Date of Birth : Nov 23rd 1888
The second-born of the Marx Brothers and a unique comic performer whose style was influenced by clown and pantomime traditions. He was well known by his trademarks: he wore a curly reddish wig, he never talked during performances (although he often blew a horn or whistled to communicate), he frequently used props (such as a walking stick with a built-in bulb horn), and he played the harp.
In January 1910, Harpo joined two of his brothers, Julius (later “Groucho”) and Milton (later “Gummo”), to form “The Three Nightingales”. Harpo was inspired to develop his “silent” routine after reading a review of one of their performances which had been largely ad-libbed. The theater critic wrote, “Adolph Marx performed beautiful pantomime which was ruined whenever he spoke.”
Harpo got his stage name during a card game at the Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg, Illinois. The dealer (Art Fisher) called him “Harpo” because he played the harp. (In Harpo’s autobiography, he says that mother Minnie Marx sent him the harp). Harpo learned how to hold it properly from a picture of a girl playing a harp he saw in a five-and-dime store. No one in town knew how to play the harp, so Harpo tuned it as best he could, starting with one basic note and tuning it from there. Three years later he found out he had tuned it incorrectly, but he could not have tuned it properly; if he had, the strings would have broken each night. Harpo’s method placed much less tension on the strings. Although he played this way for the rest of his life, he did try to learn how to play correctly, and he spent considerable money hiring the best teachers. They, however, spent their time listening to him, fascinated by the way he played. In his movie performances he played the harp with his own tuning.
Harpo had changed his name from Adolph to Arthur by 1911. This was due primarily to his dislike for the name Adolph (as a child, he was routinely called “Ahdie” instead). Urban legends stating that the name change came about during World War I — owing to anti-German sentiment in the US — or during World War II — owing to the stigma that Adolf Hitler imposed on the name — are groundless.