Happy birthday, Chico Marx!

Today is Chico Marx‘s 126th 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.

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.

Times Square Tintypes: The Marx Brothers

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles the Marx Brothers.

AH, NUTS!

THE MARX BROTHERS. They are known as Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. Their real names are Julius, Arthur (formerly Adolph), Milton (editor’s note: Skolsky got this wrong: Chico’s real name was Leonard; it was Gummo who was named Milton) and Herbert. They were given their nicknames by a kibitzer at a poker game in Galesburg, Ill.
Caricature of the Marx BrothersThey always sign their contracts in green ink.
Three of them are married. Harpo, the unmarried one, has been on the verge of eight times. With eight different girls.
Have been known as “The Three Nightingales,” “The Four Nightingales,” “The Six Mascots” (in this act they were assisted by their mother and their other brother, Gummo, now in the cloak and suit business), and “The Four Marx Brothers.” The name of the act depended on how many of the family were in it.
Are nephews of Al Shean of Gallagher and Shean fame.
Groucho’s theatrical career started at the age of thirteen in a Gus Edwards “School Days” act. He was fired in the middle of the tour because his voice changed.
Harpo’s debut was made twenty-two years ago on a Coney Island stage. He was pushed on when “The Three Mascots” were playing there. He wore a white duck suit with a flower in his buttonhole. Frightened, he stood with his back to the audience an didn’t say a word until the curtain fell. Has yet to speak a word on the stage. After his début “The Three Mascots” was changed to “The Four Nightingales.”
After finishing a sandwich at a party, Groucho throws the plate out the window.
Chico is the business member of the quartet. It was he who arranged for their first appearance in a Broadway show.
Harpo was once a bellboy at the Hotel Seville. He earned an extra twenty-five cents a week from Cissie Loftus for taking her dog for a daily stroll. Chico played the piano in nickelodeons. Groucho drove a grocery wagon in Cripple Creek, Col. He had a burning desire to become a prize fighter.
Whenever they want to get out of an engagement Harpo fakes an appendicitis.
Their dressing room is always filled with visitors. Herbert Swope, Neysa McMein, Harold Ross, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun and Alice Duer Miller are nightly visitors when they have a show in town.
Chico will bet on anything. Merely say it is a nice day and he will say: “I’ll bet you.”
Harpo’s and Zeppo’s favorite dish is crab flakes and spaghetti. Groucho and Chico, on the other plate, are especially fond of dill pickles and red caviar.
The four of them play the stock market. That’s why they’re still in the show business.
Whenever Groucho wants to visit his broker he tells his wife he is going to play golf. He visits his broker attired in a golf outfit, carrying a bag of clubs.
Are always playing practical jokes. Annoy interviewers by pretending they are slightly deaf. Another gag is Groucho telling their life story. He stops at a certain point saying: “This is all I remember of my life. Chico knows the rest.” Chico continues with an entirely different story. He also stops in the middle, offers the same excuse, referring the interviewer to Zeppo, who continues the process until all four have told a different story of their lives.
Offstage Groucho, Chico and Zeppo occasionally wear glasses.
Zeppo is in the real estate business. He tries to sell property backstage.
Harpo is the best poker player of The Thanatopsis Club. Has won enough money from Heywood Broun to pay for young Heywood’s tuition fee through any college in the country. Is also a great croquet player. Often plays in Central Park for a thousand dollars a game.
Their grandfather was a noted strolling German magician. Their grandmother was also in the act. She played the “accompanying music” on a harp.
They failed to click only once. In a London Music Hall. The Englishmen booed and threw pennies on the stage. Groucho stepped to the footlights and told them they were cheap. He dared them to throw shillings. They made more money at the performance than they were paid for the week.
To Harpo every woman, regardless of her name, is Mrs. Benson.
Harpo can play any musical instrument. Chico plays the piano and harp. Groucho plays the guitar. Zeppo likes to listen to the radio.

Read More »

Una Merkel slept here

It’s not hard, if you’re enough of a movie buff to want to get a peek at some stars’ homes when you’re sojourning in Southern California, to track down former addresses of some of the best-remembered names from the Golden Age of Hollywood. When we last traveled to Los Angeles, over Thanksgiving in 2006, we were, with some simple Googling, able to quickly track down a dozen or more former addresses for Judy Garland, Ms. Cladrite’s favorite.

But what if you aren’t satisfied with driving by the homes in which Bogie and Bacall, Jimmy Stewart, and Bette Davis resided? What if you’re more interested in viewing the former residences of the likes of Ted Healy, Una Merkel, or Gummo Marx—not Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or Zeppo, but Gummo Marx?

Then you need only dial up The Movieland Directory, a very impressive online resource, indeed.

The Movieland Directory is downright hard to stump, and don’t think we didn’t try. It gave us addresses for Ned Sparks, for Jack Pickford (Mary’s prodigal brother, don’t you know), for Zasu Pitts, for Billy Gilbert—it even had addresses for El Brendel, for Pete’s sake.

The site also does reverse look-ups. You can enter an address, and if someone related to the movie industry ever lived there, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll turn up.

For instance, our friend Pat used to live on Alta Vista Boulevard, between Sunset and Fountain Avenues. By looking up her block (we’ve forgotten her exact address), we learned that Billy Wayne, who appeared in more than 250 pictures between 1931 and 1958 (but apparently starred in none of them—he’s listed as “uncredited” at IMDB.com in the overwhelming majority of them), used to live just a few doors south of Pat. That’s not terribly exciting, perhaps, but what if it had been Joan Crawford or Buster Keaton or Raymond Chandler? (Considering how often the peripatetic Chandler moved, it well could have been.)

John Ince, brother to motion picture pioneer Thomas Ince and a silent-movie actor and director in his own right, who would became a full-time character actor with the advent of talkies, also lived on what would later be Pat’s block.

And Peter Ostberg, a cabinet maker who was a Universal Studios employee in 1917 (and perhaps before and after that year, who knows?), lived right next to where Pat would live, though his residence has since been replaced by a contemporary apartment building that sits beside the similar one in which Pat resided.

Now, we don’t know Peter Ostberg from Adam, but it’s intriguing to have his name and these tidbits of info turn up in a search like this. (It is to us, anyway—perhaps we’re too easily fascinated.)

You’ll find former addresses of contemporary stars listed in the database, too, and it’s fun to see what those stars have in common with the stars of years gone by.

For instance, in the 1990s, Julia Roberts lived in the Colonial House Apartments at 1416 Havenhurst Drive. And so, at some point in their lives, did Fred Allen, Joan Blondell, Eddie Cantor, Marion Davies, Bette Davis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Norma Talmadge, not to mention a slew of more contemporary stars.

We managed to stump the Movieland Directory database only twice. It returned no addresses when we submitted the name of author Ursula Parrott, a once bestselling author of scandalous fiction that might be considered an arguably more sensational precursor to today’s chick lit—but then, though many of her novels were made into movies, we’re not sure Parrott ever resided in L.A., which would take the site off the hook. And the Movieland Directory has no info on Ed Wood, Jr., everyone’s favorite famously inept movie director, which came as something of a surprise to us.

But that’s nitpicking. Give the site a try, and you’ll no doubt find 95% or more of the names you’re looking for. And you might learn just a little bit of Hollywood history