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Harpo Speaks!

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  2,182 ratings  ·  237 reviews

"This is a riotous story which is reasonably mad and as accurate as a Marx brother can make it. Despite only a year and a half of schooling, Harpo, or perhaps his collaborator, is the best writer of the Marx Brother. Highly recommended." -Library Journal

"A funny, affectionate and unpretentious autobiography done with a sharply professional assist from Rowland Barber." -Ne

Paperback, 482 pages
Published July 1st 2004 by Limelight Editions (first published January 1st 1961)
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Sep 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'm currently obsessed with the Marx Brothers, which is somewhat significant because only a month ago they kind of terrified me. Well, actually... it was mostly Harpo Marx, the mute, curly-wigged, trenchcoated one who tapped into my deep-seated fear of clowns.

Fear of clowns isn't itself very remarkable. It's pretty common, from what I can tell, but my phobia really got turbo-charged in my early adolescence from watching WGN of Chicago's The Bozo Show, which was a weekday morning nightmare-a-tho
Paul Wallis
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a cure for death. You simply wouldn't die until you found out what happened to Harpo after the Irish kids kept throwing him out of his grade school window.

This book is NOT about Harpo the movie star. It's about Harpo the human being, and it has depths that no amount of superficial glitz could ever reach. The humor is way beyond the movies. Even his movie alter ego would be cracking up.

The story starts with poverty, and lots of it to spread around. This is a type of poverty everyon
Betsie Jones
Jan 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is my desert island book. I often pull it out when I'm feeling blue. In fact, I think I loaned out my current copy to a friend. Time to buy another copy, my third. This time I'll get one for me and one for loaning.
The stories in this book are often difficult, as his tour to Russia in WWII speaks volumes, but they are also uplifting, as in the household rules his family made for each other. All his kids were adopted, and their favorite bedtime story was about how their parents, Harpo and Su
Jun 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of the most thoroughly enjoyable books I have ever read. Neck and neck with Styron's Darkness Visible in terms of favorite memoirs.
Ben Essner
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in learning what life in show business was like in the early 20th century.
Harpo Marx, (born Adolf, but early in the 20th century changed to Arthur) who never spoke onstage or onscreen, proves to be surprisingly eloquent in his writing. Although, perhaps it's not that surprising, given the crowd he became associated with as an adult. A member of the reputed Algonquin Roundtable, he spent many nights listening to the literary giants of the age unwind and just be themselves. Hanging out with people like Alexander Woolcott and George S. Kaufman, it makes sense that he'd p ...more
Scott Krause
Jan 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Groucho was my favorite Marx brother when I was a kid, but as I got older I discovered what a sweetheart Harpo was and what a prick Groucho could be. This is still one of my favorite film biographies, and my hardcover edition is a prized possession. When you're done with the book, find a recording of Jonathan Richman singing "When Harpo Played his Harp" (equally affecting in English or Spanish).
Jul 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is the best autobiography I've ever read.

Harpo Marx is a man famous for not speaking, who describes himself as a professional listener, and yet he somehow became far more eloquent and cutting than his brother Groucho, a man reputed as the mouth and wit not only of the family, but possibly of the century.

Harpo Speaks covers the whole of Harpo's life, from his childhood in New York city, where he played piano in a whorehouse, to his beginnings in vaudeville and subsequent friendships with so
Sherwood Smith
I read this first when I was eighteen, and could get to L.A. Public, downtown. Then I reread it during my Hollywood years, before the Hollywood library burned down.

It's very g-rated--unlike the Marx brothers' lives--but somehow that rings true for Harpo. He seems to have been a genuinely good person, even escaping some of the darker shenanigans at Wits End, perpetrated by Woolcott, when he was the Emperor of the Algonquin Round Table. I suspect Woolcott had a crush on him.

