Harpo Marx

Infobox actor
name= Harpo Marx

caption= Harpo in
"A Night at the Opera" (1935)
birthdate= birth date|1893|11|23
birthplace= New York, New York,
United States
deathdate= nowrap|death date and age|1964|9|28|1893|11|23
deathplace= Los Angeles, California,
United States
birthname=Adolph Marx
known_for = "Duck Soup", "A Night at the Opera"
occupation = Comedian, Actor, Mime
spouse = Susan Fleming
children = Bill Marx
Alex Marx
Jimmie Marx
Minnie Marx
parents = Minnie Schoenberg
Sam "Frenchie" Marx
relatives = Al Shean, Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Gummo Marx, Zeppo Marx

Arthur Marx (previously Adolph Marx), popularly known as Harpo Marx (November 23, 1893 – September 28, 1964) was one of the Marx Brothers, a group of Vaudeville and Broadway theatre entertainers who later achieved fame as comedians in the Motion Picture industry. He was well known by his trademarks: he played the harp; he never talked during performances, although he often blew a horn or whistled to communicate with people; and he frequently used props - one of his most commonly used props in films was a walking stick with a built-in bulb horn.

Early life and career

In January 1910, Harpo joined two of his brothers, Julius (later "Groucho") and Milton (later "Gummo"), to form "The Three Nightingales". Harpo was inspired to develop his "silent" routine after reading a review of one of their performances which had been largely ad-libbed. The theater critic wrote, "Adolph Marx performed beautiful pantomime which was ruined whenever he spoke."

Harpo got his stage name during a card game at the Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg, Illinois. The dealer (Art Fisher) called him "Harpo" because he played the harp. He had taught himself to play because he could not sing, or dance, and did not talk very well, so he needed something to do. Al Shean sent him a harpFact|date=July 2007 (In Harpo's autobiography, he says that mother Minnie Marx sent him the harp.) Harpo learned how to hold it properly by going to a five-and-dime store where he found a picture of a girl playing a harp. No one in town knew how to play the harp, so Harpo tuned it as best he could, starting with one basic note and tuning it from there. Three years later he found out he had tuned it incorrectly, but he could not tune it properly because if he had, the strings would have broken each night. His way placed much less tension on the strings. Although he played this way for the rest of his life, he did try to learn how to play correctly, and he spent considerable money hiring the best teachers. They, however, spent their time listening to him, fascinated by the way he played. In the movies he is actually playing the harp with his own alternate tuning.

In his autobiography "Harpo Speaks" (1961), Harpo recounts how Chico got him jobs playing piano to accompany silent movies. Unlike Chico, Harpo could only play two songs on the piano, "Waltz Me Around Again, Willie" and "Love Me and the World Is Mine", but he adapted this small repertoire in different tempos to suit the action on the screen. He was also seen playing chords on the piano in "A Night at the Opera", in such a way that the piano sounded much like a harp, as a prelude to actually playing the harp in that scene.

Harpo changed his name from Adolph to Arthur by 1911. This was due primarily to his dislike for the name Adolph (as a child, he was routinely called "Ahdie" instead). Urban legends to the effect that the name change came about during World War I -- due to anti-German sentiment in the US -- or during World War II -- due to the stigma that Adolf Hitler imposed on the name -- are groundless. [cite web
last =Mikkelson
first =Barbara and David
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Harpo Marx
work =
publisher =Snopes.com
date =2007-08-09
url =http://www.snopes.com/movies/actors/harpo.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-01-01

In film

He appeared without his brothers in "Too Many Kisses" (1925) four years before the brothers' first widely-released film, "The Cocoanuts" (1929). In "Too Many Kisses", Harpo spoke the only line he would ever speak on-camera in a movie: "You sure you can't move?" Fittingly, it was a silent movie, and the audience only saw his lips move and saw the line on a title card.

