Lobby card for Monkey Business (1931) with Chico (left) and Harpo (right).
Arthur “Harpo” Marx, born Adolph Marx, was an American comedian, actor, mime artist, and harpist, and the second oldest of the Marx Brothers. His comic style was visual, being an example of vaudeville, clown, and pantomime traditions. He wore a curly reddish-blond wig and was silent in all his movie appearances. Instead of speaking, he used props such as a horn cane constructed from a lead pipe, tape, and a bulbhorn.
Harpo was born in New York City, New York on November 23, 1888. He began his professional career in January 1910 when he joined two of his younger brothers, Julius (later “Groucho”) and Milton (later “Gummo”), to form “The Three Nightingales”, which would later be renamed “The Marx Brothers”. Harpo’s performances transcended mere comedic relief, resonating with audiences on a profound level. His intricate relationship with music is evident in his mastery of the harp — a unique instrument that harmoniously intertwined with his comedic routines.
In the dazzling realm of entertainment history, Harpo stands out as a luminary of unmatched brilliance — a cornerstone of the iconic Marx Brothers comedy team that left an indelible imprint on the comedic landscape. This ensemble of comedic virtuosos carved a niche that seamlessly melded laughter with a masterful display of diverse talents. Harpo etched his name into the annals of entertainment history as a master of physical comedy and musical virtuosity. A testament to Harpo’s intricate relationship with music lies in his mastery of the harp — a unique instrument that harmoniously intertwined with his comedic routines. However, few know about his secret role for the US government.
A Spy in Moscow
After the US established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1933, Harpo visited Moscow for six weeks on a goodwill tour. Unbeknownst to many, he also doubled as a secret courier. He smuggled documents from the US embassy under his pants, in a sealed envelope taped to his leg.
Harpo Marx had one unsupervised moment while in the Soviet Union — his visit to the American embassy. While there the ambassador asked him to smuggle documents back to the US. The ambassador didn’t explain the reason they couldn’t use the diplomatic pouch, and Harpo didn’t inquire about it.
Harpo boarded the train to return home. Upon reaching the border and seeing his co-passengers lining up for inspection, Harpo thought he was in trouble when he was escorted off the train and taken to the local office where his passport and possessions vanished. However, he was then unexpectedly indulged with a sumptuous feast by the officers, and his luggage was handled with utmost care became he was Grouch Mark after all.
Some have speculated that there’s more to the story and the real reason behind why Groucho went to the Soviet Union in the first place. Was he secretly working for the US government all along? We may never know. In any case, Harpo’s ability to blend in, thanks to his status as a comedian, made him an effective secret courier. His actions contributed to the complex web of espionage that characterized this period of geopolitical tension.
Harpo’s life serves as a reminder of the unexpected roles that individuals can play in shaping history. While he is remembered primarily for his contributions to comedy, his work as a spy was a testament to his versatility and commitment to his country. His story is a fascinating example of how the worlds of entertainment and international espionage can intersect.
History is often more intriguing than fiction, and Harpo’s life is a perfect example of this. His story serves as a testament to the fact that sometimes, the most effective spies are those who hide in plain sight. As we look back, we must remember the contributions of individuals like Harpo, who played a crucial role in the complex web of international relations during this pivotal time in history. Harpo Marx passed away in Los Angeles, California on September 28, 1964.
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