Here are 10 things you should know about Zeppo Marx, born 120 years ago today. Though his contributions to the Marx Brothers’ success are often dismissed, devoted fans recognize that the team was somehow better with him than without.
What are you doing New Year’s Eve? We’re not referencing the classic song of that name (a favorite of ours, by the way); we’re asking the question. Because Turner Classic Movies has arranged a day of programming that, for our money, negates any need to even think of joining the inebriated hordes who’ll be out on the town, paying too much to have too little fun. Stay home instead, and enjoy the Marx Brothers all day and Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta, too) all night!
The Marx Brothers‘ first—and finest—seven pictures will air (slightly out of order, which is a bit of a head-scratcher) beginning at 8:15 a.m. ET, followed by all six Thin Man movies (which are being shown in proper order) beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
It’s nearly 23 hours of programming, so you’ll want to get plenty of rest tonight.
One of the first places we went upon receiving our driver’s license (and the mobility that came with it) some—gulp!—36 years ago was the miniscule (and long since defunct) Mini-Mall Theatre in north Oklahoma City. They featured old movies there, mostly comedies, and we wanted to see a Marx Brothers movie. We had become intrigued somehow with the Marxes—Groucho, especially—but had never seen one of their pictures.
The bill that evening was Horse Feathers (1932), followed by Duck Soup (1933). As Horse Feathers opens, Groucho is being inducted as President of Huxley College. Following his introduction by the outgoing president, Groucho begins his speech this way:
“Members of the faculty and faculty members, students of Huxley and Huxley students—I guess that covers everyone. I thought my razor was dull until I heard his speech, and that reminds me of a story that’s so dirty I’m ashamed to think of it myself. I came to this college for one reason: to get my son out of it. I remember the day he left for school, a mere boy and a beardless youth. I kissed them both goodbye.”
Groucho was off and running, and so were we. From that night on, we couldn’t get enough of Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and sometimes Zeppo. The Marxes quickly became our avocation, and an avid one at that. We were initially drawn most strongly to Groucho, who was cracking the jokes we would had made if we were clever enough.
But we also loved Chico’s puns and crazy piano stylings and, even more, Harpo’s innocently mischievous ways. Over the years, our affection for Groucho has not faded, but we’ve grown ever fonder of Harpo. Our appreciation for the second eldest Marx may have been fueled by our increasing knowledge of—and appreciation for—the great silent comics such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin. We’re convinced that, had Harpo not been part of a family act that very much relied on dialogue and wordplay, he could have been right up there with those comic greats in the silent era.
By all reports, it wasn’t hard to love Harpo. Everything we’ve read (and we’ve read just about everything there is to read on the Marxes) suggests that he was as lovely a fellow as you’d ever want to meet, kind and gentle and fun-loving (the term that so often gets used to describe him is “childlike”).
Harpo’s autobiography, Harpo Speaks!, is still (or, perhaps, again) in print, and we highly recommend it to you. We have enjoyed it more every time we’ve read it, and Ms. Cladrite, who has to date viewed only a couple of Marx Brothers movies, found it an engaging and charming read.
But we also want to recommend a delightful web site of which a pal made us aware recently. It’s called Harpo’s Place, and is described on the home page as The Official Arthur Harpo Marx Family Online Collection. It’s a lovingly crafted tribute to Harpo—the man, the actor, and the father—and it has no other agenda than to celebrate and commemmorate his life and career. There’s nothing for sale on the site (heck, we almost wish there were), and it’s loaded with material even the most devoted Marxist might never have seen before. Harpo’s Place is clearly a labor of love, and that labor has paid off in a delightful site that we heartily recommend to you.
Check it out, and tell ’em Cladrite Radio sent you.
Turner Classic Movies is offering 9.5 hours of merry Marx madness with a Marx Brothers marathon tonight.
It’s a six-pack of pictures featuring Groucho, Harpo, Chico and sometimes Zeppo.
Here’s the line-up (all times eastern):
8:00pm — Monkey Business (1931)
Four stowaways get mixed up with gangsters while running riot on an ocean liner.
Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx Dir: Norman McLeod
9:30pm — Horse Feathers (1932)
In an effort to beef up his school’s football team, a college president mistakenly recruits two loonies.
Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx Dir: Norman McLeod
10:45pm — Duck Soup (1933)
When he’s named dictator of Freedonia, a con artist declares war on the neighboring kingdom.
Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx Dir: Leo McCarey
12:00am — A Night at the Opera (1935)
Three zanies turn an operatic performance into chaos in their efforts to promote their protege’s romance with the leading lady.
Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kitty Carlisle Dir: Sam Wood
2:00am — A Day at the Races (1937)
A group of zanies tries to save a pretty girl’s sanitarium.
Cast: Groucho [Marx], Chico [Marx], Harpo [Marx], Allan Jones Dir: Sam Wood
4:00am — At the Circus (1939)
The Marx Bros. team up to keep a circus from going bankrupt.
Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kenny Baker Dir: Edward Buzzell
We can still vividly remember our first Marx Brothers movie. It was 1974 and, having just turned sixteen, we were given permission to borrow the family Volvo to drive across town to catch a double feature of Horse Feathers and Monkey Business. Horse Feathers opens with Groucho’s Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff being installed as the president of Huxley College. Following a longwinded introduction by a stuffy faculty member, Groucho steps to the podium and addresses the assembled students:
Members of the faculty and faculty members, students of Huxley and Huxley students — well, I guess that covers everyone.
I thought my razor was dull until I heard his speech. And that reminds me of a story that’s so dirty I’m ashamed to think of it myself.
As I look over your eager faces, I can readily understand why this college is flat on its back. The last college I presided over, things were slightly different — I was flat on my back. Things kept going from bad to worse, but we all put our shoulders to the wheel and it wasn’t long before I was flat on my back again.
Any questions? Any answers?? [breaks into song] Any rags, any bones, any bottles today …
[bangs a gavel on podium] Who’ll say 76? Who’ll say 1776? That’s the spirit — 1776!
The real reason I came to this college was to get my son out of it. Ah, I remember well the day he left — a mere boy and a beardless youth. I kissed them both goodbye….
And so it went. We were thoroughly and completely hooked — on the entire Marx clan, of course, but especially Groucho. Our prized possession to this day remains the autographed photo we received from him after sending him a birthday card on what proved to be his last birthday.
And we remain as devoted to the boys as ever. If you’re a fan, you know what delights tonight’s marathon holds in store. If you’ve not yet been initiated to the bizarre world of the Marxes, here’s your chance.