Harpo Plays! ► Monday Musical Appreciation

He never said a word in the movies, but Harpo Marx never had a problem getting his point across. At a time when Talkies were all the rage, Harpo remained gloriously mute.

Adolph Marx — he later changed his name to Arthur  — was born on this day in 1888, the 2nd oldest of the 5 Marx Brothers. With his older brother Chico (Leonard) and his younger brother Groucho (Julius), The Marx Brothers became one of the greatest comedy teams of all time. [Gummo never appeared with his brothers on film and Zeppo left after the first five.]

Much to Groucho’s regret, because he was considered the “smart one,” Harpo was a member in good standing of The Algonquin Round Table, an exclusive club that included such notables as Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross (The New Yorker editor), Robert E. Sherwood, Alexander Woollcott, Tallulah Bankhead, and Noel Coward.

However, it’s not Harpo’s mime shtick or his intelligence Not Now Silly wants to commemorate today; it’s his harp playing, for which he got his nickname. According to the WikiWackyWoo:

Harpo gained 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.[5][6] He learned how to hold it properly from a picture of an angel playing a harp that he saw in a five-and-dime.
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.[citation needed]
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 spent their time listening to him, fascinated by the
way he played.[6]

Here are some of Harpo’s greatest musical performances:

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.