The Marx Brothers were a successful sibling comedy act who appeared on Broadway, in film, and, toward the end of their careers, television. The most successful line up consisted of brothers Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and (sometimes) Zeppo. A fifth brother, Gummo, took part in early stage shows, but later went into behind the scenes work before the act became famous.
Originally the Marx Brothers were a singing group ("The Nightingales"), but the act quickly became a variety show, with each brother taking part in comic sketches and/or showcasing his musical instrument of choice. As the act developed, the brothers created distinct stage personae, and in most instances would portray that persona regardless of their character in the play, sketch, or film in question.
Julious Henry "Groucho" Marx (1890 - 1977) portrayed a cigar waggling conman with a greasepaint moustache and a natty black suit. His trademark was punning, which ranged from the simple to the ribald: "I'm gonna take you down and show you our cemetery. I've got a waiting list of fifty people down at that cemetery just dying to get in it." He was also noted for socially satirical wordplay, as in the film Monkey Business (1931):
|“|| Madame Swempski: I don't like this innuendo.
Groucho: That's what I always say: love flies out the door when money comes innuendo.
Arthur Marx (1888 - 1964) portrayed a clownish mute, and never spoke on either stage or film. He usually dressed in a trench coat, top hat, and a bright red wig. He carried a bicycle horn, and would often sidle up to a person and have them hold his leg up. His stage name was "Harpo", a name derived from his mastery of the harp, of which much of his playing was incorporated in their stage plays and films.
Leonard Marx (1887 - 1961) the oldest of the brothers and the last to join the act, played the part of a seedy Italian con man, and was usually paired as Harpo's partner and "translator" to his brother's many silent gags. He competed in wordplay with Groucho and played piano, sometimes ending a glissando by "shooting" the last note with his index finger. Leonard was nicknamed "Chico" (pronounced "CHICK-o", not "CHEEK-o"), due to his off-stage penchant for flirting with women.
Chico's "ancestry" became a running gag in the Marx Brothers' act: for example, in the film Animal Crackers Groucho turns to Chico and asks, "When did you become Italian?"
Herbert Manfred "Zeppo" Marx (1901 - 1979) played the group's straight man and occasional romantic lead, though on stage he understudied for Groucho, and was considered just as capable a comedian as his siblings.  Zeppo eventually left the group and ran a company that produced parts for the war effort; his engineering background would make him a millionaire.
Milton "Gummo" Marx (1892 - 1977) never took part in any of the acts; he worked behind the scenes (primarily as a theatrical agent), and later in business.
From vaudeville to film
Beginning with 1929's The Cocoanuts and followed in 1930 with Animal Crackers, the Marx Brothers took to the screen for a series of long-running and widely acclaimed musical comedies. Their 1933 Duck Soup, which took potshots at the tin pot dictatorships of prewar Europe, is frequently rated one of the greatest comedies of all time--and one of the major anti-war films of the 1930s., although it opened to critical and commercial failure at the time of its release.
While Groucho, Harpo, and Chico's characters translated easily to the cinematic medium, Zeppo's straight-man did not fare as well. Audiences did not respond to his light touch, preferring more slapstick comedy. Zeppo had also grown bored with the role, and after the success of Duck Soup, left the act for good.
The three Marx Brothers made a few more films with MGM, such as A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, but the quality of their work began to falter, and the act was essentially defunct by the 1950s. The brothers made one last appearance together on film with cameos in Irwin Allen's The Story of Mankind.
- Humor Risk (1921) (Believed lost)
- The Cocoanuts (1929, Paramount)
- Animal Crackers (1930, Paramount)
- The House That Shadows Built (1931, Paramount)
- Monkey Business (1931, Paramount)
- Horse Feathers (1932, Paramount)
- Duck Soup (1933, Paramount)
- A Night at the Opera (1935, MGM)
- A Day at the Races (1937, MGM)
- Room Service (1938, RKO)
- At the Circus (1939, MGM)
- Go West (1940, MGM)
- The Big Store (1941, MGM)
- A Night in Casablanca (1946, United Artists)
- Love Happy (1949, United Artists)
- The Story of Mankind (1957, Warner Bros.)
- Manfred Marx (1886 - 1886) - Find a Grave Memorial, Find a Grave. Retrieved December 18, 2008.
- Nightingales and Mascots, Marxology. Retrieved December 18, 2008.
- Monkey Business (1931), Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 18, 2008.
- Why a Duck?, www.marx-brothers.org. Retrieved December 18, 2008.
- Memorable quotes for Monkey Business (1931), IMDB. Retrieved December 18, 2008.
- Born "Adolph", having changed his name in 1911.
- Zeppo Marx, www.marx-brothers.org. Retrieved December 18, 2008.
- The Marx Brothers: A Bio-Bibliography, Google Books. Retrieved December 18, 2008.
- Duck Soup (1930), filmsite.org. Retrieved January 18 2009.