duck Soup
and A Night at the Opera) in the top twelve. They are widely
considered by critics, scholars, and fans to be among the greatest
and most influential comedians of the 20th century. The brothers were
included in AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars list of the 25 greatest male
stars of Classic Hollywood cinema, the only performers to be inducted collectively.
The group is almost universally known
today by their stage names: Chico (real name Leonard), Harpo (Adolph
but later changed to Arthur), Groucho (Julius Henry), Gummo (Milton),
and Zeppo (Herbert Manfred). The core of the act was the three elder
brothers: Chico, Harpo, and Groucho, each of whom developed a highly
distinctive stage persona.
the group essentially disbanded in 1950, Groucho went on to begin a
successful second career in television, while Harpo and Chico
appeared less prominently. The two younger brothers, Gummo and Zeppo,
never developed their stage characters to the same extent as the
elder three. They each left the act to pursue business careers at
which they were successful, and for a time ran a large theatrical
agency through which they represented their brothers and others.
Gummo was not in any of the movies; Zeppo appeared in the first five
films in relatively straight (non-comedic) roles. The performing
lives of the brothers owed much to their mother Minnie Marx, who
acted as their manager until her death in 1929.
The five Marx Brothers were born in New
York City, the sons of Jewish immigrants from Germany and France.
Their mother Miene "Minnie"
Schoenberg (professionally known as Minnie Palmer) was from Dornum in
East Frisia, and their father Samuel ("Sam"; born Simon)
Marx was a native of Alsace and worked as a tailor. (His name was
changed to Samuel Marx, and he was nicknamed "Frenchy".)
The family lived in the poor Yorkville section of New York City's
Upper East Side, centered in the Irish, German and Italian quarters.
A sixth brother, Manfred ("Mannie"), was the first-born son
of Sam and Minnie (1886) but died in infancy, surviving for only
three months, and carried off by tuberculosis. The Brothers also had
an older sister, actually a cousin, born in January 1885 who had been
adopted by Minnie and Frenchie. Her name was Pauline, or "Polly".
Marx came from a family of performers. Her mother was a yodeling
harpist and her father a ventriloquist; both were funfair
entertainers. Around 1880, the family emigrated to New York City,
where Minnie married Sam in 1884. During the early 20th century,
Minnie helped her younger brother Abraham Elieser Adolf Schönberg
(stage name Al Shean) to enter show business; he became highly
successful on vaudeville and Broadway as half of the musical comedy
double act Gallagher and Shean, and this gave the brothers an entree
to musical comedy, vaudeville and Broadway at Minnie's instigation,
who also acted as the brothers' manager, using the name Minnie Palmer
so that agents did not realize that she was also their mother. All
the brothers confirmed that Minnie Marx (below left) had been the
head of the family and the driving force in getting the troupe
launched, the only person who could keep them in order; she was said
to be a hard bargainer with theatre management. The brothers musical
talent was encouraged from an early age. Harpo was particularly
talented, learning to play an estimated six different instruments
throughout his career. He became a dedicated harpist, which gave him
his nickname. Chico was an excellent pianist, Groucho a guitarist and
singer, and Zeppo a vocalist.
Those early days of the Marx Brothers and
their relationship with their mother Minnie Marx, would be showcased
years later in the musical Minnie's Boys, with a book by Groucho
Marx's son Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher, music by Larry Grossman,
and lyrics by Hal Hackady. After an unusually long preview period
lasting for sixty-four performances, during which the creators
constantly tinkered with the troubled show, the Broadway production,
directed by Stanley Prager and choreographed by Marc Breaux, opened
on March 26th, 1970 at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for eighty
performances. The opening night cast included Shelley Winters as
Minnie Marx, Lewis J. Stadlen as Julius "Groucho" Marx (a
portrayal that won him both the Theatre World Award and Drama Desk
Award for Outstanding Performance in a Musical), Daniel Fortus as
Adolph "Harpo" Marx, Irwin Pearl as Leonard
"Chico" Marx, Alvin Kupperman as Herbert "Zeppo"
Marx, and Gary Raucher as Milton "Gummo" Marx. The score's
one standout tune was "Mama, a Rainbow", which was recorded
by Steve Lawrence and Jim Nabors soon after the show opened. In the
show the song is performed by Harpo, whose screen and stage persona
was always silent. Groucho Marx received a playbill credit as the
show's advisor (though he had made no actual contributions to the
show) and helped promote the musical by appearing on the Dick Cavett
Show with the five young actors who portrayed the young Marx Brothers
in the show.
