Harpo Marx
Adolph "Harpo" Marx (November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964) was an American comedian and film star. He was the second oldest of the Marx Brothers
Marx Brothers
The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act, originally from New York City, that enjoyed success in Vaudeville, Broadway, and motion pictures from the early 1900s to around 1950...

. His comic style was influenced by clown
Clowns are comic performers stereotypically characterized by the grotesque image of the circus clown's colored wigs, stylistic makeup, outlandish costumes, unusually large footwear, and red nose, which evolved to project their actions to large audiences. Other less grotesque styles have also...

 and pantomime
Pantomime — not to be confused with a mime artist, a theatrical performer of mime—is a musical-comedy theatrical production traditionally found in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, India, Ireland, Gibraltar and Malta, and is mostly performed during the...

 traditions. He wore a curly reddish wig, and never spoke during performances (he blew a horn or whistled
Human whistling is the production of sound by means of carefully controlling a stream of air flowing through a small hole. Whistling can be achieved by creating a small opening with one's lips and then blowing or sucking air through the hole...

 to communicate). Marx frequently used props
Theatrical property
A theatrical property, commonly referred to as a prop, is an object used on stage by actors to further the plot or story line of a theatrical production. Smaller props are referred to as "hand props". Larger props may also be set decoration, such as a chair or table. The difference between a set...

 such as a walking stick with a built-in bulb horn, and he played the harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

 in most of his films.

Early life and career

Harpo was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. He grew up in a neighborhood now known as Carnegie Hill on the Upper East Side (E 93rd Street off Lexington Avenue) of Manhattan. The turn-of-the-century building that Harpo called "the first real home they ever knew" (in his memoir Harpo Speaks), was populated with European immigrants, mostly artisans - which even included a glass blower. Just across the street were the oldest brownstone
Brownstone is a brown Triassic or Jurassic sandstone which was once a popular building material. The term is also used in the United States to refer to a terraced house clad in this material.-Types:-Apostle Island brownstone:...

s in the area, owned by people like the well-connected Loew Brothers and William Orth.

Harpo's parents were Sam Marx
Sam Marx
Samuel Marx, born Simon Marx , was the husband of Minnie Marx, and father of the Marx Brothers.He was born in Mertzwiller, Alsace, France in 1859, and he died on May 10, 1933 in Los Angeles, California. He met Minnie in New York where he was working as a dance teacher. They married in 1884 and had...

 (called "Frenchie" throughout his life) and his wife Minnie Schoenberg Marx
Minnie Marx
Miene Schönberg Marx was the mother and manager of the Marx Brothers, wife of Sam Marx, and the sister of vaudeville star Al Shean...

. Minnie's brother was Al Schoenberg, who changed his name to Al Shean
Al Shean
Al Shean was the stage name for comedian Abraham Elieser Adolph Schönberg, although other sources give his birth name variously as Adolf Schönberg, Albert Schönberg, or Alfred Schönberg. He is most remembered for being half of the vaudeville team Gallagher and Shean, and as the uncle of the Marx...

 when he went into show business. He was half of Gallagher and Shean
Gallagher and Shean
Gallagher & Shean was a highly successful double act on vaudeville and Broadway in the 1910s and 1920s, consisting of Edward Gallagher and Al Shean .-Career:...

, a noted vaudeville act of the early 20th century.

Harpo had little formal education, for he quit grade school during his second attempt to pass the second grade. According to Harpo's autobiography, he was once thrown out of the window of his classroom (from the first floor) by two big Irish kids, as he was the only Jew in the class and was very small for his age. Upon returning to the classroom, Harpo would lie to his teacher, saying he had gone to the restroom to avoid worse bullying. This happened about three or four times a day until Harpo finally left New York Public School 86 for good. He started working numerous odd jobs alongside his brother Chico
Chico Marx
Leonard "Chico" Marx was an American comedian and film star as part of the Marx Brothers. His persona in the act was that of a dim-witted albeit crafty con artist, seemingly of rural Italian origin, who wore shabby clothes, and sported a curly-haired wig and Tyrolean hat.As the first-born of the...

 to contribute to the family income some of which including selling newspapers, working in a butcher shop, or as an errand office boy.

