The Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers

Born in New York between 1887 and 1901, the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo) made their stage debuts in a vaudeville singing act, but soon found that their true talents lay in comedy. As they shifted the focus of their act, they developed their now-famous onstage personas and their unique, outrageous comedy style. After years of honing their shtick in vaudeville houses across the nation, the brothers earned an enviable booking at New York’s Palace Theatre. In the mid-1920s, they left vaudeville to star in three Broadway shows: I’ll Say She Is (1924), The Cocoanuts (1925) and Animal Crackers (1928). Bookwriters George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind and composers/lyricists Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby tailored Animal Crackers to showcase the brothers’ unique talents: Groucho delivered his signature one-liners as Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding, Chico utilized his Italian accent and piano skills as Emanuel Ravelli, Harpo played the silent The Professor and Zeppo took on the role of the straight man, Horatio Jamison. The brothers reprised their roles in the film versions of The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers made by Paramount Pictures. After Animal Crackers, they left Broadway to focus exclusively on filmmaking; they starred in Horse Feathers, Monkey Business and Duck Soup with Paramount in the early 1930s. Despite the success of these films, Zeppo grew dissatisfied with his status as the least funny Marx Brother and left the act. Groucho, Chico and Harpo went on to make some of their best-known films with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer: A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, At the Circus, Go West and The Big Store. In the late 1940s, the brothers reunited for two more films, A Night in Casablanca and Love Happy. In the 1950s and ’60s, the brothers went their separate ways, sometimes appearing on television. Most notably, Groucho hosted the game show You Bet Your Life from 1950 to 1961, and Harpo made a memorable guest appearance opposite Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy.

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