The boys got their start in
vaudeville, where their uncle Albert Schönberg was performing as
Al Shean of Gallagher and Shean. Groucho's debut was in 1905,
predominately as a singer. By 1907 he and Gummo were singing together
as two-thirds of The Three Nightingales with Mabel O'Donnell. The
next year, Harpo became the fourth Nightingale. By 1910, the group
was expanded to include their mother and their Aunt Hannah, and the
troupe was renamed The Six Mascots.
One evening, a performance
at the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas was interrupted by shouts
from outside about a runaway mule. The audience hurried outside to
see what was happening, and when they returned, Groucho, infuriated
by the interruption, announced "Nacogdoches is full of
roaches," and "The jackass is the flower of Tex-ass."
Instead of becoming angry in return, the audience laughed, and
afterward the family began to consider the possibility that they had
potential as a comic troupe.
the act evolved from singing with some incidental comedy to a comedy
with some music, like their sketch set in a schoolroom ("Fun in
Hi Skule"), featuring Groucho as a German-accented teacher
presiding over a classroom which included students Harpo, Gummo and,
by 1912, Chico. The last version of the school act, entitled Home
Again, was written by Al Shean. Around this time, Gummo left the
group to fight in World War I ("Anything is better than being an
actor!"); Zeppo would replace him for their final vaudeville
years, through their leap to Broadway, and the subsequent Paramount pictures.
During World War I,
anti-German sentiments grew, and the family tried to hide their
German origin. Harpo changed his real first name from Adolph to
Arthur, and Groucho discontinued his "German" stage personality.
By this time the brothers,
now "The Four Marx Brothers", had begun to incorporate
their unique brand of comedy into their act and to develop their
characters. It has been noted in a few of both Groucho and Harpo's
memoirs that their now famous on-stage personas were originally
created by Al Shean. Groucho began to wear his trademark greasepaint
moustache and to use a stooped walk, Harpo began to wear a red fright
wig, carried a taxi-cab horn and never spoke, Chico started to talk
in a fake Italian accent, developed off-stage to deal with
neighbourhood toughs, and Zeppo adopted the schleppy, juvenile role
of the straight man. The on-stage personalities of Groucho, Chico,
and Harpo were said to have been based on their actual traits
(although, in real life, Harpo could talk). Zeppo, on the other hand,
was considered the funniest offstage brother, despite his limited,
straight stage roles. Being the youngest and having grown up watching
his brothers, he was also the one who could fill in for, and nearly
perfectly imitate, the others when illness kept them from a
performance. "He was so good as Captain Spaulding [in Animal
Crackers] that I would have let him play the part indefinitely, if
they had allowed me to smoke in the audience", Groucho recalled.
Originally, Zeppo was
considered too young to perform with his brothers, and it was not
until Gummo joined the Army in 1918 that Zeppo was asked to join the
act as a last-minute stand-in at a show in Texas. Zeppo was supposed
to go out that night with a Jewish friend of his on a date with two
Irish girls. Zeppo had to cancel to board the train to Texas. His
friend went ahead and went on the date, and was shot a few hours
later when he was attacked by an Irish gang that disapproved of a Jew
dating an Irish girl.
In the 1920s the Marx
Brothers became one of America's favourite theatrical acts. With
their sharp and bizarre sense of humour, they satirized institutions
like high society, and human hypocrisy. In addition, they became
famous for their improvisational comedy in their free form scenarios.
A famous early example was when Harpo instructed a chorus girl to run
across the stage in front of Groucho during his act with him chasing
to see if Groucho would be thrown off. However to the audience's
delight, Groucho merely reacted with an improvised joke of calmly
checking his watch and commenting: "First time I ever saw a taxi
hail a passenger", and, when Harpo chased the girl back the
other direction, "You can always set your watch by the 9:20".
The brothers' vaudeville
act had become successful enough to make them stars on Broadway,
first with a musical revue, I'll Say She Is (below, 19241925),
followed by two musical comedies, The Cocoanuts (19251926) and
Animal Crackers (19281929). Playwright George S. Kaufman worked
on the latter two shows and helped to sharpen the Brothers' characterizations.
