Harpo Marx and Some Brothers

EDP 380, Fall 1997

By Aaron Lee


In his book entitled Creating Minds, Howard Gardner (1993) engaged in a thorough study of creativity. He did this by studying the lives of exceptional creators in seven different domains in search of trends that could be readily identified and, perhaps, even help to paint a clearer picture of what the ingredients for creativity are. After examining these creators' lives he came to some conclusions based on the trends he identified and formed a model of creativity. In order to test both his model and his findings, it is necessary to extend the search (and study) beyond his initial seven great creators. In doing this it becomes possible to refute or add credence to his conclusions. This extension also allows for further questions to be asked.
During the reading of Creating Minds I happened upon an interesting thought: Could Gardner's model for creative individuals be applied to the study of a creative group? Furthermore, would a group show similar trends in their creative development?
If I was going to attempt to answer this question I decided I would have to qualify what a creative group was. I defined a creative group as a group of individuals producing a single creative work. The creativity of this work must be a result of the combination of the individuals' strengths being pooled (as equally as possible) to produce an output that could not have been produced by any of the individuals on their own. The group would be analogous to Gardner's individual creator, and the group's combination of mental talents would parallel the individual creator's personal array of intellectual strengths.
Having defined what a creative group was, it became necessary to ask perhaps an even more important question: Could such a group exist? If so, could an example be found? The answer to both questions, I decided, was yes. But who? My ponderings on this subject invariably brought me to the Marx Brothers, kings of comedy.

My Method

In his study Gardner had followed the lives of his chosen creators and examined the progression of their works as a function of the creator and his or her surroundings. It would be difficult to treat the progression of a group in precisely the same manner. If I chose to treat the group as a single unit and reported on its progress and surroundings, the workings of its component creators could be lost. However, if I did a comprehensive study of each of the individuals in the group and how they related to the advancement of the work and the group, I could better analyze if, indeed, a creative group was actually at work in a manner analogous to Gardner's creators'. By analyzing each of the individuals in the group I would be paralleling Gardner's analysis of the different facets of his individual creators.
For the sake of better accuracy in the case of the former, and for the sake of as much brevity as possible in the case of the latter; I chose to employ an amalgam of the two approaches. A comprehensive look at one of the Marx brothers would be accompanied by an equally comprehensive look at the group's progression and a much less comprehensive look at the other brothers. For reasons perhaps as mystical as those behind Gardner's choices of his seven creators, I chose Harpo Marx as my focus.

Comedic Royalty

Perhaps, more than anything else in the world, laughter allows us to live a more complete, joyful life. Laughter is the fruit of humor; one of the most complex and yet simplistic entities in our lives. Humor's complexity comes from its ability to find its way into almost any situation or domain. Over the years people have used this trait of humor to their advantage: A painter paints a comical scene; a writer writes a satirical play; an old man tells exagerrated tales from his youth.
No one in history has used the universiality of humor more to their advantage than comedians. There is hardly an area or method untried in the endless pursuit to get a laugh. It could be said that no comedian or group of comedians has ever understood or employed these methods better than the Marx Brothers (Picture of the Marx Brothers: http://felix.vcu.edu/~jnoble/marx-bros-playing-insts.jpg). Rising to great fame and recognition, this group of brothers thrilled the world with its crazy antics on stage and in film.
In making their mark, the Marx's reshaped the world of popular comedy and the public's expectation of a comedian. Indeed, few comedians have ever had as long a lasting influence or been as well-known. The true genius of their work, however, becomes most apparent when viewed now; after over fifty years: it still instills the same fervor and unbridled laughter in "modern" viewers as it did when it first debuted. The language of their comedy has not been lost in time. Nor has it gone unperpetuated. Aspects of Marx brother humor can be found throughout sit-coms, movies, comedic acts and especially cartoons. Groucho's wisecracking. Harpo's idiot. They are timeless classics. And so are the Marx Brothers.

