Forgotten Stars: the Un-Zany Zeppo Marx…
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a huge fan of The Marx Brothers, so my Zeppo Marx pick for the fabulous CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon was a ‘natural’ for me… that said, here goes…
Zeppo, the youngest of The Marx Brothers, was born Herbert Manfred Marx on February 25, 1901 in New York City. Although older brothers Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Gummo would get their start, in varying degrees, in vaudeville between 1905 and 1910, Zeppo did not appear with his brothers on stage until 1915, when, at age 14, he appeared in a skit called “Home Again” in a Flint, Michigan show — probably the only instance when all five Marx Brothers appeared on the stage together. Shortly thereafter, when Gummo left the act to serve in World War I, Zeppo officially joined the troupe, performing through their final vaudeville years, then on Broadway and during their early Paramount films.
By all accounts, Zeppo was said to be the funniest of the ‘brothers’ off-stage, and acted as their understudies on stage, filling in for his brothers as needed. In films however, Zeppo played straight man to his zany over-the-top brothers, and/or was the romantic lead with the beautiful tenor voice.
After appearing in five Marx Brothers’ feature-length films, Zeppo left the act to join brother Gummo as a theatrical agent. Always adept with mechanics, he later became hugely successful as an engineer/inventor, achieving multi-millionaire status; he owned Marman Products which machined parts for our World War II efforts, and he invented a wristwatch that could monitor pulse rates of cardiac patients.
Zeppo was the last surviving Marx Brother; he died of lung cancer on November 30, 1979 at the age of 78.
So, here’s to the un-zany Zeppo Marx who played straight-man against his crazy brothers (understatement) in the first five Marx Brothers’ films…
In The Cocoanuts, Mr. Hammer (Groucho) runs the Hotel de Cocoanut resort in Florida. Zeppo plays Hammer’s assistant who would much rather sleep at the front desk than actually help Hammer run things….
Jamison (Zeppo): Mr. Hammer, I think I know what’s wrong with this hotel.
Hammer (Groucho): I think I know too. You’re fired…
In Animal Crackers, explorer Captain Spaulding (Groucho) attends a party at the estate of society matron Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont), and investigates the theft of a valuable painting during the party. Zeppo plays Spaulding’s assistant.
Captain Spaulding (Groucho): Honorable Charles H., uh, Hungerdunger, care of Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, and McCormick… semicolon.
Horatio Jamison (Zeppo): How do you spell semicolon?
Captain Spaulding: All right, make it a comma.
See entire video clip here: Animal Crackers Take a Letter to my Lawyer!
Harpo, Zeppo, Chico, Groucho: Sweet Adeline (singing)…
In Monkey Business, the Brothers—playing stowaways concealed in barrels—harmonize unseen while performing “Sweet Adeline”.
In Horse Feathers, Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho) is the new president of Huxley College. Zeppo plays his son Frank, who convinces his father to recruit professional players to help Huxley’s football team.
Frank (Zeppo): Dad, two of the greatest football players in the country hang out in a speakeasy downtown.
Professor Wagstaff (Groucho): Are you suggesting that I, the president of Huxley College, go into a speakeasy without even giving me the address?
See entire video clip here: Horse Feathers Advice for Dad
In Duck Soup, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is appointed president of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania. Zeppo plays Bob Roland, Firefly’s personal assistant. The film culminates in an anarchic battle and general mayhem.
Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho): I’ll show ’em they can’t fiddle around with old Firefly! Look at ’em run! Now they know they’ve been in a war!
Bob Roland (Zeppo): Your Excellency!
Rufus T. Firefly: Hahahahahaha, they’re fleeing like rats!
Bob Roland: But sir, I’ve got to tell you…
Rufus T. Firefly: Remind me to give myself the Firefly Medal for this!
Bob Roland: Your Excellency, you’re shooting your own men!
Rufus T. Firefly: What?
Bob Roland: You’re shooting your own men!
And, no Marx Brothers Tribute post would be complete without a musical clip, so here is Zeppo Marx singing “Everyone Says I Love You” (Harry Ruby, music; Bert Kalmar, lyrics) from Horse Feathers… (followed by Chico and Groucho singing as well)…
Last but not least, a few interesting facts:
- Marman Products produced the clamping devices that were used in the first atomic bomb raids over Japan in 1945
- Zeppo introduced Jack Benny to his wife Mary Livingstone.
- The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930) were adaptations of Marx Brothers’ stage plays. They were filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens. After that, production of all Marx films shifted to Hollywood.
- Zeppo’s was married to Barbara Blakeley from 1959 through 1973 (divorced). Blakeley went on to marry Frank Sinatra in 1976, remaining married to him until his death in 1998.
- According to Marc Eliot’s Cary Grant biography (2005): “While the rest of the country preferred Groucho, Zeppo, the good-looking straight man and romantic lead, was Archie’s favorite, the one whose foil timing he believed was the real key to the act’s success.”
A Big Thank You to the marvelous Classic Movie Blog Association for hosting this very special event! There are so many more wonderful Classic Bloggers participating in this event so please be sure to check out the other entries.
—Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub