The Marx Brothers
How Leonard, Arthur, Julius, Milton and Herbert became Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo is an old and well-known story which has almost taken mythological proportions. Groucho told it like this in The Marx Bros. Scrapbook:
"Our stage names were given to us by a monologist named Art Fisher. He was in the habit of giving people nicknames and they stuck. He named Leonard Chico because girls were called chicks in those days and Chico loved girls. Arthur became Harpo for obvious reasons, Gummo got his name because he was fond of gum sole shoes, and he named me because I was stern and rather serious. Herbert who became Zeppo was too young at that time and wasn't in the act. He got his name later on. I think Fisher got the names from a cartoon that was appearing in the papers. The Monk Family or something like that. I didn't mind the name because I wasn't too crazy about Julius."
Over the years, the story has been questioned and it has been especially hard to track down Art Fisher the monologist. Some people have even began do doubt his existence. Could he just have been a figment of Groucho's imagination? Recently, fellow Marxonian Noah Diamond has found proof that Art Fisher DID exist, and that he indeed was a monologist - maybe we would call him a stand-up comedian today? - and an imitator. Fisher is mentioned in a lot of paper clippings unearthed by Diamond, for example "Art Fisher, the cowboy comedian, with funny sayings and antics" (Hagerstown, MD Daily Mail, 15 April 1910), "Art Fisher sings and offers a number of imitations which are clever" (Waterloo Evening Courier, 22 August 1911), "Art Fisher is a mimic of much merrymaking power, and he wins applause right along" (Iowa City Daily Press, 14 November 1911) and "Art Fisher, the eccentric monologuist, will try his array of nonsense for the first time on a Washington audience" (Washington Post, 9 May 1912).
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette 13 July 1908
Racine Daily Journal 2 June 1911
Peterburg Daily Progress 20 April 1912
Regarding The Monk Family ("...or
something like that", as Groucho said), these were created by
Charles Augustus "Gus" Mager. In 1904, the first of his 'Monk' strips
the Monk, featuring monkey-like characters. Knocko was
followed by Rhymo the Monk, Henpecko the
Monk, Jolliko the Monk, Freshy
the Monk, Sherlocko the Monk (the most
succesful, later re-named Hawkshaw the
Detective) and - eventually - Groucho the Monk.
Noah Diamond has found samples of this as well, the "stern and rather serious" monkey after which "our" Groucho was named:
From American Journal Examiner, 1908