Wednesday, July 23, 2014
THE PERSONAL SIDE OF HARPO MARX
Harpo Marx, born Adolf Harpo Marx in 1888 was the second oldest of the Marx Brothers. Harpo married actress Susan Fleming on September 28, 1936. Fleming's wedding to Marx was announced to the public when President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the couple a telegram of congratulations that November. Marx had sent a thank you letter to Roosevelt in appreciation for a signed photograph of the President, in which Marx had stated that he was "in line for congratulations, too, having been married since September" in a ceremony that took place in an unspecified "little town up North".
Unlike most of his brothers (bar Gummo), (Groucho was divorced three times, Chico once, and Zeppo twice), Harpo's marriage to Susan was lifelong. The couple adopted four children: Bill, Alex, Jimmy, and Minnie. When asked by George Burns in 1948 how many children he planned to adopt, he answered: "I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows in my house. So when I leave for work, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye."
Harpo was good friends with theater critic Alexander Woollcott and because of this became a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table. Harpo, who was quiet in details about his personal life, said his main contribution was to be the audience in that group of wits. In their play The Man Who Came to Dinner, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart based the character of "Banjo" on Harpo. Harpo later played the role in Los Angeles opposite Alexander Woolcott who had inspired the character of Sheridan Whiteside. In 1961, Harpo published his autobiography, which was titled Harpo Speaks. In one chapter, he tells the story of a man who did not believe that Harpo could talk. Because Harpo never spoke a word in all of his movies and TV appearances, many fans and other people believed he really was mute. In fact, radio and TV news recordings of his voice can be found on the Internet, documentaries, and on bonus materials of Marx Brothers DVDs.
In relating one story to a reporter who privately interviewed him in the early 1930s, the reporter wrote that "Harpo had a deep and distinguished voice like a professional announcer" and, like his brothers, he spoke with a New York accent his entire life. Harpo's final presence before the public came in early 1964, when he appeared on stage with singer/comedian Allan Sherman. Sherman burst into tears when Harpo, speaking for the first time to the audience, announced his retirement from the entertainment business. Comedian Steve Allen, who was in the audience, remembered that Harpo – after announcing his retirement from the stage – kept talking for several minutes to the theater audience about his career and how he would miss it all, and he kept verbally cutting Sherman off when he tried to speak. After a while, the sorrowful audience started tittering and giggling. Allen said that everyone found it charmingly ironic that the comedian Harpo Marx, having been mute on stage and screen for several decades, "wouldn't shut up!"
Marx was also an avid croquet player, and was inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame in 1979. Harpo Marx died on September 28, 1964 (he and his wife, Susan's, 28th wedding anniversary), at age 75, after undergoing open heart surgery following a heart attack, barely six months after his retirement. Harpo's death was said to have hit the surviving Marx brothers very hard. Groucho's son Arthur Marx, who attended the funeral with most of the Marx family, later said that Harpo's funeral was the only time in his life that he ever saw his father cry. Harpo was cremated and his ashes were reportedly sprinkled into the sand trap at the seventh hole of the Rancho Mirage golf course, on which he occasionally played. In his will, he donated his trademark harp to the State of Israel. For never talking on film much, Harpo said a lot by his actions in his personal life...