Humble beginnings

If ever there was a less likely family or home to find a group of future stars of Broadway and film, it was the Marxs flat on the east side of New York. The tenement lay in a Jewish slum surrounded by an Irish slum to the north and a German slum to the south. It was a poor part of town and the Marxs were one of its poorest families. Both Sam Marx and his wife, Minnie, were immigrants. Sam was from a predominantly German province in France; Minnie from Germany.
Sam (or "Frenchie" as the kids called him) and Minnie shared the apartment with Minnie's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Schoenberg, their five boys and their niece Polly. Adolph Marx (later to be known as Harpo), born on November 23, 1888, was the second oldest of the Marxs boys. Leonard (Chico) was one year older than him; Julius (Grouch) two years younger; Milton (Gummo) four years younger; and Herbert (Zeppo), the baby, thirteen years younger. It was a crowded home and money was hard to come by.
Sam Marx did his best to keep his family fed and sheltered, but there was only so much he could do: there were ten mouths to feed. He was a self-employed tailor by trade, and not a very good one at that. He insisted on not using a measuring tape to size up his clients. Because of this, he never sold many of the suits he had so dutifully labored over: they just didn't fit right. Whatever else he wasn't, Sam was an expert chef. He kept the families spirits up with miracle meals made from common place ingredients. When his money (or lack thereof) couldn't appease the land lord, his cooking often did.
The boys were enrolled in the local public school and experienced varying degrees of success: Groucho did well and was an avid reader; Chico was talented in math but low on motivation; Harpo was a dreamer. To be true, Harpo didn't do too well. His second grade teacher considered him a pest and let him and the rest of the class know it on a daily basis. Some of the Irish boys in the class let him know it too, by throwing him out the window (on the first floor) just as often. On one of these occasions Harpo had had enough, so he walked home, turning his back on his formal education. Later, in his autobiography, Harpo Speaks, he would recall his reasoning (1961, 27):
School was all wrong. It didn't teach anybody how to exist from day to day, which was how the poor had to live. School prepared you for Life - that thing in the far-off future - but not for the World, the thing you had to face today, tonight. . . . School simply didn't teach you to be poor and live from day to day. This I had to learn for myself. . . .

