Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chico Multigraph

At one of my other blogs, Lugubrious Drollery, I discussed a trick photographic technique which was popular around the the turn of the twentieth century: the photo multigraph. Two mirrors were placed at an angle of about 70 degrees, the subject was seated in front of the mirrors, and the photographer was behind the subject. The subject plus four reflections appeared in the photo. A popular theme was to make it look like the subject was playing cards with four clones of himself, as in the photo multigraph below, ca. 1909, of Leonard Marx. This is particularly appropriate given his propensity to gamble. The photo comes from The Marx Brothers Scrapbook.

If you would like more information about the history and technique of photo multigraphs, see the excellent article, "A Multigraph from Montreal," by Irwin Reichstein.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Legend of Zeppo's Name

From Zeppo's obituary in the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review, Dec 1, 1979:
The legend is that Minnie, the matriarch of the Marxes, wanted to keep her boys out of the Army during World War I. She installed the family on a farm near La Grange, Ill., since farming would exempt young men from service. Chico one day passed Herbert and said, "Howdy, Zeke." His brother replied "Howdy, Zeb." He soon became Zeppo forevermore.
Add this to other stories of the origin of Zeppo's name, such as being named after the zeppelin, or after a chimpanzee named Mr. Zippo (see also "Zeppo Marx: FAQ").

By the way, I haven't been able to document a performing chimpanzee named Mr. Zippo, as cited in Harpo's autobiography, but I have discovered that Zippo the Climbing Monkey was a popular toy produced by the toy company owned by Ferdinand Strauss in the early twentieth century. In 1921, Louis Marx (no relation), bought out his former employer, Strauss. The deal included the tooling to make Zippo, which at that time was considered obsolete. Marx sold 8 million Zippos over a two-year period, which helped to propel him toward acquiring great wealth and building one of the greatest toy companies of the twentieth century.

Zippo the Climbing Monkey

So, could it be possible that Herbie Marx acquired his nickname from this acrobatic little simian?

Link to Zeppo's obituary.

Link to "Zeppo Marx: FAQ"

Saturday, December 12, 2009


My granddaughter learns the finer points of pool under the watchful eyes of the Marx Brothers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Was Harpo a Mormon?

In a fit of tabloid journalism, I just thought I'd see if the headline of this post would lure curious readers.

Harpo Marx was, of course, Jewish.

But, while casting about in the blogosphere for tidbits of information about the Marx Brothers, I happened upon the blog Famous Dead Mormons, which includes a post about Harpo. The author of FDM, who identifies himself as Nom de Cypher, explains:
Some time in 1842, the prophet Joseph Smith introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a temple ceremony called Baptism for the Dead, followed shortly by a full complement of salvific ordinances by proxy for dead ancestors. But as these things often do, the original purpose of the ordinances seemed to be forgotten by some members of the church and they began trying to ‘redeem’ everyone they could identify. Since this was quite a daunting genealogical task in the days before computers, (and for several years afterward) it seems that some members took a shortcut and performed proxy baptisms and other ordinances for any name they could find, which meant a lot of famous people got baptized. It appears that some time in the early 1990’s there was a fad, or at least a hobby, of finding famous people to baptize. In fact, many times, ordinances were duplicated. This web log is a tribute to that fad.
Mormons, as I understand it, believe they are stuck with their family members throughout eternity, and go to great lengths to insure that happens. They expend a lot of effort in genealogical documentation. For information on Harpo's posthumous baptism, click on this link.