The Marx Brothers

The mother of the Marx Brothers came from Germany. She was born in Dornum on Nov 9, 1864, her name was Miene Schonberg. He brother Abraham Elieser Adolf is born on May 14, 1868, he later became known as the comedian Al Sheen.

In 1880 the family came to the United States. Grandfather Levy, an umbrella maker who had worked as a ventriloquist and grandmother Fanny who played the harp, and with them came some of their eight surviving children.

The family lived in New York. When Minnie, how Miene was called now, was 18 she met Simon “Sam” Marx in a dance hall. He came from Alsace, France. He had changed his family name from Marrix to Marx to make it sound more German because he hoped it would be easier to find a job this way. In 1884 when Sam was 23 and Minnie was 20 they got married. They moved into 354 E 82nd Street together with Minnie’s parents and other members of the Sch?nberg family. Simon worked as a tailor, but since he refused to use a measuring tape, his customers were seldom satisfied. His real talents were in cooking, and the family used this when they had to ‘bribe’ somebody.

Simon’s and Minnie’s first child Manfred born in 1885, died in infancy before the age of three. Most likely the cause of his death was tuberculosis, but some sources say that he died in an accident. The other children were born in 1887, Chico, 1888, Harpo, 1890, Groucho, 1892, Gummo and 1901, Zeppo.

Minnie helped her brother Al Sheen getting into show business and decided early that her children should follow him. Chico played the piano in pubs, Groucho sang as a boy soprano. The brother appeared as The Four Nightingales and The Six Mascots.

The first performance in the Marx Brothers style as we know it was Fun in Hi Skule in 1912. Other shows were Mr Green’s Reception, Home Again, On the Mezzanine Floor and I’ll Say She Is which became their first big success in 1924. After Home Again Gummo left show business and became an agent. He was replaced by Zeppo.

What followed was The Cocoanuts a Broadway show which became their first film. This show as well as Animal Crackers was originally written for the stage and what we see today are more or less filmed versions of the stage productions. These stage performances gave them the possibilities to test the script before an audience and so they perfected the puns and timing. The went back on stage for test performances when filming A Night at the Opera.

From 1929 on they were mainly active in filming. In their first films they appeared as The Four Marx Brothers (Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo), but Zeppo left the movie business after Duck Soup. From 1929 to 1949 they made 13 films. After that Chico and Harpo more or less retired, but Groucho started a second career as a show master in the quiz show You Bet Your Life.