Riding high on their vaudeville success
the Marx Brothers accepted a booking in England, without the approval
of the Keith-Orpheum office and vaudeville impresario E.F. Albee who
blacklisted the Brothers upon their return to the United States.
Broke, and on the brink of oblivion the
Marx Brothers met another brother team, Tom and Will B. Johnstone in
March of 1923. The Johnstone brothers had written a series of revues
for producer Joseph M. Gaites. Love For Sale (1919), starring Kitty
Gordon as a bored heiress looking for thrills was later reworked as
Gimme a Thrill in 1922. Both flopped. Meting the Marx Brothers led to
a new iteration of "the thrill show," incorporating some of
the boys' vaudeville material, and culminating in an extended sketch
Say She Is was a smash at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia
in the summer of 1923 and opened at the Casino Theatre, Broadway and
39th Street, on May 19th, 1924. It was a roaring success, and it
catapulted the Marx Brothers to superstardom, accepted by the New
York smart set of the Algonquin Round Table. Alexander Woollcott and
Robert Benchley were among the theatre critics who made I'll Say She
Is a smash, and George S. Kaufman would co-write their next two
Broadway musicals, The Cocoanuts (1925) and Animal Crackers (1928).
Unlike those shows, however, I'll Say She Is was never made into a
film. A version of its opening scene, however, was made into a short
for Paramount Pictures as part of a feature called The House That
Shadows Built (1931), made to celebrate Paramount's 20th anniversary
of their founding in 1912, and as a promotion for the then-upcoming
Marx film Monkey Business. An animated version of the Napoleon scene
(with Groucho voicing himself) was incorporated into an ABC-TV
special called The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians (1970). I'll Say She Is
was also the last production by The Marx Brothers in which they were
billed under their given names. Harpo was billed as Adolph Arthur,
Zeppo as Herbert, Groucho as Julius Henry, and Chico as Leonard.
I'll Say She Is had a wildly successful
run of 313 performances at the Casino and closed on February 7th,
1925. It spent a few more months on the road, and was not seen for
the next ninety years.
In 2009, writer and performer Noah Diamond
began to research and restore I'll Say She Is, begining with
Johnstone's 32 page rehearsal typescript featuring rough dialogue,
with song titles and cues. Numerous other sources were employied to
reconstruct the show including firsthand recollections of the show,
hundreds of newspaper clippings related to the original production
(some of which described scenes and quoted dialogue and ad-libs
recorded by Broadway columnists). Sheet music or recordings for about
half the songs from the original production aquired but that still
left a handful of missing numbers, for which Diamond had only the
titles, narrative context, and, in some cases, descriptions. He
recreated these songs by writing new lyrics to music from other
Johnstone shows of the period, using phrases and ideas from the
typescript whenever possible.
In May 2014, coinciding with the ninetieth
anniversary of the show's Broadway opening, the Lost Marx Brother's
musical I'll Say She Is (above bottom) received two staged readings,
in a new "reconstruction" and adaptation by Diamond, who
had by then spent five years researching and expanding the work. A
fuller staging was seen in August 2014 at the New York International
Fringe Festival. A full Off Broadway production opened at the
Connelly Theater in June 2016, running for 3 previews and 23
performances. Directed by Amanda Sisk, it was well received by the
New York press, receiving critic's pick from The New York Times and
lauded by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.
Having observed a rehearsal session of the
famed 'Napoleon' sketch at New York's Pearl Studios, Gopnik wrote in
the New Yorker:
sees at once why the Napoleon scene became legendary overnight
- apart from still being
extremely funny, it has the edge of randomness, the pure absurdity,
that made the Marx Brothers seem, on that opening night as ever
after, so modern. Of the great movie comedians, Chaplin is rooted in
Dickens and the nineteenth-century stage; Keaton, more cinematic, in
a kind of melancholic Civil War stoicism. Only the Marxes seem
contemporary with Dada. There is no logic or pathos or point or even
much structure to it - the
fourth wall is broken, then restored, and then broken again.
Napoleons appearances and reappearances from the Russian front
are as arbitrary as a Magritte drawing
- and the scenes
moral, to the degree that it has one, is the nihilistic one that runs
true in comedy from Aristophanes to Sid Caesar: all authority is
always ridiculous, and man (and woman) runs by appetite alone. All of
Monty Pythons non sequiturs and sudden stoppages
- "the sketch is now over"
- begin here, as does most
of the pure burlesque aggression of a Mel Brooks, whose historical
kidding, as in the "2000
Year Old Man"
skits, starts here, too."
The stage names of the brothers (except
Zeppo) were coined by monologist Art Fisher during a poker game in
Galesburg, Illinois, based both on the brothers' personalities and
Gus Mager's Sherlocko the Monk, a popular comic strip of the day that
included a supporting character named "Groucho". As Fisher
dealt each brother a card, he addressed him, for the very first time,
by the names they kept for the rest of their lives.
The reasons behind Chico's and Harpo's
stage names are undisputed, and Gummo's is fairly well established.
Groucho's and Zeppo's are far less clear. Arthur was named Harpo
because he played the harp, and Leonard became Chico (pronounced
"Chick-o") because he was, in the slang of the period, a
"chicken chaser". ("Chickens" - later
"chicks" - was period slang for women.
his 1961 autobiography, Harpo Speaks!, Harpo explained that Milton
became Gummo (right) because he crept about the theater like a
gumshoe detective. Other sources reported that Gummo was the family's
hypochondriac, having been the sickliest of the brothers in
childhood, and therefore wore rubber overshoes, called gumshoes, in
all kinds of weather. Still others reported that Milton was the
troupe's best dancer, and dance shoes tended to have rubber soles.
Groucho stated that the source of the name was Gummo wearing
galoshes. Whatever the details, the name relates to rubber-soled shoes.
There are different theories as to where
Zeppo got his stage name: Groucho said in his Carnegie Hall concert
in 1972 that the name was derived from the Zeppelin airship. Zeppo's
ex-wife Barbara Sinatra repeated this in her 2011 book, Lady Blue
Eyes: My Life with Frank. His brother Harpo offered a different
account claiming that there was a popular trained chimpanzee named
Mr. Zippo, and that "Herbie" was tagged with the name
"Zippo" because he liked to do chinups and acrobatics, as
the chimp did in its act. The youngest brother objected to this
nickname, and it was altered to "Zeppo".
The reason that Julius was named Groucho
is perhaps the most disputed. One explanation is the grouch bag. A
grouch bag was a small drawstring bag worn around the neck in which a
traveler could keep money and other valuables so that it would be
very difficult for anyone to steal them. Most of Groucho's friends
and associates stated that Groucho was extremely stingy, especially
after losing all his money in the 1929 stock market crash, so naming
him for the grouch bag may have been a comment on this trait.
(pictured left without the famous mustache) insisted that this was
not the case in chapter six of his first autobiography. Groucho
himself insisted that he was named for a character in the comic strip
Knocko the Monk, which inspired the craze for nicknames ending in
"o"; in fact, there was a character in that strip named
"Groucho". However, he is the only Marx or Marx associate
who defended this theory, and as he is not an unbiased witness, few
biographers take the claim seriously. Groucho himself was no help on
this point; he was discussing the Brothers' names during his Carnegie
Hall concert, and he said of his own, "My name, of course, I
never did understand." He goes on to mention the possibility
that he was named after his unemployed uncle Julius, who lived with
his family. The family believed that he was a rich uncle hiding a
fortune, and Groucho claimed that he may have been named after him by
the family trying to get into the will. "And he finally died,
and he left us his will, and in that will he left three razor blades,
an 8-ball, a celluloid dicky, and he owed my father $85 beside."
Maxine, Chico's daughter and Groucho's
niece, said in the documentary The Unknown Marx Brothers that Julius
was named "Groucho" simply because he was grouchy most or
all of the time. Robert B. Weide, a director known for his knowledge
of Marx Brothers history, said in Remarks On Marx (a documentary
short included with the DVD of A Night at the Opera) that, among the
competing explanations, he found this one to be the most believable.
At the very end of his life, Groucho finally admitted that Fisher had
named him Groucho because he was the "moody one".
The Marx Brothers' stage shows became
popular just as motion pictures were evolving to "talkies".
They signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and embarked on their
film career at Paramount's studios in New York City's Astoria
section. Their first two released films (after an unreleased short
silent film titled Humor Risk) were adaptations of the Broadway shows
The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930). Both were written by
George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Production then shifted to
Hollywood, beginning with a short film that was included in
Paramount's twentieth anniversary documentary, The House That Shadows
Built (1931), in which they adapted a scene from I'll Say She Is.
