On November 23 it will be Arthur "Harpo" Marx's birthday. (His 117th for anyone who's counting.)
I'm a huge Marx. Bros fan. When I'm having a bad day or I can't shake a foul mood they make me laugh and forget why I was upset in the first place. I love every minute of their movies, but I'm always waiting for Harpo to get his time alone, doing what he's best at, playing the harp with awe inspiring beauty and grace. For those few minutes I find more happiness and peace than in anything else I've ever seen or done.
He is one of my favourite actors and I just wanted to take a minute to say Happy Birthday. Thank you for... well... a lot.
Here's what some of the people who knew him had to say about him.
Miriam Marx (Groucho's daughter): "Harpo was almost not of this world, he was saintly, ethereal. He was my favorite person..."
George S. Kaufman: "Harpo Marx, to whom he was devoted, took delight in rattling the easily embarrassed Kaufman. As a friend, Harpo was a practical joker of incredible proportions.
There was the day when Harpo, Bea, and George Kaufman were in a diner aboard a train going to Bucks County. A little old lady asked if she might take the fourth chair at their table. Bea said it was all right, but George, knowing how unpredictably mad Harpo was, squirmed. Harpo said nothing. He didn’t even look at her.
The little old lady finished eating first and asked for her check. George was still concerned about Harpo. The waiter brought the lady’s check on a saucer. George smiled with relief.
But Harpo, still not looking up from his plate, reached for the saucer, salted and peppered the lady’s check, and ate it. Kaufman twisted in agony."
Irving Brecher: "He was pretty much what he was on the screen: A dear elf."
Norman Krasna: "Harpo was a pixie-like person... a giant pixie. He was completely kin... Dogs and children would come to him as he got into a room... he absolutely was a saint."
George Seaton: "Harpo was just the dearest, sweetest man. I don’t think you can find anyone who has a bad word to say about Harpo. But he was a leprechaun, an elf. He used to do silly, wonderful things, like stealing Maggie Dumont’s wig. She was as bald as a billiard ball and always wore a wig. He’d take great delight in stealing her wig before we got off the train. In Chicago or someplace, here would come Maggie with a towel wrapped around her head, and on it said ‘Pullman.’"
George Burns: "One thing he said to me that was so, so nice... He adopted four children, you know. So I said to him, ‘When are you gonna quit? How many children are you going to adopt?’ He says, ‘I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows. So when I leave, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye.’... I think that was about the greatest marriage that I know of, Susan Marx and Harpo. Anything Harpo wanted, she would do. Like she had these four children, and she’d have dinner on the stove. Let’s say, seven o’clock at night, dinner is ready. And Harpo would come in and say, ‘Susan, let’s eat out.’ She’d say, ‘Okay.’ Bop! Turn out the lights, and out they’d go."
And finally a word from the man himself.
Harpo Marx (Early Days): "We were washed up. We were stranded...I was depressed, and confused, and I had to be alone. I kept telling myself that something good always happened every time I hit bottom. But I didn’t believe it.
...As I walked, a long-forgotten voice came out of my past. Miss Flatto. Miss Flatto, wiggling her finger at my nose and saying, ‘Some day you’ll realize, young man! Some day you’ll realize!’...
I was startled to find I was standing watching an auction sale... I was careful to keep my hands in my pockets, so I could resist any crazy impulse to make a bid, and blow my entire capital of seven cents.
The shelves were nearly emptied out and most of the crowd had left, but I still hung around, having nothing better to do with myself. Finally everything was gone except for one scrub brush, the former owner, hovering in the background, the auctioneer, myself, and an elderly Italian couple. The elderly couple had been there all the time. Either they had no money or they were too timid to make a bid on anything. Whichever it was, they exchanged sad looks now that the auction was winding up.
The auctioneer was tired. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Let’s get it over with and not horse around. I have left here one desirable item. One cleansing brush in A-number-one, brand-new condition, guaranteed to give you floors so clean you could eat off them. What am I offered?’
The old Italian guy and his wife looked at each other, searching for the key to the right thing to say... they held on to each other like they had done something wrong. I said quickly, ‘One cent.’
The auctioneer whacked his gavel.
‘Sold-thank-God-to-the-young-American-gentleman-for-one-cent.’ I picked up my brush and handed it to the old lady. She was as touched as if I had given her the entire contents of the store. The old man grabbed my hand and pumped it. They both grinned at me and poured out a river of Italian that I couldn’t understand. ‘Think nothing of it,’ I said, and added, ‘Ciao, eh?’ ... which was the only Italian I could remember from 93rd street. They thought this was pretty funny, the way I said it, and they walked away laughing. I walked away laughing too... I couldn’t explain it, but a lousy penny scrub brush had changed the whole complexion of life."