Irreverent and intellectual, wittily worldly and comically silent, quintessentially American and indelibly Old World, the Marx Brothers stirred the contradictions of American life during the 1920s and ’30s into a Duck Soup of zany comedy.
Why They Matter: Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo made the transition from vaudeville stars to Hollywood icons without missing a beat. Their frenzy of ad-lib, slapstick and mayhem gleefully skewered post-WWI society’s hypocrisy and pomposity. The original entertainment anarchists, the Marx Brothers regularly challenged culture, education and any form of regulation as being unnatural to the ways of man.
The onset of World War II provided a natural stopping point for the Marx Brothers’ heyday. Groucho would parlay his witticisms and insults into a successful run as host of the quiz show You Bet Your Life. Harpo made a memorable appearance in a scene with a mirror on I Love Lucy. And in a most un-Hollywood ending, the brothers remained close and friendly to the finish.
The Last Word: Groucho, speaking to favorite plus-size target Margaret Dumont, in Duck Soup: “Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it–I hear they’re going to tear you down and put up an office building where you’re standing. You can leave in a taxi. If you can’t get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that’s too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. You know, you haven’t stopped talking since I came here? You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.”