In the Marx Brothers' movie "At the Circus" (1939), however, Harpo spoke in a movie with the brothers for the one and only time. In the scene in which he visits the room of Little Professor Atom (Jerry Marenghi), Harpo sneezes--clearly saying "At-choo!" In the opening scene of "Monkey Business" (1931), where the four brothers are in barrels marked "Kippered Herring", "Sweet Adeline" is clearly being sung by three brothers only.

Harpo gained notoriety for prop-laden sight gags. In "Horse Feathers" (1932), Groucho tells him that Harpo cannot "burn the candle at both ends". He immediately produces, from within his coat, a lit candle burning at both ends. (As author Joe Adamson put it his book, "Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo", "The president of the college has been shouted down by a mute.")

His non-speaking in films was occasionally referenced by the other Marx Brothers, who were careful to imply that his character's not speaking was a "choice" rather than a disability. They would make joking reference to this part of his act. For example, in "Animal Crackers" his character was ironically dubbed "The Professor". In "The Cocoanuts", this exchange occurred:

:Groucho: Who is this?:Chico: 'At's-a my partner, but he no speak.:Groucho: Oh, that's your silent partner!

Harpo further distinguished his character by wearing a "fright wig". Early in his career it was dyed pink, as evidenced by color film posters of the time and by allusions to it in films, with character names such as "Pinky". It tended to show as blonde on-screen. Over time, he darkened the pink to more of a reddish color, again alluded to in films with names such as "Rusty".

In other media

In 1933, following U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union, he spent six weeks in Moscow as a performer and goodwill ambassador [ [http://www.users.muohio.edu/shermalw/honors_2001_fall/honors_papers_2000/lee_harpomarx.html Harpo goes to Moscow] ] . His tour was a huge success.

In 1936 he was one of a number of performers and celebrities to appear as caricatures in the Walt Disney Production of "Mickey's Polo Team". Harpo was part of a team of polo-playing movie stars which included Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. His mount was an ostrich.

Harpo was also caricatured in "Sock-A-Bye Baby" (1934), an early episode of the "Popeye" cartoon series created by Fleischer Studios. Harpo is playing the harp, and wakes up Popeye's baby, and then Popeye beats him up and supposedly kills him. (After Popeye hits him, a halo appears over his head and he floats to the sky.)

Harpo also took an interest in painting, and a few of his works can be seen in his autobiography. In the book, Marx tells a story about how he tried to paint a nude female model, but froze up because he simply didn't know how to paint properly. The model took pity on him, however, showing him a few basic strokes with a brush, until finally Harpo (fully clothed) took the model's place as the subject and the naked woman painted "his" portrait.

In 1955, Harpo made an appearance on Lucille Ball's sitcom "I Love Lucy," in which they re-enacted the famous mirror scene from the Marx Brothers movie "Duck Soup" (1933). [imdb|id=0609287|title="I Love Lucy": "Lucy and Harpo Marx"]

Harpo recorded an album of harp music for RCA Victor ("Harp by Harpo", 1952) and two for Mercury Records ("Harpo in Hi-Fi", 1957; "Harpo at Work", 1958).

Marx made a number of notable television appearances in the 1960s. In 1960 he appeared in an episode of "The DuPont Show with June Allyson" entitled "A Silent Panic". Marx plays a deaf-mute who works as a "mechanical man" in a department store window who witnesses a gangland murder. In 1961, he made guest appearances on "The Today Show", "Play Your Hunch", "Candid Camera", "I've Got a Secret", "Here's Hollywood", "Art Linkletter's House Party", Groucho's quiz show "You Bet Your Life", "The Ed Sullivan Show", and "Your Surprise Package".

