Monday, June 22, 2009

The Musical Marx Brothers



Groucho may have been the most famous (and successful) of the Marx Brothers, but Chico (pronounced Chick –o but often mispronounced as cheek-o ) and Harpo were very talented musicians in addition to being comedians.  


Leonard `Chico’ Marx (March 22, 1887 – October 11, 1961) was the eldest Marx brother, and served at the brother’s manager after their mother Minnie died.



Chico feigned an Italian accent for his on stage character, and typically played a not-too-bright con man.   In real life, he was an heavy gambler and womanizer, who by his own admission, lost millions of dollars.

When asked how much he had lost over the years, he once replied, “Find out how much money Harpo has, and that’s what I’ve lost.”


The brothers made their last couple of movies mainly to salvage Chico’s finances, and ended up putting him on an allowance just to keep him from losing everything.

Chico used a comedic piano style, often `shooting’ the keys with his index finger, much to the delight of his audience.   His routines were choreographed comedic masterpieces, that required a close up view of his hands to get the full effect.


Here he plays `On the Beach at Bali Bali’, from A Day At The Races.




Next we have Chico playing a medley that includes the Italian folk song Reginella Campagnola and Listen To The Mockingbird.



And here, in A Night At The Opera, Chico entertains a group of children with All I Do Is Dream Of You.


It takes real talent to make it look this effortless.



And here we have an intricate piano duet with Harpo, of Mama Yo Quiero from The Big Store.




Arthur Adolph "Harpo" Marx (November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964) was the second eldest of the Marx Brothers and while he never spoke on stage, could hardly be described as a `silent partner’.


He always worked in pantomime wearing a red `fright wig, and by playing (rarely) the piano and more often the harp, after which he was named.



Make no mistake, Harpo was a killer harpist, able to play sweet or hot, as the situation demanded.  His `jazz’ renditions of classic tunes are unforgettable.


Unlike his brothers, who were unlucky in love, Harpo married Susan Fleming in 1936 and their marriage was lifelong.  Some people believed that Harpo really was mute, but in truth this was simply part of the `act’. 


Here Harpo plays the Second Hungarian Rhapsody . . .sweetly at first, then he swings it.  This bit of genius is from A Night in Casablanca.



Harpo performs Everyone Says I Love you from Horsefeathers.





And here Harpo creates musical mayhem during a recital.  This From Monkey Business.




The Marx Brothers were more than just funny, they were multi-talented.   Something that isn’t nearly as common today as it was during the heyday of Hollywood.

Back then actors could dance, dancers could sing, and comedians could do drama, or play musical instruments. 

A legacy from Vaudeville where being a jack of all entertainment trades was the best way to keep working.

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