The Marx Brothers are the gold standard of movie comedy. Classic movies like A day at the races and Duck soup full of jokes and slapstick. There was no one like Groucho and co, especially since the team was inimitable.
Here are some revealing facts about the men named Marx. We’re going to start with a strange story about a mule!
Mule never believe it
The Marx Brothers might never have existed without a rogue mule. In 1907, they were performing in an opera house in the town of Nacogdoches, Texas.
Julius, Milton, and Adolph (or Arthur) were not yet known as Groucho, Gummo, and Harpo. They performed on stage in a quartet with Lon Levy, a friend. And, surprisingly for these future stars, the reception was not enthusiastic.
Yet when a mule reportedly went mad in the street, the place cleared faster than bees from a burning beehive. When the crowd returned, the boys started making fun of them as they fled the scene. The excited public lapped the insults and from there was born the overwhelming experience of the Brothers that we know today.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle, reporting the mule incident, referred to manager / mother Minnie Marx. She would try to pass off her offspring as a 13-year-old girl to save on travel money, according to Groucho. In fact, they were 20 years old.
One driver mentioned that his âchildrenâ were busy smoking and shaving: âMinnie shook her head sadly. âThey grow up so fast. “
Where do these names come from?
The legendary grips arrived via a game of poker. Comedian Art Fisher has started handing out nicknames. For example, “Groucho” comes from Julius’ dry mind and habit of carrying a “grouch bag” (or hidden pocket), as Mental Floss writes.
“Harpo” was born from Arthur’s skills on the harp. Milton’s detective thing led to “Gummo”. Leonard’s womanizer got him nicknamed “Chicko” (sic). Herbert has become “Zeppo”, but this one is a mystery. All the “o’s” come from the comic strip Sherlocko the monk.
Groucho painted on his famous mustache
Groucho wouldn’t be the same without his mustache. Interestingly, facial hair was a sticky job. And it wasn’t a mustache either!
Well, that was a real fake mustache to begin with. Then one night Groucho realized he could just apply an alternative to grease paint.
Later in his career, he sported the genuine article. For a long time, however, the master of cheerfulness turned his face into a living work of art.
Zeppo the inventor
The Marx Brothers were undoubtedly industrious. Herbert, aka Zeppo, received three patents for things he invented or co-invented. As a Marx Brothers fan website pointed out, the Vapor Delivery Pad (1952) and smart stuff that âbelonged to heart pulse monitoringâ (1969) is recorded on him.
In 1941, he founded the Marman Products Company. Their Marman Tongs traveled aboard the Enola Gay, making sure those pesky atomic bombs didn’t slip into the place!
The first Marx Brothers film was never finished
More often than not, the first film by a famous team of actors is the best. But it’s hard to say in the case of the Marx Brothers.
Humor Risk (1921) was filmed but apparently the first images did not go well. Or it was unfinished for some reason. The exact truth is not known. You expect unreliable narrators for a Marx Brothers article, don’t you?
âBy Marx Brothers standards, this would have been an unusual movie,â notes Mental Floss, âwith Harpo playing a heroic detective against a mean Groucho character. “
They almost worked with Billy Wilder
Groucho Marx delivering lines written by Some like it hot Maestro Billy Wilder? It could have happened. Unfortunately, important keys were thrown in the works.
Ranker writes that “Wilder developed a scenario about a group of thieves attempting to carry out a heist during a demonstration at the UN.” Title A day at the United Nations, the 1960 project stumbled in the wake of Chico’s sad death, coupled with Harpo’s ill health.
Groucho in Batman? Type ofâ¦
Ski Doo (1968) is an obscure cinematic comedy directed by none other than Otto Preminger. Groucho played the role of God himself in the LSD-themed script.
You could be forgiven for thinking that was the set of Batman, with Adam West. Marx was joined by Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Cesar Romero (The Joker) and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler). Preminger also made a unique appearance as Mr. Freeze, improving the Bat-mosphere.
A loose remake of a Marx Brothers classic was made starring John Turturro
Brain donors (1992) with John Turturro, Mel Smith and Bob Nelson. Written by Pat Proft (The naked gun), it’s a cult comedy that came and went, putting things politely.
If you think Turturro et al have a Marx Brothers touch to them, then you’d be right. While not exactly a remake, the storyline is said to be based on A night at the opera (1935) and A day at the races (1937).
“War” with Freedonia
Duck soup (1933) is an all-time classic of the Marx Brothers. Groucho played Rufus T. Firefly, ruler of Freedonia. A crazy name for a crazy, made-up place.
There was just one problemâ¦ a real New York city was called Freedonia. The upper brass were not impressed. Groucho replied: “Our advice is that you change the name of your city”.
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The hi-jinks continued six decades later. Mental Floss refers to the prank played in the House of Representatives by Spy review. They made faces on the floor making them comment on the alleged ethnic cleansing in Freedonia!