In January 1910, Harpo joined two of his brothers, Julius
Groucho Marx
Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx was an American comedian and film star famed as a master of wit. His rapid-fire delivery of innuendo-laden patter earned him many admirers. He made 13 feature films with his siblings the Marx Brothers, of whom he was the third-born...

 (later "Groucho") and Milton
Gummo Marx
Milton "Gummo" Marx was an American vaudeville performer and theatrical agent. He was the fourth-born of the Marx Brothers. Born in New York City, he worked with his brothers on the vaudeville circuit, but left acting when he was drafted into the U.S...

 (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
Pantomime — not to be confused with a mime artist, a theatrical performer of mime—is a musical-comedy theatrical production traditionally found in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, India, Ireland, Gibraltar and Malta, and is mostly performed during the...

 which was ruined whenever he spoke."

Harpo got his stage name during a card game at the Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg, Illinois
Galesburg, Illinois
Galesburg is a city in Knox County, Illinois, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 32,195. It is the county seat of Knox County....

. The dealer (Art Fisher) called him "Harpo" because he played the harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

. (In Harpo's autobiography, he says that mother Minnie Marx
Minnie Marx
Miene Schönberg Marx was the mother and manager of the Marx Brothers, wife of Sam Marx, and the sister of vaudeville star Al Shean...

 sent him the harp.) Harpo learned how to hold it properly from a picture of an angel playing a harp that he saw in a five-and-dime. 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 have tuned it properly; if he had, the strings would have broken each night. Harpo's method 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 his movie performances he played the harp with his own tuning.

In his autobiography Harpo Speaks (1961), Harpo recounts how Chico
Chico Marx
Leonard "Chico" Marx was an American comedian and film star as part of the Marx Brothers. His persona in the act was that of a dim-witted albeit crafty con artist, seemingly of rural Italian origin, who wore shabby clothes, and sported a curly-haired wig and Tyrolean hat.As the first-born of the...

 got him jobs playing piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 to accompany silent movies
Silent film
A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime and title cards...

. Unlike Chico, Harpo could play only 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 a portion of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C# minor" in A Day at the Races
A Day at the Races (film)
Further reading* Elisabeth Buxbaum: Veronika, der Lenz ist da. Walter Jurmann – Ein Musiker zwischen den Welten und Zeiten. Mit einem Werkverzeichnis von Alexander Sieghardt. Edition Steinbauer, Wien 2006, ISBN 3-902494-18-2-External links:*...

and chords on the piano in A Night at the Opera
A Night at the Opera (film)
A Night at the Opera is a 1935 American comedy film starring Groucho Marx, Chico Marx and Harpo Marx, and featuring Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, Margaret Dumont, Sig Ruman, and Walter Woolf King. It was the first film the Marx Brothers made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after their departure from...

, in such a way that the piano sounded much like a harp, as a prelude to actually playing the harp in that scene.

Harpo had 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 stating that the name change came about during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 due to anti-German sentiment in the US or during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 because of the stigma that Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 imposed on the name are groundless.

In film

His first appearance was in the 1921 film Humor Risk
Humor Risk
Humor Risk was the first Marx Brothers film. The short film was never released and is now considered a lost film. The print may have been accidentally thrown away when left in the screening box overnight...

, with his brothers, although according to Groucho, it was only screened once and then lost. Four years later, Harpo appeared without his brothers in Too Many Kisses
Too Many Kisses
Too Many Kisses is a 1925 silent comedy directed by Paul Sloane and based on John Monk Saunders's story. "A Maker of Gestures." It is notable for being the earliest surviving film to feature Harpo Marx.-Plot:...

, four years before the brothers' first widely-released film, The Cocoanuts
The Cocoanuts
The Cocoanuts is the first feature-length Marx Brothers film, produced by Paramount Pictures. The musical comedy stars the four Marx Brothers, Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton, and Margaret Dumont. Produced by Walter Wanger and the first sound movie to credit more than one director , and was adapted to the...

