Arthur (born Adolph) "Harpo" Marx (1888-1964) was born November 23, 1888 in New York, New York, the son of Samuel and Miene "Minnie" Schoenberg Marx. He had six siblings: Manfred (1885-1886), Leonard Joseph (Chico)(1887-1961), Julius Henry (Groucho)(1890-1977), Milton (Gummo)(1893-1977), and Herbert Manfred (Zeppo)(1901-1979) and Samuel (1902-?). His mother was the sister of noted Vaudeville comedian Al Shean. Unlike his on screen and stage persona, Harpo was able to speak. He married actor Susan Alma Fleming in 1936. They adopted four children.
The Marx Brothers, at one time called The Six Mascots had vaudeville in their blood and their mother Minnie (Minna) was a driving force in their careers. "Minna organized the Three Nightingales with Groucho, Gummo and a girl singer. The girl was eventually replaced by a boy tenor and Harpo joined the troupe. The name of the group was changed to The Four Nightingales. Minnie acted as the group's manager. The group became known as the Marx Brothers with everyone except Gummo taking part in the act. The family moved to Chicago circa 1904 where their grandfather lived.
The brothers toured the South and Midwest performing a vaudeville skit called, "Fun in Hiskule". It is noted that the comedy act began in Nacogdoches, Texas. The Marx Brothers first big success came in 1919 with their vaudeville act entitled "Home Again". In 1920, they were booked into the Palace Theatre in New York City and played there for thirteen months. They were later banished from the circuit due to a contract violation - they had accepted employment without Albee's permission.
In 1923, they toured with the show, "I'll Say She Is", a collection of vaudeville routines that Groucho had written in collaboration. The show ran on Broadway for thirty-eight weeks. On December 8, 1925, the brothers (using their nicknames professionally for the first time) opened on Broadway in "The Cocoanuts". The play was written expressly for them by George S. Kaufman and Morris Ryskind with music by Irving Berlin. The brothers made a silent film circa 1924 called "Humor Risk" but it was never released. "Animal Crackers" opened on October 23, 1928.
On the strength of their success in "The Cocoanuts", they were signed to a film contract. In 1929, they made the film version of "The Cocoanuts" while performing "Animal Crackers" on the stage. Their mother, Minna Marx died the same year. The following year they starred in the film version of "Animal Crackers". Both films were made in New York City. In 1931, Groucho moved to Hollywood where The Marx Brothers made thirteen films. The brothers signed with Paramount Pictures and made "Monkey Business" (1931), "Horsefeathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933) while at the studio. In 1933, Zeppo left the troupe and Samuel Marx died.
In February 1934, Groucho and Chico teamed up in a radio program called, "Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel", about characters who were comic lawyers. In March 1934, they replaced Ethel Waters on a weekly radio series sponsored by the American Oil Company. In 1935, the brothers starred in "A Night at the Opera" for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a film produced by Irving Thalberg and a sequel, "A Day at the Races" (1937). In addition to working for MGM, the brothers starred in "Room Service" (1938) for the RKO studio." Robinson, Jr., Franklin A., excerpt from finding aid, Groucho Marx Collection AC0269.
In addition to comedy, Harpo famously played the harp. He had a robust solo career in music, film, stage, and television, until his retirement in the early 1960s. He died one day after a heart by-pass operation on September 28, 1964. He was cremated and his ashes were reportedly scattered into the sand trap at the seventh hole of the Rancho Mirage golf course.