Before 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.”
“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.