Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Marx Brothers Feud?

This brief item appeared in the Dunkirk, NY, Evening Observer, in the syndicated column "Harrison's Hollywood," by Paul Harrison on July 10, 1940.

That's it. No further details are given.

A tantalizing little tidbit, no?

Addendum: Before taking this item as fact, please read comments below.


  1. How absolutely fascinating... This is the kind of thing that gets airbrushed out of the Brothers' own recollections and rarely finds its way into the histories.
    I often get the feeling that the annoyance over Chico's lifestyle to which both Groucho and Harpo admit often boiled over into genuine fury!
    Still, this is odd. I wonder if it's something to do with the fact that Chico negotiated their first Thalberg contract? Did he give himself a broker's bonus? If so, fair enough really... but I can see why Groucho in particular would have been p.o'd. How strange that it then came to light accidentally - and that it made its way into print in this enigmatic fashion.
    In all: a first-class find. How did you come across it?

  2. Matthew,
    I subscribe to Though I did this originally for geneaology research, I've found that the historical newspaper collection there is a source of lots of information like this. The database is searchable by name, keyword, date, etc. I think you're right that Chico must have negotiated a himself a bigger piece of the MGM pie.

  3. Couldn't $83,333,34 have been a typo that should read $33,333,34?

    In that case Chico would STILL have earned more than his brothers (i.e. $0,01 more!) and the total salary for the trio would have been a nice, round $100,000,00!

  4. They were all making a nice chunk of change in 1940s dollars, huh?

  5. The more I think about this, the more I think Mikael is onto something here. First of all, I don't know what a U.S. Treasury report is, or why it would specifically include information about a deal between the Marxes and MGM. Even assuming that there was a public record of such things, it seems likely that Paul Harrison was going for laughs, pointing out that Chico made 1 cent more than his brothers. I could see how a typesetter reading the teletype of the syndicated column might mistake a "3" for an "8."

  6. Well, it just don't make sense that any of the Marxes would've earned more on his own than the other two, at least while they were still a team. And certainly not Chico with his gambling problems.

    Regarding the "nice chunk of change", I made a quick check of the Marxes' economy in the 30s. The four of them got "a mere $100,000" from Paramount for filming "The Cocoanuts" in 1929 (according to "Monkey Business" by Simon Louvish), were earning $10,000 per week by 1932 (according to Paul Wesolowski, Freedonia Gazette, Winter 1981) while Groucho and Chico shared $6,500 a week for the radio show "Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel", which debuted on 28 November 1932 and ran for 26 weeks (according to "Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel" by Michael Barson).

    As for 1938, the three Marxes apparently got $100,000 - or was $150,000? - from MGM and this without filming anything! However, they also got $250,000 that year from RKO to appear in "Room Service", a deal arranged by Zeppo (according to Louvish).

  7. I remember reading that Groucho wanted to make sure Chico had enough dough so would negotiate a little extra for him. Chico's extra money would then be put in a safe, and whenever he was a little hard on his luck (which was all the time) he would have to come to whatevcer brother it was, cap in hand, to be given a handout from the safe.

    However, I'd heard it was only $10,000 or something like that. Also, it was reported that if Chico was given too much money, "he'd just wear himself out trying to spend it".

    But, fifty thousand is not inconceivable, and Zeppo or Gummo disapproving of this tacit acceptance of Chico's gambling "problem" would certainly be grounds for a newspaper article.

  8. Agreeing with Zoom's comment; this is what I've read, I believe, in several biographies.

  9. I did just a quick search over at Google Books, and up came Motion Picture Herald, Volume 140, Issues 1-6. At one point it says this:

    "RKO and Chico Marx have been holding out on Marx Brothers Groucho and Harpo. The government's report of last week listing salaries of $75,000 and over, cited Chico's paycheck from RKO at $83,333.34, and for the same acting engagement for RKO, Groucho's and Harpo's salaries were listed at $83,333.33 each."

    So yeah, I'm thinking the $33 might have been somebody's typo, lol.

  10. Just to be sure I checked again on and found Motion Picture Daily, July-September 1940. It includes The 1938 Industry Salary List for several stars, and here we have:
    Chico Marx, $83,333.34;
    Groucho Marx, $83,333.33;
    Harpo Marx, $83,333;.33

    So with two sources from the motion picture industry, I'm thinking this was intended to be a joke that a local newspaper got slightly wrong. Typesetting was hard in those days!

    Btw, if you're interested, Louis B. Mayer led the salary list with $688,369!

    1. Yes, I think it’s clear the 3 brothers split $250,000, with Chico getting the extra penny.