Classic Hollywood #67 – Chico Marx, Businessman & Gambler

Chico Marx Entertaining The Troops During World War II

U.S. Naval Air Station, Wold-Chamberlain Airport, Minneapolis, MN: Chico Marx was flying high back stage in the Orpheum Theater when three Aviation Cadets and one WAVE from the U.S. Naval Air Station called on him to make arrangements for his appearance at the Station Recreation Hall. Chico is bringing his entire show to the Air Station Tuesday to entertain the Naval Personnel. The Cadets are Lowell H. Conrow, Richard W. Hildebrand and Donald D. Bosold. The WAVE is Ensign Mary J. Withrow, USNR. Photo: U.S. Navy

When author Charlotte Chandler wrote her entertaining book about Groucho Marx, Hello I Must Be Going (Doubleday, 1978), it was mentioned by Groucho’s friends that someone should write or compile a book about Groucho’s eldest brother, Chico Marx.

Eventually a book was written about Chico by his daughter Maxine Marx. As interesting as that book is, it was not the sort of book that captured Chico’s flamboyant and incredible life.

Maxine had left out a good deal of the salacious parts of her father’s life by purposeful omission. Many other anecdotes were left out of her book simply because Maxine was unaware of them. There were hundreds of great stories known and shared only by show business veterans and insiders who Chico associated with, that went untold. Now those stories are lost forever, as all of Chico’s friends, contemporaries and acquaintances are long dead.

What is widely known is that Chico was a notorious womanizer and gambler who went through money as quickly as he made it or borrowed it.

Groucho famously said, “You know, somebody asked Chico how much money he lost gambling, and he said, ‘Find out how much money Harpo has. That’s how much money I lost.'”

The brothers had to bail Chico out countless times. There were even a couple of instances where had they not paid Chico’s debts, the gamblers he owed money to would have killed him.

Harpo wrote in Harpo Speaks! (Bernard Geis Associates, 1961) of his older brother when they were both teenagers, “Chico was a devout believer in the maxim, ‘Share and share alike.’ The way he shared my possessions was to hock them as fast as he got his hands on them, and then give the pawn tickets to me as my share.”

But as frustrating as it was to deal with Chico, everyone loved him.

Chico was generous to a fault, giving money (when he had any) or work to almost anyone who needed it. Chico was a mesmerizing piano player, a great pool player, a horse race enthusiast and champion caliber bridge and pinochle card player.

Chico was the brother who took charge of their business dealings and made the Marx Brothers famous. Chico found Joseph M. Gaites to produce their breakthrough Broadway smash, I’ll Say She Is in 1924. Chico developed their new deal with MGM and producer Irving Thalberg when it was thought the Marx Brothers motion picture career was over after being dropped by Paramount in 1933.

After the Marx Brothers movie career went into hiatus during World War II, Chico did what he could to aid the war effort. He regularly entertained the troops as seen in our undated photograph.

Chico Marx, was the first of the Marx Brothers to die at the age of 74 on October 11, 1961.

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