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12/14/2004: Trivia answers....

Not as much interest in this set of questions. I can but hope that the holiday season is distracting My Readership from more important matters. But, to the answers:

1) The Obvious First Question: What were the birth names of the Four Marx Brothers? Extra credit if you can name the fifth brother and his birth name, and if you can give the correct pronunciation of "Chico".
Groucho: Julius Henry Marx
Chico: Leonard Marx. The correct pronunciation is "CHICK-oh" (i.e., a short "i" in the first syllable), not "CHEEK-oh". The reason is that Chico got his nickname because he was a "chick chaser" (i.e., skirt chaser or womanizer).
Harpo: Adolph Marx (though Harpo legally changed his first name to "Arthur" in 1938)
Zeppo: Herbert Marx
Gummo: Milton Marx. Gummo is the forgotten Marx brother; he was a part of the act during most of the brothers' career in vaudeville, but left the act before they broke into films. He was replaced in the act by Zeppo, and he went on to a successful career as a performers' agent (who represented his brothers in their careers). Zeppo, when he left the act, joined Gummo in that business.

2) Which leads naturally to The Obvious Second Question: how did each of the Marx Brothers get his nickname?
First of all, in the 20's when the Marxes were a vaudeville act, there was a comic strip called "Knocko the Monk" which was enjoying a brief bit of popularity, and which inspired a vogue for nicknames ending in "-o". According to the generally accepted stories:

  • Groucho: (one of two possibilities) either because he was possessed of a "grouchy" disposition, or because he was the brother which held the act's "grouch bag" (i.e., as an act's purse was known in vaudeville) for them
  • Chico: because of his propensity for womanizing (i.e., he was the brother who "chased the chicks")
  • Harpo: played the harp, of course
  • Gummo: (while not one of the troupe when the films were made, he was a member of the troupe when the nicknames were doled out) he had a habit of sneaking up on people like a "gumshoe" (i.e., a detective)
  • Zeppo: joined the troupe after Gummo left it; his penchant for practicing acrobatics backstage caused his brothers to call him "Zippo" after "Mr. Zippo", the star of a trained chimpanzee act. Zeppo objected to "Zippo" as demeaning and insisted it be changed to "Zeppo".

3) So, what is the canon of the Marx Brothers films (i.e., list the movies that the brothers made together while billed as "The Marx Brothers")? For extra credit, list the roles each of the brothers is credited with playing in each movie.
The Marx Brothers made thirteen films together:

The Cocoanuts (1929)
Groucho: Hammer
Chico: Chico
Harpo: Harpo
Zeppo: Jamison

Animal Crackers (1930)
Groucho: Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding
Chico: Signor Emanuel Ravelli
Harpo: The Professor
Zeppo: Horatio Jamison

Monkey Business (1931)
Groucho: Groucho
Chico: Chico
Harpo: Harpo
Zeppo: Zeppo

Horse Feathers (1932)
Groucho: Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff
Chico: Baravelli
Harpo: Pinky
Zeppo: Frank Wagstaff

Duck Soup (1933)
Groucho: Rufus T. Firefly
Chico: Chicolini
Harpo: Pinki
Zeppo: Lt. Bob Roland

A Night at the Opera (1935)
Groucho: Otis B. Driftwood
Chico: Fiorello
Harpo: Tomasso

A Day at the Races (1937)
Groucho: Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush
Chico: Tony
Harpo: Stuffy

Room Service (1938)
Groucho: Gordon Miller
Chico: Harry Binelli
Harpo: Faker

At the Circus (1939)
Groucho: J. Cheever Loophole
Chico: Antonio Pirelli
Harpo: Punchy

Go West (1940)
Groucho: S. Quentin Quale
Chico: Joseph Panello
Harpo: Rusty Panello

The Big Store (1941)
Groucho: Wolf J. Flywheel
Chico: Ravelli
Harpo: Wacky

A Night in Casablanca (1946)
Groucho: Ronald Kornblow
Chico: Corbaccio
Harpo: Rusty

Love Happy (1949)
Groucho: Detective Sam Grunion, narrator
Chico: Faustino the Great
Harpo: Harpo

4) While there were 5 Marx brothers, no more than 4 actually appeared in the films. Yet, there was a non-sibling actor/actress who, if Groucho had his way, would have been acknowledged as "the fifth Marx Brother". Who is that actor/actress? For extra credit, what Marx Brothers films did this person not appear in?
Margaret Dumont, who usually played Groucho's "love interest" in most of the films. The films she did not appear in were: Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Room Service, Go West, A Night in Casablanca, and Love Happy.

