Taking a Chance on Laughs: A Lost Marx Brothers Film Is Found

A 23-second fragment of the lost silent Marx Brothers film HUMOR RISK, self-financed by the team in 1921. The film was discovered earlier this month and is now in the hands of a private archive.

Previously thought destroyed in its entirety, this small portion of the film was found in the garage of the former Great Neck, NY, estate of Groucho Marx.

In Their Words: Chico Marx

An amusing quote from Chico Marx

It’s Chico Marx‘s 127th birthday, and you’re probably wondering how best to mark the occasion.

We have a suggestion for you: Why not show your support for Marxfest, NYC’s celebration of all things Marx Brothers, coming this May? Visit our Kickstarter site (we’re on the planning committee) and toss a few bucks into the kitty.

There are even some cool premiums to make it doubly worth your while. But really, do you need a better reason than it’s Chico’s birthday? Of course you don’t.

Cladrite Classics: Happy Birthday, Lillian Roth!

This post first saw the light of day on 12/13/2012:

In 1974, big news was made when prolonged legal wrangling over the rights to the Marx Brothers‘ second movie, Animal Crackers (1930), was finally resolved and the movie was released for public screenings for the first time for the first time in many years.

Imagine that: A “new” Marx Brothers movie (new in the fact that no one had been able to view it, in a theatre or on television, for so long—and of course, there were no VHS tapes yet, much less DVDs or Blu-Rays).

It was our junior year in high school, and we were working part-time evenings and weekends at the Northpark Cinema 4 in Oklahoma City. Already very devoted to all things Marx Brothers, we were thrilled when Animal Crackers was booked there. The movie settled in for an inexplicably long run (our memory might be playing tricks on us, but we recall it being there for a month or more), and we spent many an hour on those slow weekend afternoons soaking up the Marxian magic when we should have been out front taking tickets and sweeping up spilled popcorn. (To this day, we have the dialogue from that picture all but memorized.)

But it wasn’t just Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo who held our attention. The winsome Ms. Lillian Roth, who played the ingénue in Animal Crackers and whose 102nd birthday it is today, hooked us but good with her flirtatious ways and deep-dish dimples.

We’ve had a crush on her ever since, and we trust that, after watching the following clips, you will, too. Happy birthday, lovely Lillian, wherever you may be.

Happy 125th, Harpo!

Today marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of the great Harpo Marx.

Born Adolph—he later changed his name to Arthur—Harpo was said by all who knew him to be the kindest and gentlest of men. When we first became fans of the Marx Brothers, it was Groucho to whom we were drawn, but over the years, the delightful film work of Harpo—and the very endearing stories of his life and career—have made Harpo a very close second favorite. If Groucho stills leads, it’s only by a nose.

There are a couple of stories from Harpo’s life that we like to share.

There’s the time that Harpo, after a run-in with the manager of a vaudeville theatre in the midwest, proclaimed, as the brothers departed the town via train, “Good-bye, Mr. Wells. Here’s hoping your lousy theatre burns down!”

That night, Mr. Wells’ theatre was indeed reduced to ashes.

Another tale we’ll let Harpo himself tell. What follows is an except from Harpo’s delightful 1961 memoir, Harpo Speaks!

