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Jewish Biography --> Biographies --> List of Jews --> Marx Brothers
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Leonard Marx, known as Chico, (March 22, 1887 – October 11, 1961) was one of the Marx Brothers.[1]

He was originally nicknamed Chicko due to his reputation as a ladies man, or a "chicken chaser" in the popular slang of the day. A typesetter accidentally dropped the "k" in his name and it became Chico. It was still pronounced [t??ko?] although those who were unaware of its origin tended to pronounce it [?i?ko?]. Radio recordings from the 1940s exist where announcers and fellow actors mispronounce the nickname, but Chico apparently felt it was unnecessary to correct them. As late as the 1950s, even Groucho used the wrong pronunciation for comedic effect. A guest on You Bet Your Life told the quizmaster she came from Chico, California and Groucho responded that he had a brother named "Cheek-oh." (Chico can sometimes be spotted in cutaways to the studio audience, out of character and costume.)

Acting career

Marx used an Italian accent for his on-stage character; stereotyped ethnic characters were common with Vaudeville comedians. All the Marx brothers at some point in their careers performed "dialect characters," but Chico was the only one to continue this into their films.

The obvious fact that he was not really Italian was referenced twice on film. In their second feature, Animal Crackers, he recognizes someone he knows to be a shady character, impersonating a respected art collector:

Chico: "How did you get to be Roscoe W. Chandler?"
Chandler: "How did you get to be Italian?"
Chico: "Never mind—whose confession is this?"

In A Night at the Opera, which begins in Italy, his character, Fiorello, claims to not be Italian, eliciting a surprised look from Groucho:

Driftwood: "Well, things certainly seem to be getting better around the country."
Fiorello: "Well, I wouldn't know about that; I'm a stranger here myself."

Chico was a talented pianist. He originally started playing with only his right hand and fake playing with his left, as his teacher did so herself. Chico eventually got a better teacher and learned to play the piano correctly. As a young boy, he would get jobs playing piano to earn money for the Marx family. Sometimes Chico would even get work playing in two places at the same time. He would acquire the job with his piano-playing skills, work for a few nights, and then substitute Harpo on one of the jobs. (During their boyhood, Chico and Harpo looked so much alike they were often mistaken for each other.)

In the brothers' last film, Love Happy, Chico plays a piano and violin duet with "Mr. Lyons" (Leon Belasco). Lyons plays some ornate riffs on the violin; Chico comments, "Look-a, Mister Lyons, I know you wanna make a good impression, but please—don't-a play better than me!"

In a record album about the Marx Brothers, narrator Gary Owens stated that "although Chico's technique was limited, his repertoire was not." The opposite was true of Harpo, who reportedly could only play two tunes on the piano, which typically thwarted Chico's scam and resulted in both brothers being fired.

Groucho Marx one time said that Chico never practiced the pieces he played. Before performances he would soak his fingers in hot water before going on instead. He was known for "shooting" the keys of the piano. As part of the act he would play passages with his thumb up and index finger straight — like a gun (he appears in the film A Year to Remember (1948) playing an extraordinary "shooting" version of the famous Australian song Waltzing Matilda to a group of Australian soldiers). Another charming example of his keyboard flamboyance is found in A Night at the Opera. He captivates a group of children whose faces light up with his digital acrobatics. The looks of glee on their faces is reminiscent of Alfred Eisenstaedt's "Children at Puppet Theatre", an example of pure childhood pleasure, and suggests that they were not acting.

Chico became manager of the Marx Brothers after their mother, Minnie, died. [1] As manager he cut a deal to get the Marx Brothers a percentage of a film's gross receipts — the first of its kind in Hollywood. Furthermore, it was Chico's connection with Irving Thalberg of MGM which led to Thalberg's signing the Brothers when they were in a career slump after Duck Soup (1933), made at Paramount Pictures.

For a while in the 1930s and 1940s Chico led a big band. Singer Mel Tormé began his professional career singing with the Chico Marx Orchestra.

Chico Marx was a compulsive womanizer, and had a lifelong gambling habit. His addiction cost him millions of dollars by his own account. When an interviewer asked him how much money he'd lost from gambling, he answered, "Find out how much money Harpo's got. That's how much I've lost." Gummo Marx, in an interview years after Chico's death, said, "Chico's favorite people were actors who gambled, producers who gambled, and women who screwed." Chico's lifelong gambling addiction compelled him to continue in show business long after his brothers had retired in comfort from their Hollywood income, and in the early 40s he found himself playing in the same small, cheap halls in which he had begun his career 30 years previously.


The Marx Brothers' second-to-last film, A Night in Casablanca was made for Chico's benefit. Because of his gambling, the brothers finally took the money as he earned it and put him on an allowance, on which he stayed until his death.

He had a reputation as a world-class pinochle player. His brother Groucho said Chico would throw away good cards (with the knowledge of spectators) to make the play "more interesting." Chico's last public appearance was in 1960, playing cards on a television show, Celebrity Bridge. He and his partner lost the game, but it did not seem to bother him at all.

Death

Chico died on October 11, 1961 from cardiovascular disease, aged 74. He is entombed in a crypt in the Freedom Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. Chico's younger brother, Gummo, is in a crypt across the hall from him.[1]

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