Harpo Marx - in Other Media

In Other Media

In 1933, following U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union, he spent six weeks in Moscow as a performer and goodwill ambassador. His tour was a huge success. Harpo claimed he was billed as Exapno Mapcase. During this time he served as a secret courier; delivering communiques to and from the US embassy in Moscow at the request of Ambassador William Christian Bullitt, Jr., smuggling the messages in and out of Russia by taping a sealed envelope to his leg beneath his trousers, an event described in David Fromkin's 1995 book In the Time of the Americans. In Harpo Speaks, Marx describes his relief at making it out of the Soviet Union, recalling how "I pulled up my pants, ripped off the tape, unwound the straps, handed over the dispatches from Ambassador Bullitt, and gave my leg its first scratch in ten days."

The Russia trip was later memorialized in a bizarre science fiction novella, The Foreign Hand Tie by Randall Garrett, a tale of telepathic spies which is full of references to the Marx Brothers and their films.

In 1936, he was one of a number of performers and celebrities to appear as caricatures in the Walt Disney Production of Mickey's Polo Team. Harpo was part of a team of polo-playing movie stars which included Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. His mount was an ostrich. Walt Disney would later have Harpo (with Groucho and Chico) appear as one of King Cole's "Fiddlers Three" in the Silly Symphony Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.

Harpo was also caricatured in Sock-A-Bye Baby (1934), an early episode of the Popeye cartoon series created by Fleischer Studios. Harpo is playing the harp, and wakes up Popeye's baby, and then Popeye kills him. (After Popeye hits him, a halo appears over his head and he floats to the sky.)

Friz Freleng's 1936 Merrie Melodies cartoon The Coo-Coo Nut Grove caricatures Harpo and gives him a red beak. When he first appears, he is chasing a woman, but the woman later turns out to be Groucho.

Harpo also took an interest in painting, and a few of his works can be seen in his autobiography. In the book, Marx tells a story about how he tried to paint a nude female model, but froze up because he simply did not know how to paint properly. The model took pity on him, however, showing him a few basic strokes with a brush, until finally Harpo (fully clothed) took the model's place as the subject and the naked woman painted his portrait.

In 1955, Harpo made an appearance on the sitcom I Love Lucy, in which they re-enacted the famous mirror scene from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup (1933). In this scene, they are both supposed to be Harpo, not Groucho; he stays the same and Lucille Ball is dressed as him. About this time, he also appeared on NBC's The Martha Raye Show.

Harpo recorded an album of harp music for RCA Victor (Harp by Harpo, 1952) and two for Mercury Records (Harpo in Hi-Fi, 1957; Harpo at Work, 1958).

Marx made a number of television appearances in the 1960s. In 1960, he appeared with Ernest Truex in an episode of The DuPont Show with June Allyson entitled "A Silent Panic". Marx plays a deaf-mute who, as a "mechanical man" in a department store window, witnesses a gangland murder. In 1961, he made guest appearances on The Today Show, Play Your Hunch, Candid Camera, I've Got a Secret, Here's Hollywood, Art Linkletter's House Party, Groucho's quiz show You Bet Your Life, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Your Surprise Package.

In 1962 he guest-starred with Carol Burnett in an installment of the DuPont Show of the Week entitled "The Wonderful World of Toys". The show was filmed in Central Park and featured Marx playing "Autumn Leaves" on the harp. A visit to the set inspired poet Robert Lowell to compose a poem about Marx.

Marx's two final television appearances came less than a month apart in the fall of 1962. He portrayed a guardian angel on CBS's The Red Skelton Show on September 25. He guest starred as himself on October 20 in the episode "Musicale" of ABC's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a sitcom starring Fess Parker, based on the 1939 Frank Capra film.

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