In 1962 he guest-starred with Carol Burnett in an installment of the "DuPont Show of the Week" entitled "The Wonderful World of Toys". The show was filmed in Central Park and featured Marx playing "Autumn Leaves" on the harp. A visit to the set inspired poet Robert Lowell to compose a poem about Marx. 1962 saw Marx appearing on Red Skelton's CBS series as its first guest and in his final television appearance played himself in an episode of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" based on the Frank Capra film, and starring Fess Parker. [cite news
last =Hickey
first =Matthew
coauthors =
title =TV's Silent Panic: Harpo Marx & the Golden Age of Television
work =Filmfax magazine
pages =64-9
language =
publisher =
date =May/June 1996
url =
accessdate =

Personal life

He married actress Susan Fleming on September 28, 1936. Unlike his brothers, who were unlucky with love (Groucho was divorced three times, Chico once, and Zeppo twice), Harpo's marriage to Susan was lifelong. The couple adopted four children: Bill, Alex, Jimmy and Minnie. When asked by George Burns how many children he planned to adopt, he answered "I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows. So when I leave, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye." [ [http://www.harpomarx.net/index.html HarpoMarx.net] ]

Harpo was good friends with theater critic Alexander Woollcott and because of this became a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table. Harpo, who was quiet in his personal life, said his main contribution was to be the audience in that group of wits. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart based the character of "Banjo" in their play "The Man Who Came to Dinner" on Harpo and later played the role in Los Angeles opposite Alexander Woolcott who had inspired the character of Sheridan Whiteside.

In 1961, Harpo published his autobiography, "Harpo Speaks". In it, he tells one story of a man who did not believe that Harpo could actually talk. Many people believed he was mute. In fact, recordings of his voice can be found on the Internet, documentaries, and on bonus materials of Marx Brothers DVDs. In relating one story, he had a distinguished voice like a professional announcer, though like his brothers he did have a New York accent his entire life (for example: "girls" he would pronounce "giles", turkey would be "tike-ee", etc), hear, for instance, [http://www.marx-brothers.org/biography/harposp.htm these] audio recordings.) Harpo actually had a much deeper and more resonant speaking voice than Groucho, which some suspect may be the real reason he was dissuaded from ever speaking in the act. For reference, his voice was fairly similar to Chico's, perhaps too similar, which would be another reason he developed his unique stage persona. Possibly also, is that his rich voice is completely at odds with his puckish character. He forged a career in after-dinner speaking. He would often open with the line "Unaccustomed as I am to speaking...." to choruses of laughter.

Harpo's final time before the public came in 1964, when he appeared on stage with singer/comedian Allan Sherman. Sherman burst into tears when Harpo announced his retirement. Comedian Steve Allen, who was in the audience, remembered that Harpo--in announcing his retirement from the stage--kept talking for several minutes. After a while, the audience started tittering and giggling. Allensaid that everyone found it charmingly ironic that the comedian, mute for several decades, "wouldn't shut up!".


Harpo Marx died on September 28, 1964 at the age of 70 after undergoing open heart surgery. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Harpo Marx, the Silent Comedian, Is Dead at 70 [sic] ; Blond-Wigged, Horn-Tooting Star Scored on Stage and in Films With Brothers Harpo Marx, Silent Comedian, Dies. |url= |publisher=New York Times |date=September 29, 1964, Tuesday |accessdate=2007-08-21 ] Groucho's son Arthur Marx has said that Harpo's funeral was the only time he ever saw his father cry.

His remains were reportedly sprinkled into the sand trap off the seventh fairway of his favorite golf course. In his will, he donated his trademark harp to the nation of Israel. [http://books.google.com/books?id=GFQIAAAACAAJ&dq=Duck+Soup "The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia"] . Glenn Mitchell, 1996; B.T. Batsford Ltd, London.]


Further reading

* Marx, Harpo (1961). "Harpo Speaks". New York: B. Geis Associates; New York: Limelight Editions, 1985. ISBN 0-87910-036-2

External links

*imdb name|id=0555617|name=Harpo Marx
*tcmdb name|id=124007|name=Harpo Marx
*ibdb name|id=73083|name=Harpo Marx
* [http://www.harpomarx.net/ Comprehensive fan site]
* [http://www.marx-brothers.org/biography/harposp.htm Clips of Harpo speaking]

NAME= Marx, Harpo
DATE OF BIRTH= 1888-11-23
PLACE OF BIRTH= New York, New York
DATE OF DEATH= 1964-9-28

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