Marx Brothers

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The Marx Brothers, top to bottom: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo; Photo from 1931

The Marx Brothers were an American comedian troupe who became known through films as well as television and theater appearances with musical interludes and were instrumental in inspiring subsequent comedians. You were among America's most popular comedians for decades.

They came from a family who lived in Yorkville on New York's Upper East Side , a neighborhood that was between the Irish - German and Italian quarters . The family of the mother Minnie Schönberg immigrated from Dornum in East Friesland , the father Simon Samuel (Sam) Marx (1859-1933) came from Mertzwiller in Alsace , which later earned him the nickname "Frenchie".

As Marx Brothers performed:

  • Chico (Leonard Marx, March 22, 1887 to October 11, 1961)
  • Harpo (Adolph Arthur Marx, November 23, 1888 to September 28, 1964)
  • Groucho (Julius Henry Marx, October 2, 1890 to August 19, 1977)
  • Gummo (Milton Marx, October 23, 1892 to April 21, 1977)
  • Zeppo (Herbert Marx, February 25, 1901 to November 29, 1979)

(the eldest son Manfred died in childhood, before Chico was born)

Development and career

Gummo Marx in 1916 when he joined the army

The core of the troupe consisted of the cynic (and singer) Groucho with glasses, a painted mustache and a cigar, the Italian (and pianist) Chico with the pointed hat and the mute, mischievously smiling and bright red curly haired harpist Harpo, who is all sorts of bizarre under his coat Objects hid, next to a horn, for example, burning candles.

Zeppo also took part in the first five films, but as a normal citizen, unlike the other three, he remained without much recognition value. Most of the time he was only active behind the scenes like Gummo, who had retired from the stage in the 1920s.

The brothers' careers began at the beginning of the century in vaudeville shows, with which their maternal uncle, Al Shean , had already been successful. The mother and her sister sometimes stood on stage with their sons. However, the focus soon shifted from music and singing with humorous transitions to comedy with musical interludes.

The different roles as musicians and comedians crystallized relatively early. While Chico developed the stereotype of the woman hero with an Italian accent, constantly chasing after chicks , Groucho dropped his accent as a German during the First World War due to a lack of popularity, just as Harpo replaced his name Adolph with Arthur. Harpo, on the other hand, who was always afraid of forgetting his lines, remained speechless on stage, as he had the greatest successes as a pantomime with a red or, in films, blond, curly wig, joking around or playing on his grandmother's old harp that he once found.

From a classroom sketch in which Groucho tried to teach his brothers as a teacher, the comedy shows I'll Say She Is and The Cocoanuts developed in the 1920s , which brought success on Broadway and in England.

The brothers were supported by the author George Simon Kaufman and the composer Irving Berlin . The actress Margaret Dumont is also jokingly referred to as the fifth Marx Brother, as she appeared in several films as a rich widow who is ensnared but also mocked by Groucho for her money.

Between 1932 and 1933 a total of 26 episodes of the radio show Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel were created , in which Groucho spoke to the lawyer Waldorf T. Flywheel and Chico spoke to his assistant Emmanuel Ravelli . The first three episodes were broadcast under the title Beagle, Shyster & Beagle ; the title was then changed after a New York lawyer named Beagle threatened a lawsuit. Some dialogues from the radio programs were later used in the films of the Marx Brothers.

Although the Marx Brothers became popular with the newly emerging talkies, Harpo remained silent in his role. However, he has titled his autobiography Talks with Harpo .

After the Second World War , most of the brothers retired into retirement, while Groucho continued to appear on television with his pun. With his television and radio show You Bet Your Life , he became one of the most popular show masters of the 1950s in the USA. The first episodes of the show were still broadcast live, as was customary at the time. But since Groucho's unbridled pun caused headaches for those responsible for the broadcast, it was deviated from in later episodes, and the broadcast was broadcast as a recording. He performed in front of an audience well into old age, over a period of 70 years.

One last film project, planned for 1960, in which the Marx Brothers, directed by Billy Wilder, was to play the leading roles again, did not materialize because of Chico's poor health. It was to be an anti-war satire in the style of Duck Soup . Even Groucho, who was no longer interested in other Marx Brothers films at the time, is said to have been enthusiastic about the project because he considered Billy Wilder to be one of the best directors.


  • The French poet and theater theorist Antonin Artaud refers in his famous book Das Theater und seine Double several times to the Marx Brothers as an example of anarchic humor.
  • The group had a great influence on Samuel Beckett , who used to counter too profound interpretations of his works with references to the Marx Brothers.
  • The British rock group Queen named their fourth and fifth studio albums after the Marx Brothers films A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races , which were also released in direct succession .
  • The Marx Brothers are ranked in the list of the 25 largest American male movie legends of all time, by the prestigious American Film Institute has been put together in 20th place .


(OmU = original with subtitles)

more movies:

  • 1921: Humor Risk , never published and now lost short silent film from in-house production
  • 1957: The Story of Mankind , Chico, Harpo and Groucho have small supporting roles and do not appear together


  • Charlotte Chandler: Groucho and Friends. Rogner & Bernhard, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-8077-0200-8 (Original edition: Hello, I Must Be Going , New York 1978).
  • Michael Barson (Ed.): The Marx Brothers Radio Shows. Rogner & Bernhard, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-8077-0241-5 (Original edition: Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel , 1988).
  • Rainer Nolden: The Marx Brothers. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2002, ISBN 3-499-50454-5 .
  • Manfred Hobsch: Start the film: The Marx Brothers. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-89602-359-4 .
  • Ulrich Hoppe: The Marx Brothers. Your films - your life. Heyne Film Library No. 76, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-453-86077-2 .
  • Glenn Mitchell: The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia. Batsford, London 1996, ISBN 0-7134-7838-1 .
  • Stefan Neuhaus: Anarchic comedy in film using the example of the Marx Brothers. In: Michael Braun (among others) (Ed.): Komik im Film. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2019, pp. 41–68.
  • Harpo Marx (and Rowland Barber): Harpo Speaks… About New York. With an Introduction by EL Doctorow. The Little Bookroom, New York, 2001 (= excerpts from the 1961 edition), ISBN 1-892145-06-5 . Harpo on the childhood and youth of the Marx Brothers in the Upper East Side.
  • Groucho Marx: Groucho & Marx. Anthology with the titles Groucho and I ( Groucho and Me , New Translation) and Memoirs of a sharp rags ( Memoirs of a Mangy Lover ). Atrium, Zurich & Hamburg 2010, ISBN 3-85535-506-1 .
  • Groucho Marx: School of Smiles. Translation of the American autobiography Groucho and Me from 1959. Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt 1990, ISBN 3-596-23667-3 .

Film documentaries

  • The Unknown Marx Brothers . TV documentary by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, USA 1993, 120 min.

Web links

Commons : Marx Brothers  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. La famille paternelle des Marx Brothers
  2. U & lc vol 13.1. Retrieved August 15, 2020 .