One of the passionate hungers of my early life (I had many but none so fierce) was for black jelly beans. In the penny assortment they sold in those days there was never more than one of licorice, and eating one black jelly bean at a time only intensified my hunger. Penny assortments were few and far between, for me. Candy counters on the East Side were as thief-proof as bank vaults. Candy was one item I couldn’t hustle. No penny in hand, no merchandise.
I told myself I should always save such a delicacy as a black jelly bean for last, like dessert, but I never could. It was like being addicted to peanuts, cigarettes or the opium pipe. One was never enough. The first thing I would do when I got rich, I promised myself, would be to buy all the black jelly beans I could eat.
When I did start making good money, this boyhood hung had somehow become dormant. I forgot all about it. I forgot about it, that is, until one night about fifteen years ago.
My wife Susan and I were going to the movies with Gracie and George Burns in Beverly Hills. On the way to the theatre from the parking lot, we passed a candy shop, the ultra-modern kind that sells old-fashioned candies in glass apothecary jars. I stopped in my tracks. I broke into a cold sweat. I was having a seizure. My old hunger for black jelly beans had suddenly returned, after forty-five years. I excused myself and went into the shop.
I came out with thirty dollars’ worth. Susan and the Burnses gave me queer looks but made no comment. They waited to see what the gag was. How could I explain to them that this was no gag, but the satisfaction of a lifetime?
And what a satisfaction! Sweet, aromatic, chewy, delectable black jelly beans—a handful at a time, and always more where the last handful came from! I shall have to let my friend George finish the story because I fell asleep in the middle of my orgy.
I must warn you that George Burns is not above a little exaggeration now and then, but here’s how he tells it:
“So there’s Harpo, in the middle of the picture in a crowded theatre, fast asleep. He’s got a smile on his face like a happy drunk and on his lap a bag of jelly beans big as a peck of potatoes which he’s passed out already from eating only a couple of dozen of. Suddenly he twitches in his sleep. The bag splits. Thirty dollars’ worth of black jelly beans explodes—flying all over the joint. Do you know how many jelly beans you can buy for thirty dollars? My God, what a scene! The audience doesn’t know what’s happening, only that it’s some kind of disaster. People are yelling and clutching their children and putting up umbrellas. They stampede for the exits and skid on the jelly beans rolling down the aisles and fall into heaps like dead Indians. I tell you, it was worse than the Johnstown flood. finally they stop the picture and turn on the lights, and the manager gets the panic stopped while the ushers shovel up the debris.
“And Harpo? Harpo slept through it all. Fast asleep with the drunken smile on his face. When the movie is over, Susan wakes him up and when he sees his jelly beans are gone he turns on me and says he ought to slug me one for such a dirty, sneaky trick. Eating all his black jelly beans while he wasn’t looking!
“Then he softened up—it being impossible for Harpo to stay sore at anybody, even me—and he patted me on the shoulder. ‘That’s all right,’ he said. ‘I’ll forgive you, George—I had enough anyway.’
“I try to tell him what happened, but he won’t believe me, just keeps saying, ‘Forget it, George—I forgive you.’ To this day he thinks I ate up his whole damn bag of black jelly beans.”
I will only say that this part of the story is true: I ready had enough, for once in my life. I don’t care what happened to the rest of the thirty dollars’ worth. That’s one old hunger that will never bother me again.

Saying Goodbye to Groucho

We’re not much for marking the day people pass away; we prefer to celebrate the day they were born. But the anniversary of Groucho Marx’s passing—he died on this day in 1977—carries with it some sad, sweet memories that are worth revisiting.

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.

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.

On August 19, 1977, we were on a camping trip in Colorado with our parents and siblings. We were sporting a Groucho t-shirt, as we often did in those days, and a kid we’d met the night before at the campground where we were staying walked up and said, “Hey, guess what happened?”

At that moment, we had a sort of premonition about what he was referring to, though we hadn’t heard any news, having only just crawled out of our sleeping bag.

“Groucho died,” we said. A statement, not a question.

“Yeah, how did you know?” he asked.

We didn’t know exactly how we knew, but we did, somehow. And we were more than a little bit heartbroken over it.

Distraught, we sought out our folks for the solace they could provide. We found them at the campground’s general store, where they were in the process of buying all the copies of that day’s newspaper, so that we might be spared the sad news of Groucho’s passing, which they feared would spoil the last two days of the trip for us.

It was one of the sweetest things anyone ever did for us.

The other sweetest thing? Our father, hoping to cheer us up, gave us some money and told us to go have some fun. We went to an Old West-themed amusement park, where we bought (well, placed an order for—they were delivered via the mail) three one-dollar bills with pictures of Groucho, Harpo, and Chico superimposed over George Washington’s face.

When they arrived in the mail some weeks later, we had them framed, and they hang on our wall to this day.

We can remember how, on the long ride home from Colorado to Oklahoma City, the deejays on the radio kept going on and on about Elvis, and we were thinking, “But Groucho died! What about that?”

We told our mother that day that it was the only time in his life that Groucho’s timing had been off.

We’re still not over Groucho’s passing. The world was a better place with him in it.