Writing

My Man Harpo

(Prepare to be blown away with my nerdiness…)

When I was a little girl, I loved many men.

Men that played unpopular instruments. Men that made irreverent jokes. Men who wore thick horn-rimmed glasses. Men with big Jewish noses.
However, there was only one man that captured and owned my tiny heart.
The trouble was, he was 110 years old and thirty years dead.
Harpo Adolph Arthur Marx will forever be my number one guy.
What makes a ten year-old fall in love with a person she’s a.) never met b.) will never meet c.) never heard speak d.) knows is about 5’5″, bald, and can’t read or write?
What factors in one’s life lead to a perverted obsession such as this?
There I would be, sitting two feet from the TV screen, watching a scratchy second-generation VHS copy of The Marx Brothers’ “Cocoanuts” or “Animal Crackers” over and over. My eyes transfixed on the impish mute bopping from scene to scene. Something about his glint suggested that he would show me the secrets to the Universe, and I was willing to following him anywhere.
I wanted to know what he knew.
So I hunted down an old copy of Harpo’s auto-biography, “Harpo Speaks”. If you’re not familiar with The Marx Brothers, Harpo and his four brothers (Chico, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo) grew up in a brownstone on the Upper East Side. This was no swanky pad though. This was Upper East Side 120 years ago, when Daniel Day-Lewis roamed the streets. The brothers lived with their beloved parents; the sweet, sensitive Jew, Samuel, and the boisterous, talented, Minnie, along with five other family members in a small, one bedroom house. The family could not afford the boys a formal education, so the brothers all dropped out at various points in elementary school and began working for bread (12 year-old Harpo was a piano player at a brothel). Though survival was a daily struggle, the household was vibrant with song and dance and it soon became apparent that the boys had talent. With the help of their mother and comedian uncle, the brothers took to the stage and soon became a popular vaudevillian team. So popular in fact, that they landed their first Broadway Show in 1924. Soon enough, Hollywood came a’callin’ and the boys were one of the first to join the “talking picture” movement. The brothers earned acclaim with such greats as “Animal Crackers”, “Duck Soup”, and “A Night at the Opera”. With thirteen films under their belt, the brothers secured their place in American film and are still hailed as one of the greatest comedic teams of all time.
But what makes Arthur Marx so freakin’ special, you ask?
Arthur married the love of his life, and stayed married to her until his death, which occuried on their wedding anniversary.
Arthur adopted four children, “one to wave goodbye to him in every window”.
Arthur took in every stray animal he ever came across.
Arthur, though he could not read or write, became a respected harpist, even though he taught himself to play backwards.
Arthur became a Russian spy for the U.S. Government.
Arthur was a member of the Algonquin Table because he “listened”.
Arthur set out to make people feel good, and that is what he did.
As described by his brother, Gummo: Harpo played the right instrument. He was an angel. There was nobody like him, there never will be anybody like him. He was just simply wonderful. He never had a bad word for anybody… not like me. I at least occasionally say something. But Harpo… they don’t make that kind anymore.”
And what about stage Harpo?
Harpo only wanted to be loved. Sure he would poison or bop over the head the lady he desired, but there was still such innocence to it. An innocence that we rarely see anymore.
A moment caught from time-to-time with puppies or children.
Below is one of my favorite scenes from Duck Soup-
Below is a video on how you can help prevent the tearing down of the Marx Brothers’ home on East 93rd-
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15 Comments

  • Reply Sarah xo April 19, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    This post has just made my day. I absolutely adore the Marx Brothers. I have not read Harpo's book, but I will track it down over the summer. I remember watching Duck Soup about ten years ago and I loved it. I was hooked. I love the scene you posted, that was the one that jumped to mind when I was reading it. Weird.

    My favourite scene is the peanuts one with Harpo, Chico and the peanut vendor <3 Truly amazing bit of comedy. I think that's when I realised how great comedy can actually be. It's deceptively complex and tirelessly funny.

    Thankyou for making me smile by reminding me! Sarah xo

  • Reply Hipstercrite April 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    @Sarah- So glad you love the Marx Brothers too! They make me happy. When I was writing this post and watching Youtube videos of the Marx Brothers I was just smiling away. The scene your speak of is one of my all-time faves too!

  • Reply Chris April 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    At least you liked the Marx brother with the best name, which is surprising, given his name is Harpo. It's also interesting that two of his names are "Adolph" and "Marx." I've never actually seen any Marx Brothers films, but this reminds me a lot of some stuff by Laurel and Hardy that I've seen. It's interesting to me the way American comedy has changed over time…but I digress.

    I've been following your blog for over a month and have really been enjoying it. Your blog definitely inspired me to get into blogging myself. Keep being interesting 🙂

  • Reply Grant April 19, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    @Sarah xo That is my favorite scene too.

    http://www.littleurl.net/d87887

    @Hipstercrite Your taste are impeccable.

  • Reply Sarah xo April 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    @Grant Thanks for the link, I rewatched it earlier, laughed, watched it again and am still laughing!
    @Hipstercrite You know, we had to submit our inspirations at work, and I gave in a Groucho Marx one liner (Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend, inside of a dog, it's too dark to read =awesome) and noone had really heard of them?! So wrong. I signed the petition, I'm glad you're getting the word out (: xo

  • Reply RoSe April 20, 2010 at 12:33 am

    5'5" now that my ideal man, luv the Marx Bros, and your posts. Thanks for following mine, it made my day when I saw your face added to my gallery.

  • Reply Matt Conlon April 20, 2010 at 2:38 am

    Honestly I was never really exposed to the Marx brothers, however I've managed to brush up a little over the last few years. One wonders what it might have been like to enjoy them back in their hay day.

  • Reply T!nK April 20, 2010 at 2:49 am

    this is adorable =]

  • Reply Christine Macdonald April 20, 2010 at 3:55 am

    I love your nerdyness! Great post. Missed you, guuuurl.

    xo

  • Reply joel April 20, 2010 at 4:01 am

    so bril.
    i like it very much. your early crush list is the most unconventional of its kind.

  • Reply Benny April 20, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    1) The Marx Brothers were definitely some of the most surreal and psychedelic comedians of all time. I'd forgotten that. I laughed harder at that clip than I thought I would. Last time I watched them, I didn't laugh that hard. I was probably too young/serious to get it. Too many people are.
    2) I saw a pic of Harpo after he went bald and he looked just like my Jewish grandpa.
    3) I didn't know he was illiterate!!! That actually makes him so much more awesome!

  • Reply Music Capital May 1, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Nice post. I wish more people appreciated him.

  • Reply marianberry June 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    And here I thought I was the only girl who ever had a crush on this amazing man! Oh, if only time-travel existed… but at least I have his biography sitting proudly on my shelf. The world is a better place with a touch of Harpo in it. 🙂

  • Reply k.berstis August 28, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I was totally in love with Harpo as a child also!
    My favorite was The Big Store. Although A Night at the Opera was a close second.

    As a fellow Harpo lover, I feel I can voice how strange it sometimes is to think back on how I used to fantasize about him…him and his beautiful harp-playing hands……ehhh…?

  • Reply Anonymous February 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm

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