Harpo Marx had an answer for everything. He never uttered a word on film, but he could never be outdone. How I wish I had that ability!
Harpo received very little education. At school, bullies used to throw him out of the school window when the teacher wasn’t looking. Never deterred, Harpo would dust himself off and go back inside. Then, one day, he’d had enough and left school for good. Harpo, born Adolph Marx, later changed to Arthur, never looked back. Unlike the combative Groucho, there were no sharp edges on the childlike actor. He was a clown, in the good sense of the word. He also was a genius. Can you honestly watch Harpo in action and not say he knew something we didn’t? He didn’t have to speak. He had already figured it all out and was waiting for the rest of us to catch up.
What is not widely known is that this man, with a second grade education at best, was a member of the Algonquin Round Table. A collection of writers and wits, notably Alexander Woolcott and Dorothy Parker, Harpo was not to be outdone even in this setting. He has modestly said that his job was to be an audience for their quips. Can you honestly imagine him being outdone by anyone?
In a medium where everyone says a lot but doesn’t say very much, Harpo said a lot without saying anything. He was a mime when people demanded dialogue. He did everything we wanted to do. He communicated with everything and everyone because Harpo transcended language. So, next time you watch a Marx Brothers film, think about how many actors were doing what he was in the post silent film era. You will, no doubt, appreciate the man who played Faker, The Professor, Pinky, Punchy, and, of course, Harpo, all the more.