I was planning a little mother’s day tribute for Minnie Marx today, and behold! My Marxfest colleagues made this swell card!
Minnie (1865-1929) is a solid, cherished part of Marx Brothers lore. Whether she helped or hindered their career as their manager is a subject for debate. Probably a bit of both.The sister of successful vaudeville star Al Sheen, she stepped in to manage the teenage Julius (Groucho) after his first couple of show biz experiences resulted in him getting taken to the cleaners. She saw that Groucho was a good enough singer to get jobs and thus earn money. But he needed someone to help him earn more money — and to keep him from being swindled out of it. It was she who started the ball rolling on what would eventually become the Marx Brothers by sending Groucho and his little brother Milton (Gummo) to Ned Wayburn’s vaudeville school, and then teamed up with Wayburn to create the Three Nightingales, the act that evolved into the Marx Brothers. It was after Minnie broke with Wayburn that a long, dark night of small time least many years began. Still she nursed the act along, adding Adolph (Harpo) when a venue required a quartet, and even joined the act herself for a few months at one point. She was not a good-looking woman: she looked a lot like her sons Harpo and Chico. But I imagine she was funny. At the very least she was eccentric.
In time her oldest son Leonard (Chico) joined the act and gradually took over the management duties in an informal way. One of the last, best Minnie stories, concerns the opening night of the Marx Brothers first Broadway show I’ll Say She Is, when she, having broken her leg earlier that day, was carried grandly and proudly down the aisle in a cast and placed in her front row seat. She’d earned that attention. Minnie passed away shortly after the team’s first movie The Cocoanuts opened. Her passing marked a definite closing of a whole chapter of their lives.
Minnie was one of the all time great vaudeville stage mothers. To read about some others, go here.
For more on the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc