Harpo Marx was the silent member of "The Marx Brothers" comedy team along with his brothers, Chico and Groucho (they were accompanied by Gummo and Zeppo invaudeville with the latter also starring in the first five films, neither developed a distinctive character like their elder brothers). Originally named…more
Harpo's facial expression know as "The Goo kie" was based on a New York tobacconist. Harpo always saw him using this face whilst concentrating on rolling cigars.
55 seconds of the Marx Brothers early silent film is on YouTube. It only has Harpo and someone else in that one scene.
In his autobiography, Harpo Speaks, Harpo complains that all his life he craved black jellybeans and could never could get enough of them, but assures us that he finally achieved jellybean satisfaction one evening, at the movies with his friends George Burns and Gracie Allen. Apparently, Harpo fell asleep with a big bag of black jellybeans in his lap, spilled the beans all over the theater floor, woke up and accused Burns of having eaten his jellybeans! However, before dozing off, he'd had enough, and never craved them again.
Harpo was a respected member of the Algonquin Roundtable, along with Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woolcott et al. Some of his friends from this group used to retreat to a private island where most of them would work on their writing projects and/or relax and play. Among the games they played were croquet and "murder," a day-long roleplay of sorts in which participants drew straws to see who'd play the murderer (secret) and who'd play the detective (open). The murderer would "kill" people by saying to them "you're dead" whereupon the victim would have to lie down and stay in place until evening, when the detective would question the living, trying to determine the killer's identity. Murderous Harpo was caught easily because he killed his lone victim, Alice Duer Miller, by writing "You're Dead" on a roll of toilet paper. (He misspelled it -- and was the only "illiterate" in that group.) Miller was stuck in the bathroom all day but claimed not to mind, as she'd brought her novel in progress with her and got lots of work done.
One of Harpo's earliest gigs was playing piano in a house of ill repute... a job for which he almost wasn't hired to begin with because his employer mistook him for his older brother, Chico (who'd already held and lost the same position); their resemblance was uncanny.
Gary Cooper occasionally served as Harpo's "interpreter" when he played benefits for servicemen during World War II.
Harpo and his family were interviewed by Edward R. Murrow once for the show Person to Person. Wife Susan served as Harpo's "interpreter".
In 1934, Harpo became the first American entertainer to perform in the Soviet Union since before the Russian Revolution in 1917. Some have speculated that he also did some intelligence work for the American government while he was there.
Harpo's autobiography, published in 1963, was entitled Harpo Speaks.
Harpo and his brothers made their Broadway debuts in the musical revue I'll Say She Is. This was followed by the plays The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers.
Harpo and his brothers made their film debut as a comedy team in the 1929 movie The Cocoanuts.
Harpo's father, Sam Marx, was a tallor who was nicknamed "Frenchie."
Jack Benny once wanted Harpo to appear on his show and talk but Harpo rebuffed this idea.
Harpo's wife Susan gave up her acting career when the couple got married.
Harpo's character usually communicated with a bicycle horn which he would honk.
As part of his stage and screen character, Harpo wore an overcoat from which he would produce numerous objects.
The last movie in which Harpo and his brothers appeared as a comedy team was 1949's Love Happy.
Harpo was voted as one of the Marx Brothers the 62nd Greatest Movie Star of all-time by Entertainment Weekly magazine.
The character of "Banjo" in George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's play, The Man Who Came to Dinner, was based on Harpo.
Harpo was close friends with noted theatre critic Alexander Wollcott and named one of his sons after him.
Harpo was left-handed.
Harpo was only 5 feet, 5 1/2 inches tall.
Harpo was the second oldest Marx brother behind Chico.
One reason Harpo seldom got recognized out of costume was that he was nearly completely bald in real life.
Harpo Marx passed away on the day of his 28th wedding anniversary.
Harpo became a mute on-stage after reading a critic's review of a performance which stated that he was great until he opened his mouth.
Harpo and his wife, Susan, adopted four children.
Harpo was married to actress Susan Fleming from 1936 until his death in 1964.
Harpo wore a red haired wig in his early movie appearances that was changed to a blonde wig for later ones.
Harpo legally changed his name from Adolph to Arthur in 1911.
Harpo and Groucho once appeared in a silent film together. Harpo played the hero while Groucho was cast as the villain. Unfortunately, all copies of this film have been lost or destroyed.
Harpo: If things get too much for you and you feel the whole world against you, go stand on your head. If you can think of anything crazier to do, do it.
Harpo: I am the most fortunate self-taught harpist and non-speaking actor who ever lived.