Harpo Trades in His Horn for a Pen

Turns out Harpo Marx isn’t a mute after all. Harpo Speaks! is the aptly yet obviously titled autobiography of Harpo Marx in which he (with help from Rowland Barber) regales us with his amusing history. I was worried about Harpo breaking his vow of public silence because how could he possibly compete with outspoken, well read and wildly witty Groucho? My concern was in vain because Harpo isn’t out to compete at all.
    The pantomime opens up about the Marxes’ poverty in their youth. Their father, Frenchie, a suit maker who couldn’t sew a decent suit but cooked like a dream; and their mother, Minnie, whose life’s calling was to manage her sons’ stage acts and happily remembers how the older Marxes kept spirits soaring no matter how dire situations seemed. He also divulges anecdotes about his adventures as a grade school drop out turned quasi vagrant on New York’s Upper East Side and introduces his brothers as he knew them, along with a number of memorable characters who inspired and entertained him.
    Forever the troublemaking gremlin he depicts in the movies, Harpo brags without shame of all those he ridiculed both in youth and adulthood. From members of the Algonquin Round Table to Gookie, the window cigar-roller whose unfortunately comedic face of concentration gave birth to Harpo’s infamous eyes wide-tongue out-cheeks puff face (obviously named “Gookie” and present in every Marx Brothers’ movie), none were exempt from Harpo’s high jinx.
    Though he is famous for being the silent clown, Harpo’s autobiography focuses less on his success. Since the story of his fame is so well known, Harpo opted not to bore us with what we already knew. Instead, he thrills and inspires envy from his readers by talking about meeting George Bernard Shaw in the nude, his brief stint as a spy, being repeatedly thrown out of a classroom window and marrying the love of his life. The entire book is a wonderful timeline shown in vignetted flashbacks starring Harpo himself. Not surprising for the Marx who preferred not to speak even out of costume, for that left plenty of time to listen and observe and Harpo Speaks! is a compilation of all those entertaining observations.
    Harpo shows himself as a self-taught man with pride in his abilities and gratitude for the people in his life, both good and bad. Harpo Speaks! may not tickle your intellect but it will tell you the stories of the pantomime’s life honestly and openly. We’ve waited many years for Harpo Marx to speak and we will not be disappointed with what he has to say.