Anyway, the part that h
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read a lot of biography and autobiography. I love it dearly--two of my favorite genres. I can honestly say of all the film bios and autbios I have read , this is the best. My most favorite. I love Harpo Marx--my dear friend Lee hipped me to the Marx Bros. many years ago and I of course loved Groucho's wit and Chico and Harpo's antics but when I saw Harpo play the harp, it was a whole new thing. I just fell in love. I started to notice all the musical parts in their films and just watched and w ...more
What to say? I think, for a man who never spoke on stage or in the movies during his career, sure has a lot to say in his autobiography. This probably will be, the best book I well read this year or maybe in many years to come. It sure beats any book I have read in a long time. This story, being if its real or not, (since this is coming from a Marx brother,) it sure is an amazing story. It grips you in from the very beginning with, an 8 year old boy being thrown out of his second grade classroom ...more
Jul 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What can you say about this book? Well, what can you say about Harpo Marx?

He was an uncommon comedian whose talent has yet to be matched. Finally getting a chance to speak, Harpo gives a lengthy but infinitely worthwhile account of his life. He is, in many ways, as endearingly childlike and mischievious in his writing as his on-screen persona, but in many ways he is also alarmingly eloquent.

He provides insight as well as laughs, real history (as he remembers it) as well as zany anecdotes worthy
Lee Battersby
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An utter delight. One of the most charming, enjoyable autobiographies I've ever read, made more so by being about pretty much everything *except* for the Marx Brothers' film career. Filled with self-deprecating humour, and running the gamut from early grinding poverty through the long, hard years on the vaudeville circuit, to the freedom of movement and education afforded him by success, Harpo gives us a wonderfully human insight into the life outside of fame, and his personal journey from a pla ...more
Lainie Fefferman
Jul 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all living things.
my bible. we should all learn from the joy and wisdom of this book. a complete pleasure from start to finish. beware of unavoidable giggling and grinning.
May 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a fun and funny book, although I would have been happier with it if an editor had left long descriptions of card games on the cutting room floor. I was also surprised at how little was devoted to the Marx brothers movies, which were often barely mentioned.
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I first read this book in my first year at college ( Fall 1977-78). Loved it then. Spent many years wondering if I'd ever come across it again. So I broke down and bought it paperback from Amazon. I really took my time enjoying every page. A true classic. One of the very best books I've ever read. Honk-honk !
Pauleen Fell
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My favourite book of all time !! Loved loved loved it
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I became interested in Harpo Marx when I ran across this quote (attributed to him by George Burns): "I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows in my house. So when I leave for work, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye."

Someone like that, I told myself, would be worth knowing. So I picked up the autobiography.
It offers a wealth of information on:

- average life in NYC in the 1900s (unsurprisingly not that great. And those ELECTIONS! talk about an experience)
- the glitzy, glamo
Feb 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rated this book a four. It is neither a cut and paste of tired anecdotes nor a tell all with a depth of personal detail. There is little or none of the inside story on their plays or movies. And I wonder what younger readers may make of the many show business characters that were Harpo's friends and are dead these 30 years or more. An excellent caricature of Wollcott is preserved in the movie, The Man Who Came To Dinner, and I certainly enjoyed the section on Oscar Levant who I enjoyed many a ...more
Samantha Glasser
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The title is just as clever as the man himself. Harpo, the silent clown of the Marx Brothers movies, finally gets to tell his own story after years of witnessing the antics of some of the most famous people of his time. Adolph "Harpo" Marx grew up in the poor Jewish slums of New York, quit school in 2nd grade, and proceeded to become one of the most famous and lovable faces of the movies. He led a colorful life influenced by his four famous brothers and the people he associated himself with. His ...more
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!! (and have)
I loved this book from page one. Even though its a rather thick novel, I am so sad to say goodbye to Harpo, but can't wait to read it again and again. There has been some discussion whether the genius of this book comes from the author or Harpo, or a combined effort. I suspect Harpo is due a little more credit than he is given. Since he was a comic entertainer, and (from what the book reveals) a sought after storyteller, I suspect a lot of the words a genuinely his. Especially since there is a l ...more
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
I'm not much of a reader of biographies (or any sort of non-fiction), and when I do pick them up, they usually take me a long, long while to read.

I read this one in just a little bit more than 24 hours. That's how good it is. Harpo led a truly fascinating life, and wrote about it with humor, poignancy, and a great deal of whimsy. I was completely transported from almost page one, and I was extraordinarily sad to find myself at the end of the book- I could have kept reading for another 400 pages,
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It's Harpo Marx' (of the Marx Brothers) autobiography. It's full of humorous stories that happened in his life, by somebody who spent his life making people laugh. I liked it because it was personal and touching. He told the story of how he became famous, after starting out life very, very poor and then after age 40, settling down to marry and have children. It was just fun to read about his life.

