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Chico Marx Overview:

Legendary actor, Chico Marx, was born Leonard Marx on Mar 22, 1887 in New York City, NY. Marx died at the age of 74 on Oct 11, 1961 in Hollywood, CA and was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale) Cemetery in Glendale, CA.

Early Life

Chico Marx was born Leonard Marx on March 22nd, 1887 New York Cities Upper East Side. He was the oldest of five boys, all of whom would end up in show business. Like the rest of the Marx brothers, Chico was bright kid. He often used this intelligence to learn small cons and swindles. He was also smart enough to realize as small jewish kid growing up in Manhattans inner-city, he would need to learn to protect himself. Instead of taking the traditional route to personal protection, such as boxing or street-fighting, Chico learned to imitate the accents of other ethnic groups, thus allowing him safely navigate through different ethnic territories. It was during this time that Chico perfected his Italian accent that would eventually grow to be his screen persona. 

As a child, Chico and his brother grew very to close to their uncle, the noted vaudevillian star Al Shean. Although his mother, Minnie, was not a performer herself, she did see in them the same natural talent for performance her brother possessed. Realizing her children's potential, Minnie began to push her children towards the performing arts. She immediately enrolled Chico in piano lessons, a skill that would put on full display in the future Marx Brothers' films. It has been said that Chico was the favorite child in the Marx household, with his mother often turning a blind eye to his misdeeds. Because of this Chico grew to be undisciplined in terms of his own personally behavior, growing with a healthy appetite for both the gambling and the ladies. In fact, it is this love of the ladies that would lead to his famed screen name. As a young man, Chico was constantly chasing "The Chicks" and thus "Chick-o" transformed in to "Chic-o."

Vaudeville Career

Although primarily known for their rapid-fire comedy, the Marx Brothers originally entered the vaudeville circuit as a musical act that didn't include Chico. However, once the family decided to take the comedic route, Chico joined the group. Soon the Marx Brothers began to work on developing their comedic. In 1912, the brothers put together the classroom musical comedy Fun in Hi Skule. In the act, Groucho played a German-accented teacher in charge his students, Harpo, Chico, and Gummo. In 1915 the youngest Marx brother, Zeppo, joined the troupe after Gummo left to serve in the WWI. It was also then that the brother's public persona began to take shape. Chico further developed his fast-talking, Italian accent, adopting the "lazy Italian" persona. Due to Harpo's hatred of public speaking, Uncle Al specifically wrote his character as a mute, relying on pantomime to communicate to an audience while Groucho adapted the fast-talking, wise-guy comedian persona that would become his legacy. Zeppo, although according many reports was the funniest of the brothers, developed into the group's straight man.

By 1920 The Marx Brothers were one of the most popular vaudevillian acts in America. By this time, Chico was assisting his mother on the business end of the act, while Groucho and Harpo focused on the creative endeavors. Under the shrewd business dealings of Chico, the brothers had made the unprecedented jump from vaudeville stars to the Broadway stage, starring in three Broadway plays. No comedic routine had ever taken Broadway by such a storm.

Broadway

In 1924, the brothers made their Broadway debut with the revenue I'll Say She Is. Although very successful, the play was merely a rehashing of their previous successful acts and offered no new material. The next year that would all change. In 1925 the brothers starred in the Broadway musical comedy The Cocoanuts with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. The play was written specifically for the Marx brother's by famed playwright George S. Kaufman and helped create the manic tone of a Marx Brother comedy. Kaufman would go to author the brother's next hit, Animal Crackers, working to further developed the already strong characters of Grouch, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo. All three plays were smash hits, creating something of phenomena around the Marx Brothers. Of course it did not take long before Hollywood came running.

Motion Pictures

1929 was a big turning point in Chico's life. First he and his brother's signed a contract with Paramount Studios. Their first film for their new employers was an adaption of their Broadway hit The Cocoanuts. The shoot proved to be particularly exhausting, as the brother's were still obligated to finish their run of Animal Crackers on Broadway. So, during the day the brother shot at Paramount's New York Astoria Studios and at night continued with Animal Crackers. Their double efforts proved fruitful as The Cocoanuts was huge it. The joyous occasion would be cut short when the Marx matriarch, their mother Minnie, passed away. That year, the family also lost much of it's new found fortune in the stock market.

