Cinema: Horse Feathers

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By the time Groucho returned to Manhattan, his brother Gummo had shown signs of talent. Mrs. Marx hired a girl soprano, got up an act called "The Three Nightingales." They performed in Atlantic City in a beer garden on a pier. Underneath the pier were fishnets. The manager of the beer garden fed the Marxes only fish, because it was cheapest on his menu. Next season, Mrs. Marx thought that Harpo also was fitted for her act. She recalled him from the Seville Hotel, in Manhattan, where he was a bellhop. Unable to think of anything for Harpo to say, she had him try some of his grandfather's tricks. When the Marxes were performing in Waukegan, Ill., they were surprised to hear, in the orchestra pit, the piano playing of their brother Chico. He had been touring the country as a piano player and wrestler. At Waukegan, Chico, Zeppo, Gummo and Groucho made their closest approach to an academic career in an act called "Fun in Hi-Skule." On the Sullivan-Considine circuit they toured with Charlie Chaplin, gave him good advice about taking a $100 weekly contract with the Keystone Cinema Company.

In Chicago, Harpo Marx bought an old harp. He tuned and played it to suit himself. The harp became so dilapidated that, when his train was wrecked at Mobile, Harpo claimed and received $250 on it although it had been unhurt. With the money, he purchased a new harp. He was amazed when a music store offered him $250 for his old harp, amazed further when the music store sold it for $750, as an antique.

In 1917, the Brothers Marx discovered the proper way of performing. Outside a theatre in Nacogdoches, Tex. where they were playing, a mule ran away and smashed a store. The audience deserted the Marx Brothers to watch the mule. When the audience returned, the Marxes, indignant, burlesqued their act. The audience was delighted. At Abilene, Kan., a manager cancelled their bookings. Put off a train which they had boarded without money, they walked to the next town. Harpo borrowed his first red wig. The Marx Brothers again burlesqued their act. By the time they reached Oklahoma City they were rich enough to stay at a hotel.

In 1918, the Marxes toured U. S. training camps with their first show, Mr. Green's Reception. When influenza caused the barracks to be quarantined, Gummo and Harpo enlisted. Groucho and Chico joined organizations for entertaining soldiers. Harpo reached France with the 7th Regiment. He worked as a reporter for the Stars & Stripes, like Editor Harold Ross of the New Yorker, Colyumist Franklin Pierce ("F. P. A.") Adams and Alexander Woollcott. With them he helped form the famed Thanatopsis Club, for poker.

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