If you like reading about the rich and famous, you'll love this book. Harpo name-
Mar 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I loved this book. An amazing life and very well written. Anyone interested in the challenging life of a poor child growing up in New York city with unusual though loving parents, living in a Jewish neighborhood surrounded other ethnic neighborhoods, and as a tiny child, dodging the neighboring Irish bullies on the streets as well as in school (he dropped out in the second grade as a result). He and his brothers were pushed into show business by their mother (who had aspirations of her own) The ...more
As a long-time Marx Bros. fan, I’ve always been partial to Groucho, the most outspoken of the brothers. After reading this, I developed a crush on Harpo, who never spoke on stage. Loved this book for many reasons: his unpretentious style, how he developed his talent, the inside scoop on NYC and Hollywood shenanigans, and the fact that he was generous and kind--he and his wife adopted four children. He was part of the Algonquin Round Table and spent time with many stars, writers and artists, incl ...more
K De
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Harpo Marx was a wonderful man and a comedic genius. Harpo's autobiography shows the wit, kindness, and grace that are hallmarks of his personality. From his childhood to vaudeville to having a successful Broadway and Hollywood career did not leave him cynical about the way the world treats individuals.

He became a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table during the 1920's and was befriended by theater critic Alexander Woollcott. They had many adventures together including visiting France toget
Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
I don't get it. I do get the Marx Brothers, and I do get the humor, and I do (mostly) get Harpo, even though he's my third favorite (yes, Chico, you actually come in second), but why do so many people love this book ? Is it because they just want to hear Harpo 'say' something ? Because most of what he has to say here is pretty tedious, I'm sorry to say. I completely understand that everyone found him to be the most delightful and lovely man, but I longed for more on how he felt about his movies, ...more
Kari Gritzan
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all time favorite books. I scrimped and saved and bought the hardback in the late 70s, when I was about 13. I was obsessed with the Marx Brothers. I found the book in a used bookshop in Santa cost me $25! A lot to a preteen back then. It was my bible. Honestly. Anything to do with Harpo and his friends ... I was all about it. I haven't read it in years, but remember it so fondly. I'll have to re-read it one of these days. I hate to spoil my young memories, though. ...more
Jan 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any Marx Brothers fan.
Shelves: biography
A great insight into both Harpo and his family. Their on-screen (and on-stage) nuttiness was just a replay of their real life.
I love that he avoids ripping anyone apart. If he has something really bad to say about someone, he doesn't name them by name. A great mixture of anecdotes, and insight into the people who influenced his life. It helps you realize the true genius of both Hapro and his brothers, without any bluster.
A book that caused me to learn, reflect, and laugh - a wonderful mixture.
Chelsea Rebman
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. As a long time fan, this book offered a fascinating glimpse into the life of the silent Marx brother. From being literally thrown out of school in the second grade to being a part of the Algonquin Roundtable, Harpo experienced many interesting things and met many interesting people. This biography is a touching look at Harpo's life. I recommend it for fans and those who are new to the Marx brothers.
Oct 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
The mute Marx brother speaks in this autobiography! He had such an fascinating life and was such a loved and loveable person. What I took from this was to enjoy life and take myself a little less seriously. I also loved how he was a really good friend. His actions have taught me how to be a better friend. I find myself asking, "What would Harpo do?" Harpo would call, or take time to chat or do something silly and fun.
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“(The most fascinating performer I knew in those days was a dame named Metcalfe who was a female female impersonator: To maintain the illusion and keep her job, she had to be a male impersonator when she wasn’t on. Onstage she wore a wig, which she would remove at the finish, revealing her mannish haircut. “Fooled you!” she would boom at the audience in her husky baritone. Then she would stride off to her dressing room and change back to men’s clothes. She fooled every audience she played to, and most of the managers she worked for, but her secret was hard to keep from the rest of the company. Every time she went to the men’s room, half the guys on the bill would pile in after her.)” 2 likes
“Money isn’t everything, but the lack of money isn’t anything.” 0 likes
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