Cinema: Horse Feathers

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As everyone knows, there are really five Marx brothers. They are descended from a Hanoverian magician and ventriloquist named Lafe Schoenberg, who toured Germany for 50 years, carrying his scenery, tricks, wife & three children in a roofed wagon. Mrs. Schoenberg played the harp between Lafe Schoenberg's tricks. In 1860, the Schoenbergs emigrated to the U. S. Lafe Schoenberg died in Chicago in 1919. He was 101. One of his sons, Al Schoenberg, a tailor's assistant who was frequently discharged for his habit of organizing noisy quartets, took to singing on the stage. He chose the name of Al Shean, became famed with the late Ed ("Oh, Mister") Gallagher. Al Schoenberg's sister Minna was a Manhattan fur and lace worker. She married an Alsatian immigrant named Samuel Marx who frequently sat up all night playing pinochle in his tailor-shop. Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Marx had five sons: Leonard (Chico), Arthur (Harpo), Milton (Gummo). Julius (Groucho) and, ten years later, Herbert (Zeppo).*

It is preposterous that in Horse Feathers Groucho should be cast as a college president and Zeppo as an abnormally stupid undergraduate who has spent twelve years in one class. Zeppo is the only Marx who has enjoyed the advantages of a high school education. Mrs. Marx, eager to train her children for the stage, saved money for Chico's piano lessons. Soon he was able enough to play in cheap cinema theatres. Harpo, two years younger than Chico, looked exactly like him. He could play two tunes on the piano. They enabled him to defraud theatre managers who had hired Chico. He went to work in jobs that Chico had secured, four times received a week's wages before he was discharged. The fifth theatre manager, forewarned, recognized Harpo by a wart on his nose. Harpo was thrashed.

While Chico and Harpo were playing pianos, Groucho was developing his soprano voice. Confirmed in the Jewish faith at 13, he became a choir boy in a Manhattan Episcopal Church, quit when punished for puncturing the organ bellows with an alto's hatpin. He learned to tap dance. His mother persuaded her friend Ned Wayburn to get him a job in a Gus Edwards act (where famed Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Georgie. Price. Walter Winchell received their histrionic training). When Groucho was 14, he went to Denver to be boy soprano in a trio. Soon after he arrived his voice changed. He got a job driving a grocery wagon in Cripple Creek, Colo., saved enough for a ticket home and $10 to pay for his food. He lost the $10. An old lady who had a basket of fruit fed him on oranges and peanuts.

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