View Full Version : Marx Brothers' farm
04-09-2009, 06:32 PM
I've come across varying details about the Marx Brothers buying a chicken farm somewhere in Chicago's southwest suburbs in 1917, apparently with some notion that with "farmer status" they could avoid the draft.
The most specific online reference I could find indicated that this farm was in LaGrange, or in what is now LaGrange, and that it was located somewhere around Route 66 and what is now LaGrange Road. Other sources mention Willow Springs and Countryside.
Any idea of exactly where this farm was located, and whether the draft-avoidance issue was really a reason for the family's purchase of this farm?
04-10-2009, 08:44 AM
I see this is mentioned in the Marx Brothers' Wikipedia entry; I wonder if it's new because I can't remember reading it before. One of the brothers, Gummo, did fight in World War I, but my understanding is that he volunteered.
All I can say for sure is that Harpo didn't write about this in his autobiography, but other posters on this board have told me his book isn't very accurate on a lot of historical details. It's a fun read, though. I don't recall any explanation for how the performing Marxes (aged 16, 26, 28 and 30 when the U.S. entered the war) otherwise continued performing.
Man With a Cat
04-19-2009, 07:12 PM
I'm not remembering where I read this, but I seem to recall rather strongly that when I read about this, I put the location as the NE corner of LaGrange Rd. and Joliet Road - more or less where the White Castle is now.
04-19-2009, 09:50 PM
I've done nothing more than search Google Books, but it appears that the original story comes from an autobiography by Kyle Crichton, in 1950. But I"m still looking.
04-20-2009, 08:32 PM
Stopped by the Akron U. library on the way home and read three books which give some insight.
The basic answer as to whether they bought the farm to avoid the draft--almost certainly. Groucho says almost this in interviews. But none of the books offer any clue as to the location except to say La Grange. Grouch said in one interview that he would have to leave the farm to go into the "village of La Grange" to buy things.
05-14-2009, 12:43 PM
Just happened to notice this question, but it's not really time-sensitive.
Rather than plow through the books I thought I'd check my old copies of The Freedonia Gazette, the Marx Brothers fan magazine of the 1980s. This is exactly the kind of trivia it would cover.
And sure enough, in issue 21, Winter 1988, I found "Catastrophe on the Farm." It's unsigned so it's probably by editor Paul Wesolowski, the foremost Marx Brothers expert in the universe. He deals with primary research, having gone through old newspapers to compile information about every performance the Brothers ever gave in vaudeville, for instance. And he found a reporter who did the same.
The Marx farm was located at the intersection of La Grange and Joliet roads. But Marx fans who have visited the site have always wondered which corner. Janna St. James, a columnist with The Suburban LIFE Citizen, recently visited the La Grange Courthouse and the Countryside City Hall. (The intersection is actually in Countryside.) By checking the records she was able to determine that the Marx farm was on the property north of Joliet Road and east of La Grange Road. Unfortunately, their farmhouse is no longer standing, a victim of commercial development.
And it was on this farm that Zeppo received his nickname. Nobody remembers why.
That's a problem with all Marx Brother stories. Stefan Kanfer's Groucho repeats the buying the farm to avoid a draft story. But Hector Arce's Groucho says that there was no farm exemption and that all the brothers except Gummo who were eligible for the draft failed their physicals for various reasons. Neither gives any evidence to back these claims up. Wesolowski's article was after Arce and before Kanfer. He gives the story as per Arce, that they bought the farm to help the war effort.
Google maps (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Countryside+IL+Joliet+and+La+Grange+Roads&sll=41.779069,-87.867912&sspn=0.001722,0.001695&ie=UTF8&ll=41.778609,-87.868148&spn=0.006889,0.006781&t=h&z=17&iwloc=A) on that intersection.
05-15-2009, 04:00 PM
FWIW, here's a a (cropped, resized) 1938 aerial photo image of the intersection.
From this website: http://www.isgs.uiuc.edu/nsdihome/webdocs/ilhap/
Here's a direct link to the original, full size uncropped image. Warning: it's HUGE--5500x7000 pixels, 30MB. SID format, browser or Irfanview plugin required to view. http://www.isgs.uiuc.edu/nsdihome/webdocs/ilhap/county/data/cook/flight14/0bwq09021.sid
Man With a Cat
05-18-2009, 01:20 PM
Ok, a gas station and a White Castle.....
Or is that redundant?
05-18-2009, 01:34 PM
Here (http://books.google.com.au/books?id=xmKupbjexmgC&pg=PA36&dq=la+grange+farm+marx) is some detailed Marx La Grange history.
05-18-2009, 11:29 PM
That's taken from The Marx Brothers Scrapbook, by Groucho and Richard J. Anobile, p. 39. Unfortunately, no edition of the book is available on Google Books even for that one page.
It's basically Groucho's tall tales and anecdotes, including the avoid the draft story. Arce's book came out six years later, he worked directly with Groucho on it, and he knew better than to take Groucho's memory at face value, to mix a metaphor. Who knows at this distance? Not Groucho.
"Fifty years ago? You expect me to remember what I did fifty years ago?
There's a great picture of Harpo, Gummo, Zeppo, and Groucho on the farm wear Mexican-style straw hats, though.
And after looking at Amazon I no longer regret paying what I did for a first edition.
05-19-2009, 03:03 PM
... an autobiography by Kyle Crichton ...Who?
05-19-2009, 05:07 PM
Sam meant biography. Crichton did the first ever Marx Brothers biography in 1950.
05-19-2009, 06:17 PM
Sam meant biography. Crichton did the first ever Marx Brothers biography in 1950. Thanks for covering my back. :)
01-19-2010, 12:26 PM
According to either Groucho or Harpo, sometime after the others got their names, Zeppo was dubbed after an act called "Zippo the Monk" because he ran around like the Chimp in the act.
I live in Countryside, GREAT to know the actual location of the farm. There ought to be a plaque on the White Hen.
Hope you've all read "Harpo Speaks". If you have you know where Exapno Mapcase got his sign-on name. Cheers buddy!
Also Hope you all caught "Animal Crackers" at Goodman Theatre last year.
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