Harpo the Family Man

My dad never really had a "first childhood." Despite his adventures, life in 179 East 93rd Street was pretty brutal. The family never had any money and there were always too many relatives... and mouths... to feed.

When my Dad got a little older, he was running across country with his brothers, staying in fleabag hotels and traveling in rickety railroad cars in vaudeville. Often he'd perform for audiences that were happy to laugh at him onstage... and happy to discriminate against him offstage. (Not only were he and his brothers lowly actors... they were also Jewish at a time when anti-Semitism was the rule, not the exception.)

By the time he settled down with my mom and started raising a family, he was in his fifties and financially secure enough not to have to work every day. And so he spent a lot of his time playing with... and getting to know... his kids. And this became his "second childhood."

My dad was the most child-like adult I've ever known. Not "child-ish" - an unattractive quality that suggests a certain selfish insensitivity. That wasn't Dad at all. No, he took the world in the way a child does - with lots of wonder and very little judgment.... with the delight of someone for whom everything is new and delightful. The great comedy parodist of song, Allan Sherman, wrote in his autobiography, A GIFT OF LAUGHTER, "Harpo Marx had the good sense to never grow up".

Dad once told a friend he wanted to have as many kids as he had front windows in our house on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills... so that he could see them waiving at them when he got home from work. It's still a nice image.

My mom remembers waking up one night to find herself alone in bed. She searched the house to find out where my dad was. She looked into my 4-year-old sister, Minnie's room and found him in there, on the floor, playing jacks with her. He had insomnia, needed some action and decided to wake her up and play with her. (Despite the fact that it was 3 in the morning, she was delighted.)

In Dad's autobiography, HARPO SPEAKS, he mentions a list of rules we Marxes lived by. It wasn't a gag - Dad really did live by those rules and expected us to do the same. It wasn't that hard - his rules were all about being true to yourself and doing what was best for yourself. My Mom, my brothers, my sister and I, we learned so much from him. Not stuff he taught us - but stuff we learned by watching how he lived.

We only had him for a short time - I was 27 when he died and I'm the oldest - but the impression he made is still as strong now as it was when I was a kid and he and Mom were my whole world.

Harpo Marx Family Rules
1 Life has been created for you to enjoy, but you won't enjoy it unless you pay for it with some good, hard work. This is one price that will never be marked down.
2 You can work at whatever you want to as long as you do it as well as you can and clean up afterwards and you're at the table at mealtime and in bed at bedtime.
3 Respect what the others do. Respect Dad's harp, Mom's paints, Billy's piano, Alex's set of tools, Jimmy's designs, and Minnie's menagerie.
4 If anything makes you sore, come out with it. Maybe the rest of us are itching for a fight, too.
5 If anything strikes you as funny, out with that, too. Let's all the rest of us have a laugh.
6 If you have an impulse to do something that you're not sure is right, go ahead and do it. Take a chance. Chances are, if you don't you'll regret it - unless you break the rules about mealtime and bedtime, in which case you'll sure as hell regret it.
7 If it's a question of whether to do what's fun or what is supposed to be good for you, and nobody is hurt whichever you do, always do what's fun.
8 If things get too much for you and you feel the whole world's against you, go stand on your head. If you can think of anything crazier to do, do it.
9 Don't worry about what other people think. The only person in the world important enough to conform to is yourself.
10 Anybody who mistreats a pet or breaks a pool cue is docked a months pay.

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