Happy 105th Birthday, Lillian Roth!

Lillian RothIn 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 105th 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 Roth, wherever you may be.

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

Happy Birthday, Harpo Marx!

Today marks the 126th 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.

Happy birthday, Harpo, wherever you may be!

Happy 124th Birthday, Groucho Marx!

Today marks the 124th anniversary of the birth of the great Groucho Marx.

All of the movies Groucho made are available on DVD, and there are some terrific collections of his hilarious game show, You Bet Your Life, available as well.

Most, if not all, of the books he wrote are available, too.

So it’s up to you how you do it, but really, don’t you think you should spend some time with Groucho on his birthday?

We think so, too.

Just to help you out in a pinch, here are the very memorable first few minutes of Animal Crackers (1930), the Marx Brothers’ second movie, filmed at Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens:

A Marxian Eureka Moment

If you’re a serious Marx Brothers aficionado, you probably know that Groucho was the first brother to enter show business, at the age of 14. But you don’t know (you may think you do, but you don’t) where his first successful audition, to be hired as a member of a singing vaudeville group called the Leroy Trio, took place.

You don’t know because every book written by or about Groucho has the incorrect info. All agree the audition took place on Third Avenue, but where along that street it occurred, no one seemed to know (though some guessed, incorrectly). Not even Groucho himself in his various books was consistent in describing the location.

But Marx scholar Rob Bader has solved the mystery. Bader, who grew up in NYC (he now lives in Southern California), devoted many years and countless hours to scouring the New York Morning World‘s classifieds via microfiche at the public library, searching for the oft-cited ad that Groucho responded to in 1905.

Finally, Bader found the ad, which was worded very much as Groucho remembered it. The address? 281 Third Avenue, which is assigned to the building on the southeast corner of 22nd Street and Third Avenue.

The building now houses a venerable German restaurant called Rolf’s that’s been in operation since 1968, but in 1905, that space was occupied by a saloon. Gene Leroy, the man who hired Groucho, lived in a third-floor apartment above the bar; the audition took place on a rooftop terrace on that same floor (the building has four floors, but as you’ll see, the roof at the rear of the building is three, not four, stories up.

Here are pictures of the historic spot.

Hats off to Rob Bader for the dedication and hard work that went into solving this mystery! And speaking of hard work, he has a three-disc DVD set entitled The Marx Brothers on Television that is coming out in August and will be a must-have for any Marx Brothers fan. We’ve been lucky enough to see about an hour’s worth of the material, and it’s delightful. (Here’s a tip: If you preorder the boxed set from Shout Factory, you’ll receive a bonus fourth disc, and the set will ship nearly a month before it hits stores. (Bader also has a book, a comprehensive history of the Marxes’ pre-movies theatrical careers, coming in the next year or two. He’s a busy fellow!)

If you’ve read this far without previously having heard the legend of Groucho’s first audition, you are encouraged to read on; there’s more to the story than we shared above.
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