Happy 130th Birthday, Chico Marx!

The irrepressible Chico Marx, the eldest of the legendary Marx Brothers, was born Leonard Marx 130 years ago today in Manhattan, New York. Here are 10 CM Did-You-Knows:

  • Chico’s father, Samuel Marx, emigrated to the U.S. from Alsace-Loraine; his mother, Minnie Schönberg, came over from Germany. Sam, known as Frenchie, was, according to his famous sons, NYC’s worst tailor.
  • Chico was the eldest of the brothers who would go on to become world famous, but he was not the first-born of Minnie and Sam’s offspring. Their first child, a son named Manfred, died as an infant.
  • Of Jewish heritage, Chico honed his Italian accent as a youth, navigating the Upper East Side’s rough-and-tough Yorkville, a neighborhood where the predominant ethnicity changed from block to block, making it advisable to be able to pass when confronted with unfriendly locals.
  • For most of his life, Chico had two interests: women and gambling. As a youth, he had already become such a gambler that none of the family’s possessions were safe from the pawnshop. Frenchie frequently had to pay for the privilege of retrieving his tailor’s shears.
  • Chico Marx experienced much more success as a womanizer than a gambler. Though his gambling habit left him short of money most of his life, his charming (and persistent) personality paid off royally in the area of female companionship.
  • Chico was not only the eldest surviving Marx brother, he was also Minnie’s favorite. She doted on him, even paying for him to take piano lessons when money was very tight. Her investment paid off as early as his adolescence, when he was paid to tickle the ivories at silent movie theatres and in bordellos (when Chico would skip out on these gigs, his younger brother Arthur (later Harpo), who closely resembled Leonard when they were young, would often take them over, though his pianistic abilities fell well short of his older brother’s).
  • Chico was the last of the four elder Marxes to join the family act; Herbert (later Zeppo), born in 1912, was much younger). Chico held a number of jobs as young man, including a song plugger gig in Philadelphia that he left to team with a singer named Aaron Gordon. They formed a vaudeville act called Marx and Gordon.
  • The nickname Chico is properly spelled (and pronounced) Chicko. In May 1914, during the brothers’ vaudeville years, a monologist named Art Fisher gave them their nicknames during a backstage poker game. He was inspired to dub Leonard “Chicko” because of his penchant for chasing girls—often called “chickens” or “chicks” in those days. The brothers wouldn’t use their nicknames professionally until some years later, but after they started doing so, a typesetter omitted the K when spelling Chico’s name in a theatre program, and Chico continued to use that spelling thereafter.
  • In January 1942, with the Marxes’ film career not yet over but definitely winding down and with Chico, as always, in need of money, he partnered with Ben Pollack to form a touring big band. The outfit was successful but short-lived—it broke up in July 1943, but not before having released four recordings on a pair of 78s. The band can be heard in action in a 1942 appearance on the radio program The Fitch Bandwagon. Jazz crooner Mel Torme spent time with the orchestra, serving as drummer and vocalist.
  • Chico’s daughter, Maxine, did a little bit of film acting in the 1930s and went on to be a successful casting director. In 1980, she wrote an affectionate but honest memoir of life with her father entitled Growing Up with Chico.

Happy birthday, Chico Marx, wherever you may be!

Chico Marx

Happy 126th Birthday, Groucho Marx!

The immortal Groucho Marx was born Julius Henry Marx 126 years ago today on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He is, for us, in the show-business pantheon, perhaps the funniest man who ever lived. We loved him with a passion while he was still with us, and we miss him dearly today.

Here are 10 GM Did-You-Knows:

  • Groucho and his four brothers were first-generation New Yorkers. His mother, Minnie, was from northern Germany; His father, Sam, came from Alsace in France (hence the affectionate name he was given: Frenchie). Sam and Minnie met in New York, married and raised a clan of sons that left an indelible mark in the worlds of vaudeville, musical theatre, movies, radio and television.
  • People know of the exploits and accomplishments of Groucho, Harpo and Chico, and there are some who are familiar with Zeppo‘s 18-year stint in the family act. A few even know of Gummo‘s brief participation while the brothers were still working in vaudeville, but few are aware of Manfred, Sam and Minnie’s first-born son, who was born in 1886 but lived just seven months.
  • Groucho was a lifelong insomniac, which he blamed on the financial bath he took when the stock market crashed in 1929.
  • Groucho was very much a middle child, pining for his mother’s affection throughout his life. Minnie doted instead on Chico (perhaps understandable, since he was the first child born after the painful loss of Manfred).
  • Groucho and his brothers were nephews to Al Shean, Minnie’s brother, who was a huge success in vaudeville as half of the headlining act Gallagher and Shean.
  • In the early years of the brothers’ vaudeville career, Groucho played a “Dutch” or German character, a familiar role during the heyday of ethnic humor.
  • Though he dreamed of being a doctor, Groucho’s years of formal education were brief, and in 1905, he was the first of the five sons to enter show business—but as a singer, not a comedian. He answered an ad in the New York World for an audition being conducted by one Gene Leroy at his apartment at 281 Third Avenue (the building is still there, as is, one assumes, the apartment). Groucho was hired to tour with the Leroy Trio, but was soon abandoned in Colorado when Leroy and the third member of the trio, Johnny Morris, absconded with all the money the threesome had earned. Minnie had to wire Groucho money to get back to NYC. Groucho’s lifelong worries over money (even after he was successful and financially very stable) is often attributed to the aforementioned losses he suffered in the Crash of ’29, but we’re inclined to think his traumatic first experience on the road in vaudeville had as much, if not more, to do with it.
  • The self-educated Groucho was an avid reader and admired writers much more than performers. His own humorous prose was frequently published in The New Yorker and other periodicals of the day. He also authored several books.
  • Groucho was a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado and was thrilled when he was given the opportunity to portray Ko-Ko in a 1960 television production of The Mikado on NBC.
  • Groucho introduced Johnny Carson as the new host of The Tonight Show on October 1, 1962, and was Carson’s first guest on the show.