(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
At the Circus
At the Circus is a 1939 Marx Brothers comedy film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in which they save a circus from bankruptcy...

(1939), however, Harpo "speaks" in a movie with the brothers in the scene in which he visits the room of Little Professor Atom (Jerry Maren
Jerry Maren
Jerry Maren is an American actor and one of only three confirmed surviving dwarf munchkins from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The other two surviving munchkin cast members are Margaret Williams Pellegrini and Ruth Robinson Duccini, making Maren the last surviving male Munchkin from the...

) and sneezes, clearly saying "At-choo!". In A Night in Casablanca
A Night in Casablanca
A Night in Casablanca was the twelfth Marx Brothers movie, starring Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, and Harpo Marx. The picture was directed by Archie Mayo and written by Joseph Fields and Roland Kibbee, and is generally considered one of the better of the Marx Brothers' later films.-Plot:Set in...

, Harpo also "speaks" in the scene where he is taste-testing Groucho's food by acting like a seal and vocalizing seal sounds. It is also implied that Harpo is singing (baritone) in the opening scene of Monkey Business
Monkey Business (1931 film)
Monkey Business is a 1931 comedy film. It is the third of the Marx Brothers' released movies, and the first not to be an adaptation of one of their Broadway shows. The film stars the four brothers: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, and Zeppo Marx, and screen comedienne Thelma Todd. It is...

(1931), where the four Marx Brothers, stowed away in barrels aboard a cruise liner, sing a four-part harmony of "Sweet Adeline."

Harpo became famous for prop-laden sight gags
Visual gag
In comedy, a visual gag or sight gag is anything which conveys its humor visually, often without words being used at all.There are numerous examples in cinema history of directors who based most of the humour in their films on visual gags, even to the point of using no or minimal dialogue...

, in particular the seemingly infinite number of odd things stored in his topcoat
Topcoat may refer to:*A lightweight overcoat*The guard hairs of an animal's fur*A transparent or translucent coat of paint applied over the underlying material as a sealer...

's oversized pockets. In the film Horse Feathers
Horse Feathers
Horse Feathers is a Marx Brothers film comedy. It stars the four Marx Brothers and Thelma Todd. It was written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S. J. Perelman, and Will B. Johnstone. Kalmar and Ruby also wrote some of the original music for the film...

(1932), Groucho, referring to an impossible situation, tells Harpo that he cannot "burn the candle at both ends." Harpo immediately produces from within his coat pocket a lit candle burning at both ends. Earlier in the film a man on the street asks him for money for a cup of coffee, and he subsequently produces a steaming cup from inside his coat. As author Joe Adamson put in his book, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo, "The president of the college has been shouted down by a mute."

Harpo often used facial expressions and mime to get his point across. One of his facial expressions, which he used in every Marx Brothers film and stage play, beginning with Fun in Hi Skule, was known as "the Gookie." Harpo created it by mimicking the expression of Mr. Gehrke, a New York tobacconist who would make a similar face while concentrating on rolling cigars.

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 due to the black-and-white film stock at the time. Over time, he darkened the pink to more of a reddish color, again alluded to in films with names such as "Rusty."

His non-speaking in his early films was occasionally referred to 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
Animal Crackers (film)
Animal Crackers is a 1930 American comedy film, in which mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding. The film was both a critical and commercial success upon initial release, and remains one of the Marx...

his character was ironically dubbed "The Professor." In The Cocoanuts, this exchange occurred:

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

In later films Harpo was put into situations where he would repeatedly attempt to convey a vital message to another person, but only did so through nonverbal means. These scenes reinforced the idea that the character was unable to speak.

In other media

In 1933, following U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, he spent six weeks in Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 as a performer and goodwill ambassador. His tour was a huge success. He served as a secret courier during this time, delivering communiques to and from the US embassy in Moscow at the request of Ambassador William Christian Bullitt, Jr., smuggling the messages in and out of Russia by taping a sealed envelope to his leg beneath his trousers, an event described in David Fromkin
David Fromkin
David Fromkin is a noted author, lawyer, and historian, best known for his historical account on the Middle East, A Peace to End All Peace , in which he recounts the role European powers played between 1914 and 1922 in creating the modern Middle East. The book was a finalist for both the National...

