Here are 10 things you should know about Lana Turner, born 100 years ago today. Her life was filled with nearly as much drama as her movies.
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 107th 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.
- 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!
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!
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.
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.