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Harpo Speaks! (Limelight) Paperback – July 1, 2004
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- ASIN : 0879100362
- Publisher : Limelight; 1st Limelight ed edition (July 1, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 482 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780879100360
- ISBN-13 : 978-0879100360
- Item Weight : 1.44 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.39 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #118,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Just to let you know, I read it in a car on a cross-country journey. When I was at the wheel and couldn't read, I thought about it.
Harpo was born in 1888 (Can you believe that long ago?) He was the second oldest child of Frenchie, a kind-hearted tailor who was good at many things except tailoring, and Minnie. Minnie was the driving force in the family. Her brother was a famous vaudevillian. So when her family needed money (Frenchie really was not a good tailor), she turned her boys into a vaudeville act. She was part of the act early on, and I think Gummo. But the lineup gelled with Chico (pronounced Chick-o, not Cheek-o), Harpo and Groucho, with youngest brother Zeppo added later and cast as the romantic, good-looking Marx in the earliest movies.
Harpo begins his story in the heated, loud atmosphere of turn-of-the-century New York. The streets were teeming with recent immigrants, among which were the older Marx family members. He really brings this era to life and there is an incredible scene in which he describes how the poor kids caught the Giants games from a hill.
Some of the best writing is devoted to his wonderfully quirky and loving family. Chico can't stay away from the chicks and the cards. Groucho has a fork for a tongue and a secret wish to be an author. Frenchie is bungling customer orders, but everyone likes him too much to make a fus. Minnie is holding the family together and making plans for the future.
Harpo is his own best character. He loves harp, is really tight with Chico and, when they finally start performing in vaudeville, gets booed when he delivers lines like lead balloons. That experience led him to develop the puckish mute persona familiar to fans of the movies.
There is too much in the book to waste your time telling you about it. How can you describe a book that is pure joy? But Harpo was there the early immigrant experience, the heyday of vaudeville, the first talkies, the golden years of Hollywood, the Roaring Twenties, the Algonquin Club, the Depression and the Cold War. He captures all of it with an insider's eye for anecdote.
One of the best scenes takes place on a boat in Oct. 1929 when he loses everything but his shirt in the stock market crash. He and the others with him play a game that gets referenced near the end of the book in a poignant and utterly happenstance reunion.
When Harpo died, his brothers felt a crushing loss. Those who knew him did because he was that rare light that made the world around him a brighter, warmer place. When I finished the book, I felt the sun go down inside me.
I have read biographies and memoirs by celebrities still living, and been completely turned off by their egotism and pointless name-dropping.
Harpo's love of the people he lived with, worked with, played games and gambled with feels honest. As a fan of Oscar Levant, I was touched by Harpo's accounts of the time they spent together. No one is perfect. No one is altogether sane, rational, or "normal."
The way he speaks of his wife is probably the only element I found a little odd, as if a lot was being left out, obscuring the full picture. Still, it's his book, his story, the way he wants to say it.
I'm just glad it's there for the rest of us to enjoy.
Much of the book is spent with Harpo talking about his experiences with all of his many acquaintances outside of the family. I was surprised and disappointed that he talked so little of his brothers or about all the movies he was part of after their vaudeville days. In addition, the timeline of his narrative is somewhat disjointed, jumping around without much of a linear flow; kind of like his act on stage . All in all, though Harpo does a great job with this autobiography. This is highly recommended to Marx Brothers fans.
Top reviews from other countries
The childhood of Harpo was not very fun but he makes it sound like it was, the years of misery as unknown artists are fun to read about but surely not fun, and the life as a celebrity (who happily was unrecognizable when normally dressed and without the wig) was fun but not really very serious. Lots of games, drinking and cigars which changed into a somewhat more serious family life when Harpo married and adopted lots of children. But had a golden heart and nice character and does not really have a bad word to say of anybody. Interestingly the brothers kept even together pretty well and did not much quarrel although they were very different. Even Karl Marx is mentioned positively although a possible relatedness is not mentioned (both came from the same part of Germany...). There is an interesting piece of news that the Marx square in New York does not come from Karl but from Harpo's uncle who was a crony of the city hall gang.
Harpo describes his life and the characters he has met along the way (particularly his family) with great wit and wry humour. The word-pictures he paints are so vivid, you could almost be there, living it yourself.
I recently purchased two more copies of Harpo Speaks, one for myself and one for my daughter (another fan) who lives abroad. If you are a Marx fan (and even if you aren't), do read it yourself, I'm sure you'd love it too.