5) In his older age, Groucho was good friends with a famous rock star, so much so that he'd invite this singer to his house at 11:00 at night to watch TV. Who is this rock star?
Alice Cooper. Because of their friendship, there is a drawing of Groucho on the cover of the album Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits.

6) When they were out of costume and not made up, the resemblance between Chico and Harpo Marx was incredible, so much so that once Chico made a guest appearance on I've Got A Secret dressed as Harpo, and his secret was "I'm pretending to be Harpo (I'm Chico). Chico fooled the entire panel. What was remarkable about that feat?
His brother Groucho was a member of the panel (and was fooled by Chico).

7) The Cocoanuts was basically a stage play that was recorded on film, and in fact it was filmed on a stage in New York. However, it was filmed in the early hours of the morning. Why?
Sound films were so new that soundproofing wasn't installed in the stage that the filming took place on. Early morning hours reduced the likelihood that traffic noises would interfere with the filming.

8) In Monkey Business Groucho says to Lucille Briggs (played by Thelma Todd), "I know. You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night." What about this line was weirdly prescient?
On the morning of December 16, 1935, Thelma Todd was found dead in her car in the garage of her home; the official ruling was death by suicide (carbon monoxide poisoning).

9) In the climactic battle scene in Duck Soup, Groucho wears five different uniforms. What are they?
Two Civil War uniforms: a Union soldier's uniform and a Confederate general's uniform, plus a boy scout troop leader's uniform, a Revolutionary War-era British general's uniform, and a Davy Crockett outfit.

10) You remember the famous stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers' classic, A Night At The Opera? Of course you do. Now, rerun the scene in your mind and tell me: how many people eventually crammed into Groucho's stateroom? And you win a boatload (pun intended) of extra credit if you can identify them all.
A total of 15 people were in the famous stateroom scene:
  • Otis B. Driftwood (1)
  • the stowaways Fiorello, Tomasso and Riccardo [who were in the trunk] (2-4)
  • two chambermaids (5-6)
  • an engineer who comes to turn off the heat (7)
  • a manicurist (8)
  • the engineer's assistant (9)
  • a young woman looking for her Aunt and asking to use the phone (10)
  • a cleaning woman (11)
  • and four staff stewards bearing trays of food (12-15).
They all tumble out when Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) opens the door.

11) EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION TOTALLY UNRELATED TO THE HOLIDAY SEASON: According to Hollywood legend, what legal problems threatened the release of A Night in Casablanca, and what was Groucho's response?
Allegedly, Warner Brothers (makers of the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman Casablanca) was going to sue over the use of the name "Casablanca" in the title of the Marx Brothers movie. In response, Groucho sent a letter which in part, questioned the right of the Warners to use the word "Brothers" in their studio name, noting, "Professionally, we were brothers long before you were."

Alas, according to the Internet Movie Database the movie critic Richard Roeper has since established that it's all a legend with little basis in reality, and Groucho's letters were basically a publicity stunt for the film. But, for anyone who's interested, I reproduce Groucho's letters below the fold.

The Groucho Marx-Warner Brothers Legal Department correspondence

Groucho's response to the supposed threat by the Warners to sue was to send this letter:
Dear Warner Brothers:

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.

It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of the common), named it Casablanca.

I just don't understand your attitude. Even if you plan on re-releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don't know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.

You claim you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name without your permission. What about "Warner Brothers"? Do you own that, too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as The Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor's eye, and even before us there had been other brothers -- the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (This was originally "Brothers, Can You Spare a Dime?" but this was spreading a dime pretty thin, so they threw out one brother, gave all the money to the other one and whittled it down to, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?")

Now Jack, how about you? Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well, it's not. It was used long before you were born. Offhand, I can think of two Jacks -- there was Jack of "Jack and the Beanstalk," and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.

As for you, Harry, you probably sign your checks, sure in the belief that you are the first Harry of all time and that all other Harrys are imposters. I can think of two Harrys that preceeded you. There was Lighthouse Harry of Revolutionary fame and a Harry Appelbaum who lived on the corner of 93rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Unfortunately, Appelbaum wasn't too well known. The last I heard of him, he was selling neckties at Weber and Heilbroner.