's 1995 book In the Time of the Americans. In Harpo Speaks, Marx describes his relief at making it out of the Soviet Union, recalling how "I pulled up my pants, ripped off the tape, unwound the straps, handed over the dispatches from Ambassador Bullitt, and gave my leg its first scratch in ten days."

The Russia trip was later memorialized in a bizarre science fiction novella, The Foreign Hand Tie by Randall Garrett, a tale of telepathic spies which is full of references to the Marx Brothers and their films.

In 1936, he was one of a number of performers and celebrities to appear as caricature
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

s in the Walt Disney Production
The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. Founded on October 16, 1923, by Walt and Roy Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into...

 of Mickey's Polo Team
Mickey's Polo Team
Mickey's Polo Team is a short animated film, directed by David Hand and first released on January 4, 1936. The short featured a game of polo between four of Disney's animated characters and four animated caricatures of noted film actors...

. Harpo was part of a team of polo
Polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Sometimes called, "The Sport of Kings", it was highly popularized by the British. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team's goal using a...

-playing movie stars which included Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin
Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, KBE was an English comic actor, film director and composer best known for his work during the silent film era. He became the most famous film star in the world before the end of World War I...

 and Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy were one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comedy double acts of the early Classical Hollywood era of American cinema...

. His mount was an ostrich
The Ostrich is one or two species of large flightless birds native to Africa, the only living member of the genus Struthio. Some analyses indicate that the Somali Ostrich may be better considered a full species apart from the Common Ostrich, but most taxonomists consider it to be a...

. Walt Disney would later have Harpo (with Groucho and Chico) appear as one of King Cole's "Fiddlers Three" in the Silly Symphony Mother Goose Goes Hollywood
Mother Goose Goes Hollywood
Mother Goose Goes Hollywood is an 1938 Walt Disney animated short featuring parodies of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and caricatures of Hollywood celebrities from the 1930s. It is the 73rd of the series....


Harpo was also caricatured in Sock-A-Bye Baby
Sock-a-Bye Baby
Sock-a-Bye Baby is the 66th short subject starring American slapstick comedy team the Three Stooges. The trio made a total of 190 shorts for Columbia Pictures between 1934 and 1959.- Plot :...

(1934), an early episode of the Popeye
Popeye the Sailor is a cartoon fictional character created by Elzie Crisler Segar, who has appeared in comic strips and animated cartoons in the cinema as well as on television. He first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929...

cartoon series created by Fleischer Studios
Fleischer Studios
Fleischer Studios, Inc., was an American corporation which originated as an Animation studio located at 1600 Broadway, New York City, New York...

. 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.)

Friz Freleng
Friz Freleng
Isadore "Friz" Freleng was an animator, cartoonist, director, and producer best known for his work on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons from Warner Bros....

's 1936 Merrie Melodies
Merrie Melodies
Merrie Melodies is the name of a series of animated cartoons distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures between 1931 and 1969.Originally produced by Harman-Ising Pictures, Merrie Melodies were produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions from 1933 to 1944. Schlesinger sold his studio to Warner Bros. in 1944,...

 cartoon The Coo-Coo Nut Grove
The Coo-Coo Nut Grove
The Coo-Coo Nut Grove is a Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies short animated film, set in the famed Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles...

caricatures Harpo and gives him a red beak
The beak, bill or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds which is used for eating and for grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young...

. When he first appears, he is chasing a woman, but the woman later turns out to be Groucho.