Happy birthday, Groucho, wherever you may be!

Groucho Marx

Happy 105th birthday, Maureen O’Sullivan!

Maureen O’Sullivan was born 105 years ago today in County Roscommon, Ireland, of Irish, English and Scottish descent. Here are some fun facts about one of our favorite Irish lasses:

  • As a girl, O’Sullivan was a classmate of Vivien Leigh at Roehampton (now Woldingham School), a convent school just outside of London. O’Sullivan’s father sent her there because he felt her Irish brogue was getting too thick.
  • Maureen O’Sullivan was discovered by director Frank Borzage while he was in Dublin shooting Song o’ My Heart (1930). He gave her a screen test, offered her a role and she returned with him to Hollywood to complete the filming. Once she was settled in Hollywood, she was offered many other parts.
  • In 1932, O’Sullivan starred opposite Johnny Weismuller in Tarzan the Ape Man. The film was such a success that the two were paired in five more Tarzan pictures.
  • Maureen O’Sullivan costarred opposite the Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races (1937). Groucho Marx was quite taken with her, but she did not return his interest, to his lasting regret (he was still speaking longingly of her decades later).
  • O’Sullivan reined in her very successul career so that she might care for her husband, Australian screenwriter and director John Farrow, when he returned from Naval service in World War II with typhus (or typhoid—we were unable to confirm which it was), but she continued to make occasional appearances in movies, on stage and on television until just a few years before she died in 1998.
  • Maureen O’Sullivan and John Farrow had seven children, among them actress Mia Farrow.
  • O’Sullivan hated working with Cheetah in the Tarzan pictures, referring to the chimp in private as “that ape son of a bitch.”
  • When Maureen O’Sullivan met Clark Gable in 1932, he was wearing old-age makeup and she rebuffed his offer of a date to go horseback riding. When she finally saw him san makeup, she regretted the decision, but he never asked her out again.
  • Politically, O’Sullivan was a lifelong liberal and supported many charitable causes, among them UNICEF, The United Nations and Habitat for Humanity.
  • Maureen O’Sullivan made her first stage appearance at the suggestion of actor Pat O’Brien in a 1961 Chicago production of “A Roomful of Roses.”
  • O’Sullivan became a US citizen on October 22, 1947
  • Maureen O’Sullivan died in Scottsdale, Arizona, on June 23, 1998; she was 87. She is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Niskayuna, New York, the hometown of her second husband, James Cushing.

Happy birthday, Ms. O’Sullivan, wherever you may be!

Maureen O'Sullivan

I’ll Say She Is: The Show That Made the Marx Brothers

Gimme a Thrill--The Story of I'll Say She Is book cover
Many movie buffs and vintage pop culture aficionados know that the Marx Brothers worked in vaudeville for many years before breaking big on Broadway. Their second and third Broadways plays, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, were adapted for their first two motion pictures, but the Broadway revue that made the Marxes stars, I’ll Say She Is, which opened at the Casino Theatre at 39th and Broadway in 1924, was never made into a movie; in fact, it was for decades a lost work. It has never been revived because no extant script was available, just bits and pieces.

That was until Noah Diamond, friend to Cladrite Radio and prenaturally talented individual (really, there’s nothing this guy can’t do), started researching this lost show with an eye toward reviving it for the first time in 90 years. He dug through the archives, finding snippets of dialogue, descriptions of the plot, sheet music for forgotten songs, etc., all in an attempt to piece together a more-than-reasonable facsimile of the Marxes’ first great triumph.

Noah’s efforts have finally paid off, as his recreation of I’ll Say She Is is finally receiving a fully mounted off-Broadway production in a mere matter of weeks (previews start May 28, opening night is June 2). But you needn’t wait till then to immerse yourself in the world of I’ll Say She is: Gimme a Thrill: The Story of I’ll Say She Is, The Lost Marx Brothers Musical, and How It Was Found, Noah’s engaging and informative account of the long march toward recreating and reviving the show is now available—in your choice of hard- and softcover—from BearManor and can be ordered now from your favorite online vendor and better bricks-and-mortar bookstores everywhere.

If you’ve an interest in the Marx Brothers (and who doesn’t?), Broadway history, show biz lore (or all of the above), you’ll want to own this delightful and informative account of how this once-lost show has been restored and revived. Given that the man responsible for this happy reclamation also wrote the book, you’ll be getting the straight scoop from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Buy it for yourself, buy it for the Marx Brothers fans in your life, buy it for us (as our copy will surely be worn out in short order)!

And if you want the REALLY complete story of I’ll Say She Is, don’t miss the next chapter in its history, May 28 through July 2 at the Connelly Theater; tickets on sale now at illsaysheis.com!

Happy 129th Birthday, Chico Marx!

Today is Chico Marx‘s 129th birthday. If we admit that he’s our third-favorite Marx Brother, we pay him no dishonor, as we love the Marxes, collectively and individually, more than just about anyone else who ever lived.

Chico Marx

Leonard (his given name, don’t you know) was a degenerate gambler and an inveterate skirt-chaser, but for all his undeniable faults, he seems to have been one of the most charming fellows you’d ever hope to meet.

Just try and keep from smiling as you watch his delightful turn at the piano from the Marxes’ second movie, Animal Crackers (1930).

Happy birthday, Chico, wherever you may be. Thanks for the laughs and the smiles; you’ve given us plenty of each.