This being decided, Harpo's world quickly changed. At the age of eight he took on the responsibility for his own education. He learned to read from the signs on streets and in store windows. He learned to tell time from the brewery clock that was visible from their apartment. He learned to play pool and hustle from Chico. He spent time with his grandfather (by this time his grandmother had passed away) and learned to speak German. He also learned and perfected slight of hand (a skill that would come in handy both on the street [for pick pocket purposes] and in the future on stage) from his grandfather who had been a traveling magician back in Germany many years earlier.
While Harpo was learning about life first hand, Minnie was busy trying to get her boys ready for a life on the stage. It was her mission. She had gotten her brother, Al Shean, started in show business and her boys would be next, if she had it her way. Unfortunately, it seemed that only Groucho had any talent. He was made to practice his singing quite often; carefully being groomed into a prospect. Somehow, Minnie managed to get the family a second-hand piano. It was decided that Chico would learn to play because he was the oldest and seemingly best equipped to be able to play it with any promise. Chico endured the lessons only because he was the oldest and Minnie wished it of him. He turned out to be an able pupil and quickly became a skilled piano player.
It was during Chico's lessons that Harpo's ear and love for music began to grow. The family didn't have enough money for both of the brothers to take lessons, so much as Harpo would have loved to, he wasn't even allowed to sit in the room and watch Chico's lessons (it would have raised the rate). He solved this problem by listening to the lessons from the next room. After the lessons had ended and the teacher and Chico had left the piano to its own devices, Harpo would have a seat in front of the piano and begin trying to piece a song together (based on what he had heard) playing the piano one-finger style.
He slowly improved through practice and eventually was able to move to using both hands while correctly playing a song he had taught himself through listening and tinkering. It was a style he would employ later in life when teaching himself to play, among other things, the harp, the violin, the clarinet, the trombone, and cornet. At no time, however, did he ever bother to learn to read music. Commenting on this seemingly innate trait, in his book The Marx Brothers (1950, 20), Kyle Chrichton would say,". . . it can be said with certainty that there is no musical contraption on earth which Harpo cannot play after a week of experimental doodling. Notes baffle him and he has strictly avoided them."
After a year of lessons Chico had reached the point that he was able to get jobs playing the piano in clubs. In the same time, Harpo had managed to teach himself two songs (in their entirety) that he could play with some skill. Taking advantage of these two facts and the fact that, at the time, they were passable as twins, Harpo and Chico formulated a plan that would allow both brothers to get payed to play the piano professionally. Chico would go try out for a club job and get it. The next day Harpo would show up as the piano player. It would have been a great plan had it not been for the fact that there were only so many variations Harpo could play on the two songs before the club owner would get angry and kick him out (confused about the seeming disappearance of his pianist's repertoire). Harpo soon tired of this scene and was resolved to audition for a job on his own. A short time later he was hired as the piano play in a brothel.
While Chico and Harpo were conning clubs, Minnie (acting as his agent) had gotten Groucho started traveling with a group singing as a boy soprano and actor. After awhile on the road Groucho was joined by Gummo and they toured as an unnamed singing duo. This act needed something and Minnie soon found them another singer and the group became the Three Nightingales.
One day Minnie showed up at the Nickelodeon Harpo was employed at (he had been fired from the brothel when he came down with measles) and literally dragged him to the theater where the Three Nightingales were going to be singing. Minnie thought the group should be a quartet, so Harpo was unwillfully added. His debut was probably one the worst in show business history: he wet his pants on stage. Soon after the Three Nightingales became the Four Nightingales, the Marxes moved to Chicago and began touring the Midwest without an itinerary. Describing this experience Harpo would later say, "WE had brazened our way into strange towns in the Midwest and down South, where we knew we had three strikes against us. One: we were stage folks, in a class with gypsies and other vagrants. Two: we were Jewish. Three: we had New York accents. And, well-strike four: the Four Nightingales weren't very good." (Marx, 1961, 98).
It wouldn't be long before the Nightingales would add two girl singers to the act (Minnie and their Aunt Hannah if no one else was available) and become the Six Mascots. The Six Mascots proved to be more successful than the Nightingales had been, but not by much. It was in Texas in 1912 that the Six Mascots disappeared and the Marx Brothers were born. The Six Mascots had been asked to stay an extra night and do another show, but only if they did a different show. They only had their music revue, so they decided to do a comedy show about school. They wrote it that night and named it Fun in Hi Skule. Groucho took the role of the teacher and Harpo took the role of the class idiot wearing what would become his trademark costume. The show was such a success that it became the main part of their show.

The Marx Brothers are Born

A short time after this, in Waukegan, Illinois, the Marx Brothers and Co. (as they were now billed) were in the middle of the first bit of Fun in Hi Skule when Harpo noticed something strange about the piano player in the orchestra pit: it was Chico. Harpo, Groucho and Gummo then began throwing things at Chico in the pit, until he came up on stage and joined the show. Remembering this in his autobiography (1961), Harpo would say:
I don't remember much about the rest of the performance that night, except that Chico ad libbed a hilarious part as an Italian boy, and the fiddle player in the orchestra was so broken up (from laughing) he nearly stopped the show. The fiddle player was a local kid named Benny Kubelsky. Until this day - when, as Jack Benny, he's know as Waukegan's First Citizen - he still can't look at the Marx Brothers without breaking up. (117)

With Chico now in the act the show continued to tour. A short time later the Marxes received their first review in a paper from a local critic. "The frolicsome Marx Brothers, with their operatic antics were a welcome and refreshing change from the usually tired vaudeville act we've been seeing on Main Street." It was a sign of things to come.

