I'm sure you've all seen the Marx Brothers movies several times over — and if not, what are you waiting for?? — but all the more reason to celebrate today being the birthday of Harpo (November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964), the Marx Brothers' most physical performer and purest clown.
In an attempt to show something that might be new to at least some of you, here are an even dozen of somewhat odd clips. They're mostly from the documentaries The Marx Brothers Collection: Mixed Nuts (2003), Inside the Marx Brothers (also 2003), and — the oldest but still best of the lot — The Marx Brothers in A Nutshell (1982). All are available on Netflix.
1. First an overview, the intro to Harpo on Marx Brothers in a Nutshell:
2. Harpo (without his brothers) as the "village Peter Pan" in the 1925 silent movie, Too Many Kisses, in which he speaks his only line ever in a film. Of course you have to read it on a title card because it's a silent film!
3. Harpo with his brothers in the opening scene from their 1924 Broadway musical revue, I'll Say She Is, in rhyming couplets no less, recreated for film in 1931. Harpo does not enter until the 2:26 point.
4. At poolside with all three brothers:
5. A few moments of Harpo performing in Moscow during his triumphant six-week goodwill ambassador tour to the Soviet Union in 1933.
6. A rare Marx Brothers stunt in The Big Store (1941), though not a very convincing one. I'm assuming the first shot is done by stunt doubles, with the Harpo character being wired. The second shot, where we don't even see the unicycle wheel, could easily have been done on a stationary bicycle traveling on a dolly.
7. Harpo et.al. in a variety of cartoons. Did that last bit inspire The Who?
8. Next is a brief appearance by Harpo in Stage Door Canteen, a 1943 star-studded World War II morale booster.
9. This chasing after young women, honking away on his horn, became a Harpo trademark, but ironically he was the only Marx brother to stay married to the same woman till death did them part. Here's a touch of family life.
10. You've probably seen Harpo and Lucille Ball reprise the broken mirror routine for television, but maybe you missed the the footage that comes before and after. Harpo chasing Lucy and then Ethel seems pretty risqué for 1955 television!
11. Harpo (and Chico) make commercials.
12. Last clip, from a failed sitcom pilot, Deputy Seraph. Kind of depressing to hear some director telling them how to act. There's more footage from this on YouTube.
• Check out the Harpo Marx Tribute Site and sign their petitions to preserve the original home of the Marx Brothers on East 93rd St. in Manhattan, and to co-name that street Marx Brothers Place. They have some clips of Harpo speaking, such as this recording, apparently from tapes made for the writing of his memoirs.
• And click here for a good Marx Brothers site.
Last and definitely least...
Harpo worked with Kitty Carlisle in A Night at the Opera, and she was a panelist 41 years later when I appeared on To Tell the Truth promoting my book Clowns. (She said my smile was a dead giveaway that I was the clown.)
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