May 24, 2007
On this day in 1929, the first full-length Marx Brothers film, Cocoanuts, opened. (A silent short, Humor Risk, had been made prior to 1929, but had not been released.) Cocoanuts starred the four Marx Brothers, Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton, and Margaret Dumont. It had been a fairly successful stage musical, and was one of the first stage musicals to be reproduced for film.
The Marx Brothers were born in New York City, the sons of Jewish immigrants from Germany. They were a musical family, starting out in their Uncle Al's vaudeville troupe, and soon progressing to form their own troupe. Originally, they were a musical act, until a runaway mule outside the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas provoked a few annoyed ad libs from Groucho. When the audience responded enthusiastically, the troupe realized they had potential as a comedy act.
They were one of the country's most popular theatrical acts during the 1920's. They had transitioned successfully from vaudeville to the Broadway stage. It was really no surprise when they decided to try their hand at making a "talkie".
They were not particularly pleased with the results, however. When they saw the final cut of Cocoanuts, they disliked it so much that they attempted to buy back the rights, in order to prevent its release.
Photo: The 4 Marx Brothers. From top: Leonard, Arthur, Julius, and Herbert. (You may know them better as Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo.)
Photograph by Ralph F. Stitt, Public Domain
The other Marx Brother was Gummo (Milton), who left the group to join the army during World War I. "Anything is better than being an actor!"