Paul's Reviews > Harpo Speaks!

Harpo Speaks! by Harpo Marx
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's review
Jul 14, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: comedy-and-comedians
Read in January, 2005

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, or about his brothers or about the development of his style. Not more on hanging out with the biggest bunch of Hollywood blowhards of the 20's. Maybe it just needed a few horn honks.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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John I had a similar reaction. See my review above.

Crystal I think you may have found this book disappointing because you are looking for revelations of what you defined Harpo with instead of what he defined himself with. From what I gather from his book, he didn’t spend too much time or energy on developing his “style” or his movies. He defined himself by the company and interesting people he chose to be around (and for whatever reason decided not to include his brothers in grave detail). He didn’t set out to be an entertainer – he was made one by his mother and happened to be a success at it. He also didn’t set out to develop a “style”. If it made people laugh, he did it. He didn’t examine those things, he examined people. That was the wealth in which he measured his life – people and experiences and stories that made him laugh. I think one thing you can definitely take away is that he didn’t take himself (or his work) too seriously. So to fully grasp his perspective, you have to also adopt this devil-may-care attitude, and not take him or his work any more seriously than he did.

Paul Totally astute comments. I really have no beef with Harpo, or necessarily demand more from his approach to either his comedy or his personal life than he is prepared to give - only trouble is that, if indeed his life was measured by what others did and thought and not what he did and thought, and if that is indeed what he is prepared to give, it just makes for a not very interesting or illuminating book. You half imagine this was something else he was made to do.

Josh I suspect that Harpo felt since there were many books already published which covered the brother's movies, he would talk about things people hadn't heard already-things only Harpo could tell.

Denise I think the reason to read an autobiography is to find out what the author thought or felt about his life. He'll write about what is important to him. If you want to know about the person, you read an autobiography. If you are interested in their movies (or whatever) you read a book about their movies.

John That really depends, Denise. I read Bob Dylan's Chronicles because I am a writer and am interested in his creative process. I was satisfied with the book. Friends of mine who wanted some juice on his relationship with Joan Biez weren't as happy with it.

Denise All I really meant is when you read an autobiography, you are at the mercy of the author. They will tell the story they are interested in telling, even if it isn't what we want to know. I understand what you mean, though.

Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) As Ava Gardner famously said in one of her ghost-written autobiographies, "I remember it the way I want to remember it." Autobiographies are written the way the subject wants to write them. We hear what they want to say, which may have been drowned out by other media voices until that point.

John I think the discussion was about whether or not we like the book. No one was suggesting that we should have forced Harpo to write it differently.

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