The oldest Marx Brother: Cheeko or Chicko?

Jack Paar (on the Tonight Show): So, Oscar…what do you do for exercise?

Oscar Levant: I…stumble…and then I fall into a coma.

Mispronouncing, by all accounts, and he follows up by noting that Chico is “watching the chicks” in the audience.

I wonder if there was anybody at the time outside his personal circle who didn’t pronounce it Cheeko.

And man does he look uncomfortable, even before Clifton Fadiman starts riding him unmercifully. “Are you still living on Groucho’s money?” “Do you want to touch the women?” The answer was yes to both, probably, since he was a gambling addict who destroyed his family and a constant womanizer that left no woman safe, but nobody ever talked that way on 50s television.

It doesn’t matter. His real name was John Peter Wagner.

Right, but his family was German, and John in German is “Johannes.” His family called him “Hannes,” which (like Hans) is a German diminutive meaning “Johnny.”

I did not know that! (I’m glad they decided against using it; yikes.)

I think I know which one was “Chico”…but which one was “The Man”?

Well, are you actually tasting much potato after you slather sauce on it? Note that I’m all in favor of such slathering (although fries hot out of the oil with just salt are delicious also).

I’m also generally of the opinion that mashed potatoes mostly function as a way to transport gravy to my taste buds.

You say potato, I say … whatever you call it, eat it. Potato, potato, potato. Yum.

And what about his brother? Adolph or Arthur?

See Post #3.

Both. One until his early twenties; then the other.

It’s tricky. His given name was Adolph, prnonounced “AH-dolf.” His family called him “Addie” (pronounced “ODD-ie”).

Outsiders who heard that all thought his name was “Artie” and figured his real name was Arthur. And eventually, he adopted Arthur as his name (Hitler probably made that decision easier).

He changed his name way before Hitler. Robert Bader, in his monumental Four of the Three Musketeers, puts the legal change in 1911, although he had been using Arthur since 1909. The family was living in Chicago then, back when the act was called the Six Mascots. There also lived in Chicago Adolph Marks, a lawyer who worked for the theater owners and sued entertainers. Every actor hated him. The different spelling of the last name wasn’t enough. For one thing, newspapers frequently misspelled Marx as Marks, and Minnie sometimes billed them as Marks in order to disguise their true identities. In either case, Adolph took pains to disassociate himself from the other Adolph.

Not quite as colorful as the Hitler story, is it? Bader traces that to a 1970 article in Variety. As Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Except, of course, Twain didn’t say that. It just makes for a better story.

Cite for “John”? I can’t find one. As noted, he was Johannes - 'Hannes - Hon-us.

What about Groucho’s 1950s claim the family name was “Marreck” or “Marrex” and corrupted to “Marx” on immigration? The only book I have at hand is that autobiography making the claim, and there’s no substantiation in any online source. Does Bader address that?

Does he? Bader gives the genealogy not merely for every member of the Marx family on both sides, but of every person who ever lived with the Marxes. Or talked to them. Or saw one of their movies. It makes the opening chapters a bit slow.

But he traces Frenchie’s family back to 1803 in Alsace and the name always was Marx.

Just to put this out in public for my fellow Marxists, Bader book is one of four major Marx books to appear in the last year of so, after many years of nothing much happening.

Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage, by Robert Bader

The Annotated Marx Brothers: A Filmgoer’s Guide to In-Jokes, Obscure References and Sly Details, by Matthew Coniam

That’s Me, Groucho! The Solo Career of Groucho Marx, by Matthew Coniam

Gimme a Thrill: The Story of I’ll Say She Is, The Lost Marx Brothers Musical, and How It Was Found, by Noah Diamond

Groucho made up a detail? Shocking. Shocking, I tell you.