East Side kid Harpo Marx recalls his tailor father

Young Groucho and Harpo Marx with a DogBefore he and his brothers hit comic paydirt, Adolph “Harpo” Marx (left, with Groucho) spent his early 1900s childhood in a tenement on East 93rd Street.

Though his family of 10 struggled, he credits his parents for not letting poverty make “any of us depressed or angry,” he wrote in 1961’s Harpo Speaks…about New York.

While his mother, Minnie, set out to make her boys stars, it was father Sam “Frenchie” Marx, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, who helped keep the family together.

With Father’s Day approaching, here’s Harpo recalling his father’s warmth and magic in their tenement kitchen:

“Frenchie was the family housekeeper and cook. He was also the breadwinner. Frenchie was a tailor by trade. He was never able to own his own shop, and during the day his cutting table and sewing bench took up the whole dining room with lengths and scraps of materials overflowing in the kitchen.”


“At six o’clock he quit whatever he was working on, in the middle of a stitch, and stashed his profession in the hall, materials, tools, tables and all, and turned to the task of making dinner for ten or eleven or sixteen people.”

Sammarxheadshot“With food he was a true magician. Given a couple of short ribs, a wilting cabbage, a handful of soup greens, a bag of chestnuts and a pinch of spices, he could conjure up miracles.”

“God, how fabulous the tenement smelled when Frenchie, chopping and ladling, sniffing and stirring and tasting, and forever smiling and humming to himself, got the kitchen up to full steam!”

Frenchie Marx (above in 1915, third from right) died in 1933 at age 73. He watched his sons become big stars, and he even had a cameo role in 1931’s Monkey Business.

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6 Responses to “East Side kid Harpo Marx recalls his tailor father”

  1. Keith Goldstein Says:

    Wonderful! They don’t make’em like this anymore….

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    It’s a nice little book too. Lots of details about how poor, crafty kids had fun in the early 1900s.

  3. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Friday morning links

    90-year-old ex-president to make parachute jump East Side kid Harpo Marx recalled his tailor father A Catholic’s Guide To The World Cup Sorry, But You Might Be Fatter Than You Think You Are Why That Story About Irish Babies "Dumped

  4. ValentineM Says:

    Harpo is on the right in the first picture, not the left.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yes, you are right–I meant that he was in the photo on the left, but he is to the right of Groucho.

  5. Election Day in old New York: bonfires and free beer | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Frenchie (Harpo’s tailor father) and Grandpa, dressed in their best suits (which they otherwise wore only to weddings, bar mitzvahs, or funerals), would get in the cab and go clip-clop, in tip-top style, off to the polls.” […]

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