Adolph Arthur Marx, known as Harpo Marx, (November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964) was one of the Marx Brothers, a group of Vaudeville entertainers who later experienced tremendous success in making film comedies. His trademarks were that he never talked in any of the Marx brothers films, that he played the harp, and that he frequently used props in sight gags — for instance, when he is told in one film that he cannot burn a candle at both ends, he immediately produces a candle burning at both ends from inside his coat.
In January of 1910, Harpo joined two of his brothers to form "The Three Nightingales". When the Marx Brothers were playing in vaudeville, Harpo was inspired to develop his "silent" routine after reading a review of one largely ad-libbed performance. The theater critic wrote, "Adolph Marx performed beautiful pantomime which was ruined whenever he spoke".
Harpo got his stage name during a card game: the dealer called him "Harpo" because he played the harp. His other brothers were given names to match their personalities or hobbies; his brother Leonard became "Chicko" (Chico) because he was always chasing women ("chicks"), and his brother Milton became "Gummo".
He taught himself to play the harp, and played it in an unconventional manner with an idiosyncratic tuning of the strings. While he later learned that he did not play the instrument in the accepted manner, his fame with the instrument drew musicians from all around to learn his style.
Harpo changed his name to Arthur shortly before World War I. There was a great deal of anti-German sentiment in America during the first World War, and he thought Adolph sounded "too German".
Harpo was good friends with theater critic Alexander Woollcott and because of this became a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table. Harpo, who was quiet in his personal life, said his main contribution was to be the audience of that group of wits.
In 1955, Harpo made a memorable appearance on Lucille Ball's popular sitcom, I Love Lucy, in which they re-enacted the famous mirror scene from the classic Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup.
In 1961, Harpo published his autobiography, Harpo Speaks. In it he tells one story of a man who didn't believe he could actually talk. Many people believed he was actually mute. In fact, recordings of his voice can be found on the internet, documentaries, and on bonus materials of Marx Brothers DVDs. In one story, he had a fairly distinguished voice like a professional announcer, though he did have a New York accent his entire life (for example: "girls" he would pronounce "goils.")
On September 28, 1964, Harpo died after open heart surgery.
Credits: Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database Inc.