Groucho: Who is this?
Chico: Dat's-a my partner, but he no speak.
Groucho: Oh, that's your silent partner!
The second oldest of the Marx Brothers, Harpo Marx was born Adolph Marx and later changed his name to Arthur Marx. He earned the nickname Harpo from his family because he played the harp like his mother Minnie Marx.
As a child, Harpo Marx was small for his age and due to his Jewish heritage, he was bullied. He claims he was thrown out of the classroom window by two big Irish boys. The bullying happened daily and he would not tell the teacher about the bullies for fear of retribution. He left school in the second grade to sell newspaper with his older brother Chico.
He secretly taught himself to play the harp, tuning the strings himself. He tunned the harp strings incorrectly, allowing the strings to be looser than normal. He played this way the rest of his life despite hiring teachers to teach him otherwise.
In 1910, he joined his brothers Groucho and Gummo to form a singing group The Three Nightingales. Originally Harpo pretended to be Irish on stage learning the accent and mannerisms from high school and donning a big red wig. A theater critic later suggested that Harpo perform in panemine. He developed his character to have a bicycle horn, cane, and a big trench coat with never ending props. He also chased girls on screen, but in real life was a dedicated husband and father of four adopted children.
The only line that Harpo spoke during a movie was in a silent film and he lip synched "You sure you can't move?"
In 1933, Harpo Marx traveled to the Soviet Union as a goodwill ambassador, but secretly sent messages in and out of Russia in a sealed envelope taped to his leg.
He used facial expressions and body language to express himself onstage and in films. Often his character would try to convey an important message to another character through hilarious pantomime and horn honking.
Harpo’s look and likeness can be seen in a number of early cartoons from Disney to Popeye. He appeared in over 25 films during his career. His best known films were those made with his brother Groucho and Chico Marx The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, and A Night on the Opera.
See also: Groucho Marx and Chico Marx Collections.