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 did not 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 the sitcom I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy is an American television sitcom starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley. The black-and-white series originally ran from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957, on the Columbia Broadcasting System...

in which they re-enacted the famous mirror scene from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup (1933). In this scene, they are both supposed to be Harpo, not Groucho; he stays the same and Lucille Ball is dressed as him. About this time, he also appeared on NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

's The Martha Raye Show
The Martha Raye Show
The Martha Raye Show is an hour-long comedy/variety show which aired live on NBC from January 23, 1954, to May 29, 1956. The series was hosted by the late Martha Raye, a Montana native, who often called herself "The Big Mouth." Her boyfriend on the program and a foil for her humor was portrayed by...


Harpo recorded an album of harp music for RCA Victor (Harp by Harpo, 1952) and two for Mercury Records
Mercury Records
Mercury Records is a record label operating as a standalone company in the UK and as part of the Island Def Jam Motown Music Group in the US; both are subsidiaries of Universal Music Group. There is also a Mercury Records in Australia, which is a local artist and repertoire division of Universal...

 (Harpo in Hi-Fi, 1957; Harpo at Work, 1958).

Marx made a number of notable television appearances in the 1960s. In 1960, he appeared with Ernest Truex
Ernest Truex
Ernest Truex was an American actor of stage and film.-Career:...

 in an episode of The DuPont Show with June Allyson
The DuPont Show with June Allyson
The DuPont Show with June Allyson is an American anthology drama series which aired on CBS from September 21, 1959 to April 3, 1961 with rebroadcasts continuing until June 12, 1961...

entitled "A Silent Panic". Marx plays a deaf-mute who, as a "mechanical man" in a department store
Department store
A department store is a retail establishment which satisfies a wide range of the consumer's personal and residential durable goods product needs; and at the same time offering the consumer a choice of multiple merchandise lines, at variable price points, in all product categories...

 window, witnesses a gangland murder. In 1961, he made guest appearances on The Today Show, Play Your Hunch
Play Your Hunch
Play Your Hunch was an American game show first hosted by Merv Griffin from 1958 to 1962, and was then hosted by Robert Q. Lewis until 1963. The announcers for the show were, respectively, Johnny Olson, Wayne Howell and Roger Tuttle...

, Candid Camera
Candid Camera
Candid Camera is a hidden camera/practical joke reality television series created and produced by Allen Funt, which initially began on radio as Candid Microphone June 28, 1947...

, I've Got a Secret
I've Got a Secret
I've Got a Secret is a panel game show produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman for CBS television. Created by comedy writers Allan Sherman and Howard Merrill, it was a derivative of Goodson-Todman's own panel show What's My Line?...

, Here's Hollywood
Here's Hollywood
Here's Hollywood is an American celebrity interview program which aired on weekday afternoons on NBC at 4:30 Eastern time from September 26, 1960, to December 28, 1962.-Overview:...

, Art Linkletter's House Party
Art Linkletter's House Party
House Party is an American radio daytime variety/talk show that aired on CBS Radio and on ABC Radio from January 15, 1945 to October 13, 1967...

, Groucho's quiz show You Bet Your Life
You Bet Your Life
You Bet Your Life is an American quiz show that aired on both radio and television. The original and best-known version was hosted by Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers, with announcer and assistant George Fenneman. The show debuted on ABC Radio in October 1947, then moved to CBS Radio in September...

, The Ed Sullivan Show
The Ed Sullivan Show
The Ed Sullivan Show is an American TV variety show that originally ran on CBS from Sunday June 20, 1948 to Sunday June 6, 1971, and was hosted by New York entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan....

, and Your Surprise Package.

In 1962 he guest-starred with Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett
Carol Creighton Burnett is an American actress, comedian, singer, dancer and writer. Burnett started her career in New York. After becoming a hit on Broadway, she made her television debut...

 in an installment of the DuPont Show of the Week entitled "The Wonderful World of Toys". The show was filmed in Central Park
Central Park
Central Park is a public park in the center of Manhattan in New York City, United States. The park initially opened in 1857, on of city-owned land. In 1858, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won a design competition to improve and expand the park with a plan they entitled the Greensward Plan...

 and featured Marx playing "Autumn Leaves
Autumn Leaves (song)
"Autumn Leaves" is a much-recorded popular song. Originally it was a 1945 French song "Les Feuilles mortes" with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. Yves Montand introduced "Les feuilles mortes" in 1946 in the film Les Portes de la Nuit...