With his mother/business manager dead and little left in their personal coffers, Chico stepped up and became the new manger of the Marx Brothers. His first order of business was cut a deal with Paramount studios that stipulated the Marx Brothers received a percentage of their film's gross profit. Although a common bargaining practice now, it was the first of its kind back in 1929. Soon after the brothers immediately began working on their second film, yet another adaption of one of their long running Broadway shows, Animal Crackers. The film was critical and commercial success and in 1931, with all their Broadway obligations fulfilled, the brother would pack their bags, loaded their cars, and move to Hollywood.

Hollywood

After arriving in Tinsel town, the brother did what they have also done and immediately began working. Their first Hollywood film was the 1931 anarchic comedy Monkey Business. While the film offers very little in terms of plot and story development, it more than makes up for that with the brother's zany antics. Although not a direct adaption of their Broadway work, the film did contain many routines and antics seen in their stage material. The film was a hit and immediately solidified the brothers as Hollywood stars. Their next film was the college-set Horse Feathers. In the film Grouch plays sarcastic Professor Wagstaff, while his brothers play students. Although the film did make money, it was not as successful as the brother's previous releases. That same year, Chico teamed with Groucho for the NBC radio show Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel. 

In 1933 the brothers released absurdist politician satire Duck Soup. In the film Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, accidental ruler of the small, bankrupt country of Freedonia while Chico and Harpo acted as his right-hand men. Although the film is now considered a classic and one of the Marx Brothers best efforts, it was not very well received upon its release. The film garnered mixed reviews at best, and although not a box-office flop, the film still made a significantly less amount than their previous releases and failed to meet the studios lofty expectations. Having fulfilled their five-picture contract with Paramount, the brothers parted ways with the studio.

MGM

After leaving Paramount Studios, Chico knew the Brothers needed a career boost and negotiated a contract with MGM's lead producer, Irving Thalberg. Under MGM's tenor, the brothers were given a softer edge to their comedy. In their first MGM film, 1935's A Night at the Opera, Groucho played businessman Otis B. Driftwood, who along with is friends (Chico and Harpo) was helping two singers make it big by sabotaging their snobby opposition. Now more helpful than absurdist, their comic foils were not aimed at staunch dowagers, but rather at the snobby and elite. Although not everyone was in love with the change, the film was a smash hit. Their next film, 1937's A Day at the Races was equally as successful.  However, after the death of Thalberg in 1937, the reign of well-crafted Marx Brothers films was over. In 1938 the brothers were loaned to RKO for comedy Room Service. The film co-starred a young Lucille Ball and was the only film in their catalog not specifically written for them. The brothers returned to MGM for three more films 1939's At The Circus, 1940's Go West, and finally, 1941's The Big Store. Unhappy with formulaic nature of a MGM production, the brothers left the studio once their contractual obligations were up. During this time, Chico also was bandleader for the aptly titled Chico Marx Orchestra. His band would give the young Mel Torme his first professional singing gig.

Later Career and Life

Despite earning a fortune thanks his shrewd business dealings, Chico's gambling problem left him with very little to show for it. His addiction became so bad that his wife refused to own a home with him for fear of him gambling it away and would eventually lead to his divorce the 1940s. By the mid 1940s he had gambled away his entire fortune and was forced to declare bankruptcy. In 1946 the Marx Brothers reunited for the film A Night in Casablanca. The film was made for Chico's benefit as a way to help him financially as was their final film, 1949's Love Happy. By this time, the rest of Marx brothers took control of Chico's finances and put him on allowance for the rest of his life.

Although Chico never a movie without his brothers he did make appearances on televisions shows throughout the 1950s such as The Silver Theatre, The Bigelow Theatre and Playhouse 90. While the rest of the Marx were able to more of less enter the quiet life of retirement, Chico was forced to act in the same shanty musical halls he played 40 earlier thanks to his gambling debts. By the mid-1950s Chico's health began to decline and he was finally was forced to leave the limelight. Chico Marx died on October 11th, 1961. He was 74 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).

HONORS and AWARDS:

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Marx was never nominated for an Academy Award.

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Chico Marx Quotes:

Tony: Well, that's-a fine. Now we owe the Sheriff a hundred and twenty dollars and a sock.


Rufus T. Firefly: Hey! Do you want to be a public nuisance?
Chicolini: Sure! How much does the job pay?


Dr. Hackenbush: Here's a ten-dollar bill and shoot the change, will you?
Tony: I got-a no change. I'll have to give you nine more books.


read more quotes from Chico Marx...



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Chico Marx Facts

Father-in-law of Shamus Culhane.

"What's the shape of the world?" was a question brother Groucho Marx (playing a teacher, with Chico as a student) asked in one of their early routines; years later, the two used the question to cheer each other up.

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