he Marx Brothers
were the children of Minnie Schoenberg, an immigrant from Germany, and
Sam Marx, from Alsace. They grew up in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side of New York.
At age fifteen, Groucho dropped out of school to go into show business. After an
inauspicious start, Groucho was recruited by Minnie to form an act. Groucho, Gummo,
and a young girl would form The Three Nightingales.
When the girl didn't work out, Harpo was added to the
group, along with a young boy named Lou Levy, and the group was called the Four Nightingales.
When Minnie and her sister Hannah joined in, the group performed as the Six Mascots.
The group continued to change and evolve, eventually becoming known as the Marx Brothers,
which consisted of Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Gummo. At this point, in 1914,
a performer named Art Fisher played a game of poker with the brothers, and gave them the
nicknames by which they are known today (See the
individual sections for more details about this). In 1918, Gummo stepped out, and
Zeppo was brought in to replace him.
Minnie Marx, at age seventeen.
On May 19, 1924, the Marx Brothers opened in I'll Say She Is, their first
Broadway show. They were praised most of all for their inventive ways
of modifying the script (or bypassing it entirely) to improvise lines among themselves
or even turn and talk to the audience. The show attracted repeat attendence since no
two performances would be exactly alike. After 304 performances at the Casino
Theater and seventeen weeks of touring, the show ended. On December 8, 1925, The Cocoanuts
opened at the Lyric Theatre in New York. That show toured for a while, and then
Animal Crackers opened at the 44th Street Theatre on October 23, 1928.
While they were performing Animal Crackers, the Marx Brothers signed with
Paramount to make a film version of The Cocoanuts. They filmed during the day and
performed at night for two months. Finally, on May 23, 1929, The Cocoanuts opened
to movie theaters, and the film career of the Marx Brothers was born.
Sam Marx, whom the brothers called "Frenchie".
The Marx Brothers were a staple of the movie industry in the 1930s, making a new film
nearly every year. In 1934, their contract with Paramount ran out, and they signed on
with MGM, less Zeppo who had stepped out of the act. By 1941, the Marx Brothers had
tired of the business of making
movies, and believed the public would soon be sick of them. They announced their farewell
film, The Big Store, and professionally went their separate ways. They reunited
occasionally over the years, making the films A Night in Casablanca and Love Happy
, but they primarily worked at their separate careers. Even though professionally they
were split, the Marx Brothers were family their entire lives, always watching out
for and caring about each other to the end of their days.