Their third feature-length film, Monkey Business (1931), was their
first movie not based on a stage production.
Horse Feathers (1932 above), in which the
brothers satirized the American college system and Prohibition, was
their most popular film yet, and won them the cover of Time magazine.
It included a running gag from their stage work, in which Harpo
produces a ludicrous array of props from inside his coat, including a
wooden mallet, a fish, a coiled rope, a tie, a poster of a woman in
her underwear, a cup of hot coffee, a sword; and, just after Groucho
warns him that he "can't burn the candle at both ends," a
candle burning at both ends.
this period Chico and Groucho starred in a radio comedy series,
Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel. Though the series was short lived,
much of the material developed for it was used in subsequent films.
The show's scripts and recordings were believed lost until copies of
the scripts were found in the Library of Congress in the 1980s. After
publication in a book they were performed with Marx Brothers
impersonators for BBC Radio.
Their last Paramount film, Duck Soup
(1933), directed by the highly regarded Leo McCarey, is the highest
rated of the five Marx Brothers films on the American Film
Institute's "100 years ... 100 Movies" list. It did not do
as well financially as Horse Feathers, but was the sixth-highest
grosser of 1933. The film sparked a dispute between the Marxes and
the village of Fredonia, New York. "Freedonia" was the name
of a fictional country in the script, and the city fathers wrote to
Paramount and asked the studio to remove all references to Freedonia
because "it is hurting our town's image". Groucho fired
back a sarcastic retort asking them to change the name of their town,
because "it's hurting our picture." The Brothers would
leave Paramount mostly due to disagreements over
creative decisions and financial issues.
After expiration of the Paramount contract
Zeppo left the act to become an agent, and remained
his brothers' agent for the remainder of their career as the Marx Bros.
Zeppo and brother Gummo went on to build one of the biggest talent
agencies in Hollywood, helping the likes of Jack Benny and Lana
Turner get their starts. Groucho and Chico did radio, and there was
talk of returning to Broadway. At a bridge game with Chico, Irving
Thalberg (below) began discussing the possibility of the Marxes
joining Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They signed, now billed as "Groucho,
Chico, Harpo, Marx Bros."
Unlike the free-for-all scripts at
Paramount, Thalberg insisted on a strong story structure that made
the brothers more sympathetic characters, interweaving their comedy
with romantic plots and non-comic musical numbers, and targeting
their mischief-making at obvious villains. Thalberg was adamant that
scripts include a "low point", where all seems lost for
both the Marxes and the romantic leads. He instituted the innovation
of testing the film's script before live audiences before filming
began, to perfect the comic timing, and to retain jokes that earned
laughs and replace those that did not. Thalberg restored Harpo's harp
solos and Chico's piano solos, which had been omitted from Duck Soup.
The first Marx Brothers/Thalberg film was
A Night at the Opera (1935), a satire on the world of opera, where
the brothers help two young singers in love by throwing a production
of Il Trovatore into chaos. The film, including its famous scene
where an absurd number of people crowd into a tiny stateroom on a
ship, was a great success, and was followed two years later by an
even bigger hit, A Day at the Races (1937), in which the brothers
cause mayhem in a sanitarium and at a horse race. The film features
Groucho and Chico's famous "Tootsie Frootsie Ice Cream"
sketch. In a 1969 interview with Dick Cavett, Groucho said that the
two movies made with Thalberg were the best that they ever produced.
Despite the Thalberg films' success, the brothers left MGM in 1937;
Thalberg had died suddenly on September 14th, 1936, two weeks after
filming began on A Day at the Races, leaving the Marxes without an
advocate at the studio.
After a short experience at RKO (Room
Service, 1938), the Marx Brothers returned to MGM and made three more
films: At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940) and The Big Store (1941).
Prior to the release of The Big Store the team announced they were
retiring from the screen. Four years later, however, Chico persuaded
his brothers to make two additional films, A Night in Casablanca
(1946) and Love Happy (1949), to alleviate his severe gambling debts.
Both pictures were released by United Artists.
Love Happy was initially
planned as a solo vehicle for Harpo, then as a two-hander with Chico.