" on the harp. A visit to the set inspired poet Robert Lowell
Robert Lowell
Robert Traill Spence Lowell IV was an American poet, considered the founder of the confessional poetry movement. He was appointed the sixth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress where he served from 1947 until 1948...

 to compose a poem about Marx.

Marx's two final television appearances came less than a month apart in the fall of 1962. He portrayed a guardian angel on CBS's The Red Skelton Show
The Red Skelton Show
The Red Skelton Show is an American variety show that was a television staple for two decades, from 1951 to 1971. It was second to Gunsmoke and third to The Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings during that time. Skelton, who had previously been a radio star, had appeared in several motion pictures as...

on September 25. He guest starred as himself on October 20 in the episode "Musicale" of ABC
American Broadcasting Company
The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948...

's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (TV series)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a 1962-1963 ABC sitcom starring Fess Parker as Eugene Smith, an honest but unsophisticated U.S. senator from an unidentified small-populated state. The half-hour program is based on the 1939 Frank Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring James Stewart in...

, a sitcom starring Fess Parker
Fess Parker
Fess Elisha Parker, Jr. was an American film and television actor best known for his portrayals of Davy Crockett in the Walt Disney 1955-56 TV mini-series and as TV's Daniel Boone from 1964-70...

, based on the 1939 Frank Capra
Frank Capra
Frank Russell Capra was a Sicilian-born American film director. He emigrated to the U.S. when he was six, and eventually became a creative force behind major award-winning films during the 1930s and 1940s...


Personal life

He married actress Susan Fleming
Susan Fleming
Susan Fleming was an American actress known as the "Girl with the Million Dollar Legs" for a role she played in the W. C. Fields film Million Dollar Legs...

 on September 28, 1936. Fleming's wedding to Marx was announced to the public when President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 sent the couple a telegram of congratulations that November. Marx had sent a thank you letter to Roosevelt in appreciation for a signed photograph of the President, in which Marx had stated that he was "in line for congratulations, too, having been married since September" in a ceremony that took place in an unspecified "little town up North". Unlike most of his brothers (bar Gummo), 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
George Burns
George Burns , born Nathan Birnbaum, was an American comedian, actor, and writer.He was one of the few entertainers whose career successfully spanned vaudeville, film, radio, television and movies, with and without his wife, Gracie Allen. His arched eyebrow and cigar smoke punctuation became...

 in 1948 at how many children he planned to adopt, he answered: "I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows in my house. So when I leave for work, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye."

Harpo was good friends with theater critic Alexander Woollcott
Alexander Woollcott
Alexander Humphreys Woollcott was an American critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine and a member of the Algonquin Round Table....

 and because of this became a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table
Algonquin Round Table
The Algonquin Round Table was a celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits. Gathering initially as part of a practical joke, members of "The Vicious Circle", as they dubbed themselves, met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929...

. Harpo, who was quiet in details about his personal life, said his main contribution was to be the audience in that group of wits. George S. Kaufman
George S. Kaufman
George Simon Kaufman was an American playwright, theatre director and producer, humorist, and drama critic. In addition to comedies and political satire, he wrote several musicals, notably for the Marx Brothers...

 and Moss Hart
Moss Hart
Moss Hart was an American playwright and theatre director, best known for his interpretations of musical theater on Broadway.-Early years:...

 based the character of "Banjo" in their play The Man Who Came to Dinner
The Man Who Came to Dinner
The Man Who Came to Dinner is a comedy in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It debuted on October 16, 1939 at the Music Box Theatre in New York City. It then enjoyed a number of New York and London revivals. The first London production was staged at The Savoy Theatre starring Robert...

on Harpo. Harpo later played the role in Los Angeles opposite Alexander Woolcott who had inspired the character of Sheridan Whiteside.

