On this date, November 23rd 1888 Harpo Marx was born. Born Adolph Marx, but referred to as Arthur instead off-stage, Harpo would be remembered as one of the greatest visual performance artists of all time. Armand and I love Harpo and the Marx Brothers films, and we both find Harpo’s appeal universal. I never tire of watching his on-screen antics and I only wish I could have seen him perform live on the vaudeville circuit. But why is Harpo so appealing? Why do young children today laugh at Harpo’s pantomiming and clowning? Is it the fact he never speaks on screen or is there something deeper, such as we all recognize a character with pure innocence?
Take the scene below from 1933’s Duck Soup. Harpo simply embraces the absurd. He can be mischievous without seeming malicious.
The same can be said of this scene where Harpo and Chico work over a street vendor, but as you watch you find yourself rooting for Harpo to do something more and more outlandish.
Harpo simply flaunts all of societies conventions. He reacts to the world in a manner in which we all wish we could, but we know we simply can’t. Maybe his appeal is that he speaks for us without ever actually speaking. Actions speak louder than words and for our money no one ever got more comedic impact out of just his actions than Harpo Marx. Finally there is this, an amazing sequence from A Night at the Opera where charades are taken to the next level.
Harpo Marx, born 128 years ago today.