Now about the Burbank studio. I believe this is what you brothers call your place. Old man Burbank is gone. Perhaps you remember him. He was a great man in a garden. His wife often said Luther had ten green thumbs. What a witty woman she must have been! Burbank was the wizard who crossed all those fruits and vegetables until he had the poor plants in such a confused and jittery condition that they could never decide whether to enter the dining room on the meat platter or the dessert dish.

This is pure conjecture, of course, but who knows -- perhaps Burbank's survivors aren't too happy with the fact that a plant that grinds out pictures on a quota settled in their town, appropriated Burbank's name and uses it as a front for their films. It is even possible that the Burbank family is prouder of the potato produced by the old man than they are of the fact that from your studio emerged "Casablanca" or even "Gold Diggers of 1931."

This all seems to add up to a pretty bitter tirade, but I assure you it's not meant to. I love Warners. Some of my best friends are Warner Brothers. It is even possible that I am doing you an injustice and that you, yourselves, know nothing at all about this dog-in-the-Wanger attitude. It wouldn't surprise me at all to discover that the heads of your legal department are unaware of this absurd dispute, for I am acquainted with many of them and they are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits and a love of their fellow man that out-Saroyans Saroyan.

I have a hunch that this attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well -- hot out of law school, hungry for success and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion. This bar sinister probably needled your attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us. Well, he won't get away with it! We'll fight him to the highest court! No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin and we'll remain friends till the last reel of "A Night in Casablanca" goes tumbling over the spool.

Groucho Marx
Supposedly, this letter puzzled the Warner Brothers legal department (given the sense of humor, or more accurately the lack thereof, of most corporate lawyers I've known, that isn't completely surprising), and they wrote back asking Groucho for a synopsis of the plot of A Night in Casablanca. Groucho's reply:
Dear Warners:

There isn't much I can tell you about the story. In it I play a Doctor of Divinity who ministers to the natives and, as a sideline, hawks can openers and pea jackets to the savages along the Gold Coast of Africa.

When I first meet Chico, he is working in a saloon, selling sponges to barflies who are unable to carry their liquor. Harpo is an Arabian caddie who lives in a small Grecian urn on the outskirts of the city.

As the picture opens, Porridge, a mealy-mouthed native girl, is sharpening some arrows for the hunt. Paul Hangover, our hero, is constantly lighting two cigarettes simultaneously. He apparently is unaware of the cigarette shortage.

There are many scenes of splendor and fierce antagonisms, and Color, an Abyssinian messenger boy, runs Riot. Riot, in case you have never been there, is a small night club on the edge of town.

There's a lot more I could tell you, but I don't want to spoil it for you. All of this has been okayed by the Hays Office, Good Housekeeping and the survivors of the Haymarket Riots; and if the times are ripe, this picture can be the opening gun in a new worldwide disaster.

Groucho Marx
In keeping with their earlier demonstrated lack of a sense of the absurd, supposedly the Warner's supposedly expressed puzzlement as to the the plot, and asked for further details. Groucho proceeded to fill them in again:
Dear Brothers:

Since I last wrote you, I regret to say there have been some changes in the plot of our new picture, "A Night in Casablanca." In the new version I play Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart. Harpo and Chico are itinerant rug peddlers who are weary of laying rugs and enter a monastery just for a lark. This is a good joke on them, as there hasn't been a lark in the place for fifteen years.

Across from this monastery, hard by a jetty, is a waterfront hotel, chockfull of apple-cheeked damsels, most of whom have been barred by the Hays Office for soliciting. In the fifth reel, Gladstone makes a speech that sets the House of Commons in a uproar and the King promptly asks for his resignation. Harpo marries a hotel detective; Chico operates an ostrich farm. Humphrey Bogart's girl, Bordello, spends her last years in a Bacall house.

This, as you can see, is a very skimpy outline. The only thing that can save us from extinction is a continuation of the film shortage.

Groucho Marx
Supposedly, the Warners' lawyers gave up at this point, and ceased their correspondence with Groucho. But Groucho is supposed to have gotten the last laugh. When the Warners Brothers Studio announced their plans to film a Cole Porter biopic, titled Night and Day, Groucho announced his intention to sue the Warners for infringement, alleging that this title infringed on the titles of their two classics, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

Len on 12.14.04 @ 07:30 PM CST

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