In 1961, Harpo published his autobiography, which was titled Harpo Speaks. In one chapter, he tells one story of a man who did not believe that Harpo could actually talk. Because Harpo never spoke a word in all of his movies and TV appearances, many fans and other people believed he really was mute
Muteness or mutism is an inability to speak caused by a speech disorder. The term originates from the Latin word mutus, meaning "silent".-Causes:...

. In fact, radio and TV news recordings of his voice can be found on the Internet, documentaries, and on bonus materials of Marx Brothers DVDs. In relating one story to a reporter who privately interviewed him in the early 1930s, the reporter wrote that "Harpo had a deep and distinguished voice like a professional announcer" and, like his brothers, he spoke with a Brooklyn accent his entire life (for example: "girls" he would pronounce "goyles", turkey would be "toy-kee", New Jersey would be "new joy-see", etc.); hear, for instance, these audio recordings.) In private, 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 silent stage persona. It is also possible that his deep, rich voice was completely at odds with his puckish and zany characters. One of his sons later told reporters that if Harpo had a high-pitched or squeaky voice, it might have worked with his performances, but the fact that his voice was naturally deep, it ruined at one point his zany acts while he was performing on stage in the mid 1920s which he soon after adopted his mute mime personality which worked for the remainder of his career.

Harpo's final presence before the public came in early 1964, when he appeared on stage with singer/comedian Allan Sherman
Allan Sherman
Allan Sherman was an American comedy writer and television producer who became famous as a song parodist in the early 1960s. His first album, My Son, the Folk Singer , became the fastest-selling record album up to that time...

. Sherman burst into tears when Harpo, speaking for the first time to the audience, announced his retirement from the entertainment business. Comedian Steve Allen
Steve Allen
Steve Allen may refer to:*Steve Allen , American musician, comedian, and writer*Steve Allen , presenter on the London-based talk radio station LBC 97.3...

, who was in the audience, remembered that Harpo — after announcing his retirement from the stage — kept talking for several minutes to the theater audience about his career and how he would miss it all, and he kept verbally cutting Sherman off when he tried to speak. After a while, the sorrowful audience started tittering and giggling. Allen said that everyone found it charmingly ironic that the comedian Harpo Marx, having been mute on stage and screen for several decades, "wouldn't shut up!"

Marx was also an avid croquet player, and was inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame in 1979.


Harpo Marx died on September 28, 1964, at age 75 after undergoing open heart surgery following a heart attack, barely six months after his retirement. Harpo's death was said to have hit the surviving Marx brothers very hard. Groucho's son Arthur Marx
Arthur Marx
Arthur Julius Marx was an American author, a former ranked amateur tennis player, and son of entertainer Groucho Marx and his first wife, Ruth Johnson....

, who attended the funeral with most of the Marx family, later said that Harpo's funeral was the only time in his life that he ever saw his father cry.

Harpo was cremated and his ashes were reportedly sprinkled into the sand trap at the seventh hole of the Rancho Mirage golf course which he occasionally played on. In his will, he donated his trademark harp to the State of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...



Harpo is most known for his signature outfit: trench coat, red wig, top hat, and a comical horn heard in his movies. He was also well-known for his talent to play the harp, even though he didn't know how to read music. For many moviegoers, Harpo Marx provided their first and only introduction to harp music. Today, thanks to late-night returns of the old black and white Marx Brothers movies, Harpo continues to entertain audiences old and new. In fact, outside the professional harp community, he remains one of the best "ambassadors for the harp" the world has known. In time, his talent earned him an international reputation as he performed in movies as well as in stage shows around the globe.

Film portrayal

Marx was portrayed by the actor J. M. Henry in the film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle is a 1994 film scripted by writer/director Alan Rudolph and former Washington Star reporter Randy Sue Coburn...


The character of Banjo in The Man Who Came To Dinner
The Man Who Came to Dinner
The Man Who Came to Dinner is a comedy in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It debuted on October 16, 1939 at the Music Box Theatre in New York City. It then enjoyed a number of New York and London revivals. The first London production was staged at The Savoy Theatre starring Robert...

is based on Harpo Marx. He actually played Banjo in some stage performances.

External links

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