The Marx Brothers
Harpo Marx (Adolph/Arthur)

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Home | Biography | Harpo Marx

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 Champaign, 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 on I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy - Harpo Gag from Duck Soup

Harpo speaks

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

"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

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 Marx appeared in the following movies:

Film TitleCharacter name
Humor Risk - 1921Watson, Detective and/or the Love Interest (?)  
Too Many Kisses - 1925The Village Peter Pan  
The Cocoanuts - 1929Harpo  
Animal Crackers - 1930The Professor  
Monkey Business - 1931A Stowaway  
The House That Shadows Built - 1931  
Horse Feathers - 1932Pinky  
Hollywood on Parade No.5 - 1932  
Duck Soup - 1933Pinky  
A Night at the Opera - 1935Tomasso  
La Fiesta de Santa Barbara - 1935  
A Day at the Races - 1937Stuffy  
Room Service - 1938Faker Englund  
At the Circus - 1939Punchy  
Go West - 1940Rusty Panello  
The Big Store - 1941Wacky  
Stage Door Canteen - 1943  
Screen snapshots No. 8 - 1943  
The All-Star Bond Rally - 1945  
A Night in Casablanca - 1946Rusty  
Love Happy - 1949Harpo  
Love Happy - 1949Written by  
The Story of Mankind - 1957Isaac Newton  

Important dates in the life of Harpo Marx:

23 Nov 1888Adolph "Harpo" Marx is born in New York, he later changed his name to Arthur
Jan 1910Harpo joins The Three Nightingales to form The Four Nightingales
Feb 1910When joined by Minnie Marx and aunt Hannah Schickler The Four Nightingales become The Six Mascots
1912Fun in Hi Skule is the first musical sketch of the Brothers. This half-hour 'school act' features the four brothers, Paul Yates and others
1913Mr. Green's Reception is a followup to Fun in Hi Skule
1914Home Again is developed from the second half of Mr. Green's Reception
1918In The Cinderella Girl Zeppo replaces Gummo. This musical comedy is written by Jo Swerling with music by Gus Kahn
1921On the Mezzanine Floor (in England: On the Balcony) a musical revue written by Herman Timberg, produced by Benny Leonard
1921The 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.
19 May 1924Stage show I'll say she is, scripted by Will B. Johnstone, opens at the Casinos
1925Film 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 1925Stage 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 1928Stage 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 1929Film The Cocoanuts released
6 Sep 1930Film Animal Crackers released
5 Jan 1931The Marxes appear in the London Palace Theatre
19 Sep 1931Film Monkey Business released
31 Aug 1932Film Horse Feathers released
24 Nov 1933Film Duck Soup released
22 Nov 1933New York Premiere of "Duck Soup"
1934Harpo tours Russia
15 Nov 1935Film A Night at the Opera released
7 Dec 1935Film La Fiesta de Santa Barbara released. Harpo's wig can be seen in Technicolor
28 Sep 1936Harpo marries Susan Fleming
11 Jun 1937Film A Day at the Races released
1938Harpo and Susan adopt William (Billy/Bill) Woollcott
30 Sep 1938Film Room Service released
20 Oct 1939Film At the Circus released
6 Dec 1940Film Go West released
20 Jun 1941Film The Big Store released
1 Dec 1943Alexander Woollcott's tribute to Harpo, "Portrait of a Man with Red Hair" appeared in The New Yorker.
1944Harpo plays in The Man who came to Dinner
10 May 1946Film A Night in Casablanca released
20 Jan 1948Harpo appeared in the "Command Performance" radio show #307
12 Dec 1948Groucho's article "Why Harpo Doesn't Talk" is published in "This Week".
3 Mar 1950Film Love Happy released
11 Nov 1951Harpo's TV debut on NBC's "Colgate Comedy Hour"
6 Jan 1952Harpo appears on the programme "Comedy Hour" on NBC TV
9 Jan 1954Harpo appears on the "Spike Jones Show" on NBC TV
18 Dec 1954Harpo Marx is a guest on the TV show 'The Christophers'
1955Harpo makes a guest appearance in Lucille Ball's show I love Lucy
8 Nov 1957Film The Story of Mankind released. Chico, Harpo and Groucho appear in this film, but not together in one scene
14 Jan 1959Harpo is a guest on "Kraft Music Hall" on NBC TV
8 Mar 1959The TV film The Incredible Jewel Robbery is the last film to have three Marx Brothers
22 Dec 1960Harpo starred in "Silent Panic," an episode of the June Allyson show for CBS television.
1961Harpo's book Harpo speaks published
28 Sep 1964Harpo dies after open heart surgery
16 Jan 1977The Marxes are inducted to the Motion Picture Hall of Fame
Jan 2007Bill Marx's book "Son of Harpo Speaks" is published
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This site uses material originally created by Frank Bland for his website Why A Duck?. Frank did kindly give me permission to use this material.

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