The financiers weren't persuaded about the film until Groucho agreed
to appear. Groucho's role was little more than an extended cameo, but
it gave him the chance to don deerstalker and magnifying glass as a
private eye, and also to share a short scene with film newcomer,
Marilyn Monroe. It wasn't actually her first film, but when it was
re-released, her image appeared on the poster, above the line,
"The Picture That Discovered Marilyn Monroe".
From the 1940s onward Chico and Harpo
appeared separately and together in nightclubs and casinos. Chico
fronted a big band, the Chico Marx Orchestra (with 17-year-old Mel
Tormé as a vocalist). Groucho made several radio appearances
during the 1940s and starred in You Bet Your Life, which ran from
1947 to 1961 on NBC radio and television. He authored several books,
including Groucho and Me (1959), Memoirs of a Mangy Lover (1964) and
The Groucho Letters (1967).
and Chico briefly appeared together in a 1957 short film promoting
The Saturday Evening Post entitled "Showdown at Ulcer
Gulch," directed by animator Shamus Culhane, Chico's son-in-law.
Groucho, Chico, and Harpo worked together (in separate scenes) in The
Story of Mankind and Groucho had a cameo in Will Success Spoil Rock
Hunter? both realesed in 1957.
In 1959, the three began production of
Deputy Seraph, a TV series starring Harpo and Chico as blundering
angels, and Groucho (in every third episode) as their boss, the
"Deputy Seraph." The project was abandoned when Chico was
found to be uninsurable (and incapable of memorizing his lines) due
to severe arteriosclerosis. On March 8th of that year, Chico and
Harpo starred as bumbling thieves in The Incredible Jewel Robbery, a
half-hour pantomimed episode of the General Electric Theater on CBS.
Groucho made a cameo appearance - uncredited, because of constraints
in his NBC contract - in the last scene, and delivered the only line
of dialogue, "We won't talk until we see our lawyer!".
According to a September 1947 article in
Newsweek, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo all signed to appear as
themselves in a biopic entitled The Life and Times of the Marx
Brothers. In addition to being a non-fiction biography of the Marxes,
the film would have featured the brothers reenacting much of their
previously unfilmed material from both their vaudeville and Broadway
eras. The film, had it been made, would have been the first
performance by the Brothers as a quartet since 1933.
The five brothers made only one television
appearance together, in 1957, on an early incarnation of The Tonight
Show called Tonight! America After Dark, hosted by Jack Lescoulie.
Five years later (October 1st, 1962) after Jack Paar's tenure,
Groucho made a guest appearance to introduce the Tonight Show's new
host, Johnny Carson.
Around 1960, the acclaimed director Billy
Wilder considered writing and directing a new Marx Brothers film.
Tentatively titled A Day at the U.N., it was to be a comedy of
international intrigue set around the United Nations building in New
York. Wilder had discussions with Groucho and Gummo, but the project
was put on hold because of Harpo's ill-health and abandoned when
Chico died in 1961. He was 74. Three years later, on September 28th,
1964, Harpo died at the age of 75 of a heart attack one day after
In 1966 Filmation produced a pilot for a
Marx Brothers cartoon. Groucho's voice was supplied by Pat Harrington
Jr. and other voices were done by Ted Knight and Joe Besser.
In 1970, the four Marx Brothers had a
brief reunion of sorts in the animated ABC television special The
Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, produced by Rankin-Bass animation (of
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fame). The special featured animated
reworkings of various famous comedians' acts, including W. C. Fields,
Jack Benny, George Burns, Henny Youngman, the Smothers Brothers, Flip
Wilson, Phyllis Diller, Jack E. Leonard, George Jessel and the Marx
Brothers. Most of the comedians provided their own voices for their
animated counterparts, except for Fields and Chico Marx (both had
died), and Zeppo Marx (who had left show business in 1933). Voice
actor Paul Frees (the voice of Boris Badenov in The Rocky and
Bullwinkle Show) filled in for all three (no voice was needed for
Harpo). The Marx Brothers' segment was a reworking of a scene from
their Broadway play I'll Say She Is, a parody of Napoleon that
Groucho considered among the brothers' funniest routines. The sketch
featured animated representations, if not the voices, of all four
brothers. Romeo Muller is credited as having written special material
for the show, but the script for the classic "Napoleon
Scene" was probably supplied by Groucho.
