Chico Marx

Active - 1929 - 1990  |   Born - Mar 22, 1887   |   Died - Oct 14, 1961   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The second son of German/Alsatian immigrants Sam and Minnie Marx (the first son, Manfred, died in infancy), comedian Leonard "Chico" Marx was the oldest of the five siblings who would become internationally famous as The Marx Brothers. But when mother Minnie first organized younger brothers Groucho, Harpo and Gummo into a singing vaudeville act, Chico chose to go it alone as a free-lance pianist in orchestras, saloons, and "bawdy houses." Though a limited musician, Marx learned early on how to keep an audience enthralled. When Chico joined his brothers in a "schoolroom" act, he drew upon his expertise with dialects by playing a comic Italian. After their Broadway debut in 1924's I'll Say She Is, the Four Marx Brothers (Zeppo had replaced Gummo) were a big-money act. After their 1937 film A Day at the Races, the Brothers considered retiring from movies, but Chico's financial difficulties were a major factor in their decision to remain active. During the war years, Chico headed his own orchestra, and in the '50s he would pay his bills by headlining state fairs and other such barnstorming endeavors with his brother Harpo. In 1950, Chico made his dramatic TV debut in the half-hour Papa Romani. He was also a regular on the 1950 variety series College Bowl, and appeared briefly as an Italian monk in the Irwin Allen all-star film The Story of Mankind (1957) (Groucho and Harpo also showed up in separate sequences). Chico Marx's final professional appearance was with Harpo and (briefly) Groucho in the 1959 GE Theatre entry "The Incredible Jewel Robbery." Chico's daughter Maxine Marx was a prominent actor's agent, and briefly the wife of animated cartoon director Shamus Culhane.

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