Harpo: eloquent silence

With the success of Fun in Hi Skule, the Marx Brothers decided to add another act to the play. Their initial try didn't turn out the way they wanted, so they asked their uncle, Al Shean (by then a comic of some fame) to write one for them. He did, but failed to write any lines for Harpo. Harpo wasn't too happy with this, but resolved to add lib any lines he could think of. A critic in the Champaign-Urbana, after watching him try this, had this to say about Harpo's performance, "The Marx Brother. . . takes off on an Irish immigrant most amusingly in pantomime. Unfortunately the effect is ruined when he speaks." (Marx, 1961, 121).
Taking this to heart, Harpo decided to rely soley on his pantomime talents when on stage. "I went silent. I never uttered another word, on stage or in front of a camera, as a Marx Brother." (Marx, 1961, 122). To augment his pantomime acting, Harpo was constantly trying to figure out what he could do (without speaking) to add to the act. This led to him adding a great deal of props to the act including his horn, which he stole off of a taxi before going on stage one night.
Then one more prop was added, this one by Minnie: a harp. She had the harp sent to Harpo and after two weeks it was in the show. It was well received. Then, "After a year of hunt and pick, ponder and pluck, and trial and error," Harpo played his first harp solo in a show. " I got a big hand and a demand for an encore." (Marx, 1961. 124) (Picture of Harpo with his harp: http://felix.vcu.edu/~jnoble/harpo-playing-harp.jpg). With his pantomiming and harp now entrenched in the act, Harpo began to receive some acclaim. An article in "Variety" (Feb. 7, 1919) said this of him: "Arthur Marx, known as "Harpo," because of his adeptness with the harp, is the sole survivor on the American vaudeville stage of the school of pantomime. Without saying a word he draws most of the laughs of the act, and that not by virtue of mere mugging, but by the utility of props, gestures, and psychological situations." (http://members.aol.com/marxbroths/content.htm)

Minnie's boys on Broadway

The Marx Brothers continued to do well into the early twenties. Gummo left the act to be a soldier in WWI, so Zeppo joined the show to take his place. It was at this time that they started the play I'll Say She is that would eventually take them to Broadway (with the help of Minnie's relentless pursuits as their manager). They started out playing in Boston and Philadelphia, where one critic (Waters in Variety, 1923) would say, "The opening of the new revue, I'll Say She Is, . . . was . . . voted a very promising entertainment." (For entire review see: http://www.pipeline.com/~coolzip/issi/reviews.htm). With reviews like this, Minnie was able to secure some dates for the play to be tried out on Broadway. If they did well the Marx Brothers were in; if they didn't, they were out.
On May 19, 1924, I'll Say She is not only did well, but it brought down the house. After viewing their opening night performance, prominent critic Alexander Woollcott, particularly impressed with Harpo, became an instant life-long fan:
I'll Say She Is. . . is a bright colored and vehement setting for the gongs on of the talented cutups, the Marx Brothers. In particular, is a splendacious . . . excuse for going to see that silent brother, that shy, unexpected, magnificent comic among the Marxes. . . Harpo Marx. Surely there should be dancing in the streets when a great clown comic comes to town, and this man is a great clown. . . .Harpo Marx . . . says never a word from first to last, but when by merely leaning against one's brother one can seem richly and irresistible amusing why should one speak? (For entire review see: http://www.pipeline.com/~coolzip/issi/reviews.htm)