On January 16th, 1977, the Marx Brothers
were inducted into the Motion Picture Hall of Fame and their impact
on the entertainment community continues well into the 21st century.
Many television shows and movies have used
Marx Brothers references. Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, for example,
have featured Marx Brothers jokes and skits. In the Animaniacs the
zany antics of Yakko, Wakko and Dot are partially based on the madcap
pace of the Marx Brothers.
Pierce (Alan Alda) on M*A*S*H occasionally put on a fake nose and
glasses, and, holding a cigar, did a Groucho impersonation to amuse
patients recovering from surgery. Early episodes also featured a
singing and off-scene character named Captain Spaulding as a tribute.
Bugs Bunny impersonated Groucho Marx in
the 1947 cartoon Slick Hare (with Elmer Fudd dressing up as Harpo and
chasing him with a cleaver) and in a later cartoon he again
impersonated Groucho hosting a TV show called "You Beat Your
Wife," asking Elmer Fudd if he had stopped beating his wife. Tex
Avery's cartoon Hollywood Steps Out (1941) featured appearances by
Harpo and Groucho. They appeared, sometimes with Chico and Zeppo
caricatured, in cartoons starring Mickey Mouse, Flip the Frog and
others. In the Airwolf episode 'Condemned', four anti-virus formulae
for a deadly plague were named after the four Marx Brothers.
In All in the Family, Rob Reiner often did
imitations of Groucho, and Sally Struthers dressed as Harpo in one
episode in which she (as Gloria Stivic) and Rob (as Mike Stivic) were
going to a Marx Brothers film festival, with Reiner dressing as
Groucho. Gabe Kaplan did many Groucho imitations on his sit-com
Welcome Back, Kotter and the "Sweathogs" (John Travolta,
Robert Hegyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and Ron Palillo) patterned
much of their on-camera banter in that series after the Marx Brothers
with Hegyes sometimes imitated both Chico and Harpo on the show. In
Woody Allen's film Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Woody's character,
after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, is inspired to go on living
after seeing a revival showing of Duck Soup. In Manhattan (1979), he
names the Marx Brothers as something that makes life worth living. In
an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show Murray calls the new station
owner at home late at night to complain when the song "Hooray
for Captain Spaulding" is cut from a showing of Animal Crackers
because of the new owners' policy to cut more and more from shows to
sell more ad time, putting his job on the line.
In Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Woody
Allen and Goldie Hawn dress as Groucho for a Marx Brothers
celebration in France, and the song "Hooray for Captain
Spaulding", from Animal Crackers, is performed, with various
actors dressed as the brothers, striking poses famous to Marx fans.
(The film itself is named after a song from Horse Feathers, a version
of which plays over the opening credits.)
Harpo Marx appeared as himself in a sketch
on I Love Lucy in which he and Lucille Ball reprised the mirror
routine from Duck Soup, with Lucy dressed up as Harpo (a colorized
version of the scene is pictured above). Lucy had worked with the
Marxes when she appeared in a supporting role in an earlier Marx
Brothers film, Room Service. Chico once appeared on I've Got a Secret
dressed up as Harpo; his secret was shown in a caption reading,
"I'm pretending to be Harpo Marx (I'm Chico)". The Marx
Brothers were spoofed in the second act of the Broadway Review A Day
in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.
In the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the
Last Crusade, Sean Connery tells Harrison Ford he should have sent
his diary "to the Marx Brothers" rather than entrusting it
to Harrison's Indiana Jones character.
In the 1996 musical, By Jeeves, based on
the Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse, during The Hallo Song, Gussie
Fink-Nottle suggests "You're either Pablo Picasso", to
which Cyrus Budge III replies "or maybe Harpo Marx!"
In Rob Zombie's film House of 1000
Corpses, the clown Captain Spaulding is named after the Marx brothers
character, and this is mentioned in the movie.
In the 1974 Academy Awards telecast, Jack
Lemmon presented Groucho with an honorary Academy Award to a standing
ovation. The award was also on behalf of Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo,
whom Lemmon mentioned by name. It was one of Groucho's final major
public appearances. "I wish that Harpo and Chico could be here
to share with me this great honor," he said, naming the two
deceased brothers (Zeppo was still alive at the time). Groucho also
praised the late Margaret Dumont as a great straight woman who never
understood any of his jokes.