When their second Broadway play, The Cocoacnuts, opened Woollcott would write, "I cannot recall ever having laughed more helplessly, more flagrantly and more continuously in the theatre than I did at the way these Marxes carried on last evening." (For rest of review see: http://www.pipeline.com/~coolzip/coconuts/reviews.htm). . The Cocoanuts would play a total of 275 performances, all of them successful.
In 1928 the Marx Brothers would open their third Broadway play, Animal Crackers. Once again they scored a hit. In the New York Herald Tribune on October 24, 1928, Percy Hammond (critic) acknowledged not only the talent of the Marx Brothers, but their ascension to the top of Broadway:
In this erratic extravaganza the Marx boys commit their usual amount of mischief without much help from the authors. The book is rather a lame goose, and the tunes are spiritless, but Zeppo, Chico, Harpo and Groucho manage to disguise the failings of the show and cause them to be forgiven. Particularly, of course, Mr. Groucho Marx successful in overcoming the disadvantages of his surroundings. . . . Mr. Harpo Marx's pantomimic idiot is also a large item in the entertainments's assets, going even further than is his custom to amuse us with his silence and fun. The velvet Italian accents and the humorous piano-playing of Mr. Chico Marx are humorously utilized. . . . It may be said with practically no peril that the Marx family justifies itself as a Broadway institute by its skillful interpretation of the principal characters in Animal Crackers. (See review at: http://www.pipeline.com/~coolzip/crackers/reviews.htm

Not only had the Marx Brothers arrived on Broadway, but they had become its best loved troupe.
For more information on the Marx Brothers on Broadway, including scripts, reviews and show posters, see: http://www.pipeline.com/~coolzip/broadway.htm

The Marx Brothers on the Silver screen

Given the institution that the Marx Brothers had become on Broadway, it was inevitable that Hollywood would come calling. The Marx Brothers signed a contract with Paramount and began planning for their first movie: a film version of their Broadway hit The Cocoanuts. The production of this movie was begun during the Broadway run of Animal Crackers. The brothers would work on the taping of the movie during the day and perform on stage in the evening. Their hard work paid off: in 1929 The Cocoanuts turned out to be a successful movie as well. In 1930 Animal Crackers joined The Cocoanuts by becoming a successful movie that was basically just a filmed version of a stage production.
Beginning with the films Horse Feathers and Monkey Business, in 1931 the Marx Brothers movies became entirely film productions. 1933 saw the release of what is considered by many to be one of the best of the Marx Brothers' movies, Duck Soup. This would be the movie in which the Marx Brothers would find their movie style that would allow them to rise to the top of Hollywood (much the same as I'll Say She Is allowed them to rise to the top of Broadway). This movie would mark a changing point for cinematic comedy, and contains some of the most classic and most imitated scenes of all time.
With the success of Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers became a Hollywood institution. Beginning with The Cocaonuts in 1929 and ending in the TV film of 1959, The Incredible Jewel Robbery, the Marx Brothers would star in over twenty films, all of them successful. In this span they would become to embody Hollywood; many saw Groucho, with his oversized cigars and obnoxious mustache as the embodiment of Hollywood (Chricton, 1950). As a reflection of this success, MGM bought out the Marx Brothers contract, signing to the most lucrative deal in Hollywood's history (up to that time): fifteen percent of all box office earnings (Chricton, 1950, 295); with a Marx Brothers movie, fifteen percent was a gold mine.

Harpo goes to Moscow

In the fall of 1933, Harpo received a call from his by then good friend, Alexander Woollcott: "I've decided that Harpo Marx should be the first American artist to perform in Moscow after the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. become friendly nations. Think of it!" (Marx, 1961, 297). Woollcott figured that with Harpo's pantomimic capabilities he would be a hit in Soviet Russia; Harpo decided to give it a try.
After a slight delay with the Soviet customs (they thought Harpo was a spy), Harpo was able to get into Moscow. He was assigned his own personal guide (spy to make sure he wasn't a spy) and given an appointment with the head of the department of Soviet theater to set up some dates for appearances; he wasn't given any. After a week of trying Harpo was ready to leave the country when the Soviet Foreign Minister (Stalin's right hand man, Litinov) rectified things and got him a Soviet group of actors to put together a show. For the show Harpo would play a harp solo, a sketch with his clarinet and a pantomime piece with the rest of the group.
Harpo's opening night in Moscow was arguably the best opening night in comedic history. "I'll be a son of a bitch if I didn't knock them out of their seats. . . . I only had to wiggle an eyebrow to bring the house down." (Marx, 1961, 317). The Soviet crowd was awestruck. At the end of the show Harpo would make curtain call after curtain call. On the next day, one Soviet critic would write that Harpo had received, "an unprecedented standing ovation, lasting ten minutes." (Marx, 1961,318). Harpo loved every minute of it, "No other success ever gave me quite the same satisfaction. Besides, it happened on my fortieth birthday." (Marx, 1961, 318).
In the six weeks that the show ran in Russia Harpo became a celebrity. The show was an incredible success. Everywhere it played it received the same enthusiastic response it had met in Moscow. Harpo had shown that comedy, particularly his, could transcend culture. It was the defining moment in his career.

The Work

The Marx Brothers had found amazing success in their careers, but did they change their domain? Yes. Not only did they affect what came after them, but they changed the direction that the American comedy scene had been headed:
. . . their method is in direct contrast to an earlier school that created humor by making large matters trivial. A cannon going off in the neighborhood of Jolson or Cantor will be accepted with a light wave of the hand, showing unconcern. . . . The Marxes have a method directly opposite. A man meets Groucho and asks him how he is. Groucho looks at him in amazement. 'How am I?' says Groucho. 'You want to know how I am. A man can't even feel bad without a lot of nosy people wanting to make something of it. How am I? As if you cared. A hypocrite. Next thing you'll be asking for a match. I suppose you go around everywhere asking people to lend you matches? But if I don't have a match - you'll be sore, eh? I lend you a match and then you want me to lend you my wife, and eventually you'll get me lending you a fortune. You'd like to see me lending you a fortune, wouldn't you? I can see it in your eyes. Just a passing acquaintance, and you say, lend me a fortune.'" (Chricton, 1950, 299).

The Marx Brothers managed to take every simple activity and blow it out of proportion. This exaggeration leads to a constant state of excitement and energy. In fact, watching their work today is almost like watching a living cartoon. The mistake would be to assume that they were mimicking the cartoons, this is not the case. Many different cartoons draw a great deal of inspiration from the Marx Brothers, In fact, it's not uncommon to see a Marx Brothers sketch show up in cartoons. Specifically, their mirror sketch in Duck Soup may be the most imitated scene in movie history.
The influence of this style is far reaching. Almost all comedy of today relies on the Marxist tendency to exaggeration. Tim Allen and his tools; Jerry Seinfeld takes the most normal situations of our lives and makes them seem funny; Robin William takes the best of Harpo and Groucho and keeps you laughing the whole time.
Why do we love the Marx Brothers? From their stage acrobatics and there seemingly unlimited energy to their exaggeration and constant pesting, they remind us of children. They make us see the world through the eyes of children again and allow us to laugh, like children. They give us the gift of youth.


Do the Marx Brothers fall under my definition of a creative group? Can the Marx Brothers fit into Gardner's model? Do the Marx Brothers, as a group, show the same trends in development as Gardner's individual creators? I proposed at the beginning of the paper; hopefully, in reading this paper, you will be able to agree with my conclusion that the answer to all three of these questions is "yes."
In his biography about the Marxes, Chricton (1950, 305), sums up the Marx Brothers perfectly, "The Marx Brothers are coherent as a group and entirely individual otherwise. Gummo is easy going and gentle; Zeppo is tough and practical; Harpo is fully rounded in temperament and invariably content; Chico is happiest of all and doesn't give a damn; Groucho worries from day to night. . . ." This group coherency is what allowed to the Marxes to exist as a creative entity, while the individuality of each of the brothers added, each in his own way, to the greater whole. In this way the analogy of the Marx Brothers to Gardner's individual creators, and the individual brothers' strengths to Gardner's creators' mental strengths. Probably the most interesting part of my dual study was the realization that not only could the Marx Brothers fit into Gardner's model, but so too, could Harpo (with about equal amount of variance as Gardner's seven creators).
The main themes that seemed to arise from Gardner's model were marginality, domain-changing creativity, the ten year rule, the Faustian bargain and support systems before and during the time of the breakthrough works. Both the Marx Brothers and Harpo exhibited a great amount of marginality, not just from their background but also within their field. The Marx Brothers running the circuit in the small, nontraditional theaters to begin, and Harpo as a pantomime and harp player in the realm of theater. As discussed in the above section, the Marx Brothers did, indeed change their domain, but did Harpo? Harpo revolutionized the way people performed comedy. Not only did he use physical movements, in the tradition of Chaplain, but he extensively used props to augment his humor.
Gardner found, in his creators, the trend of a great deal of support leading up to the breakthrough and a period of isolation leading to the breakthrough. The greatest support for the Marx Brothers came from their, mother, Minnie with her master plan. Her support falls along the line of Joseph Kennedy, who with an equal will, but a different domain, pushed his boys into greatness in their field. Whatever support wasn't found with Minnie was found from each other and the amazing number of friends the Marx Brothers accumulated over the years. The Marx Brothers' act traveled alone on the road and had to depend on its own resources to develop; but, being a group, they were never really in isolation individually.
The theme that Gardner discovered that seems to be the hardest for people to believe or support is his ten year rule, fortunately, it does seem to apply not only to the Marx Brothers, but to Harpo as well:

Initial Breakthrough~10 years~20 years
Marx Bros.:Fun In Hi Skule marks the beginning of the Marx Bros. and their comedic style. (1912) I'll Say She Is takes the Marx Bros. to the heights of Broadway. (1924)Duck Soup allows the Marx Bros. to rise to equal success in Hollywood. (1933)
Harpo:Origins of Harpo's idiot in Fun In Hi Skule. (1912)Alexander Woollcott's review in which he hails Harpo as a "great clown": beginning of his acclaim (1924).Trip to the Soviet Union and his single greatest success.(1934)

The choices of the breakthroughs could be argued, but the same is true of Gardner's findings. I actually did not expect to find the trend at all and wasn't looking for it, it just appeared when I wrote down the dates of both the Marxs' and Harpo's accomplishments. This did not, however happen with the Faustian bargain: I could find no indication of it with either group.
The question could be asked if Harpo, Groucho or Chico could have been successful without the Marx Brothers. The fact that all three of these brothers went on to successes after or independent of the Marx brothers shows that they were indeed talented, but could they have done it alone? I don't think so. The synergy of the Marx Brothers allowed each brother to develop and grow within the group. This allowed not only the group to grow, but allowed the brothers themselves to be able to move on after the group had broken up. Groucho was able to write books and be a TV quiz master; Chico played with a band; Harpo painted, played his harp, and wrote a wonderful autobiography (not bad for a guy never finished the second grade). Separately, they may have never been able to tap into that talent they had deep inside that allowed them to change a domain. Together they not only became individual creators themselves, but were able to build off one another and create something wonderful: The Marx Brothers.


Crichton, Kyle. (1950). The Marx Brothers. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Gehring, Wes D. (1994). Groucho and W. C. Fields: Huckster Comedians. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Marx, Harpo. (1961). Harpo Speaks. New York: Bernard Geis Associates/ Random House Inc.

The Marx Brothers on Broadway. (1997). Available: http://www.pipeline.com/~coolzip/broadway.html

The Marx Brothers - The Winsome Foursome. (1997) Available: http://members.aol.com/marxbroths/content.htm

Marx Brothers on the Web:

Links page: http://www.evl.uic.edu/pape/Marx/websites.html
General Info: http://evlweb.eecs.uic.edu/pape/Marx


Words of wisdom from Groucho:

Script for the Marx Brothers written by Salvidor Dahli: http://www.vex.net/~buff/dali-marx.html

I suggest a web search of the Marx Brothers if you want further information, there is a lot of it out there.