Book review: Harpo speaks

“I’ve played piano in a whorehouse. I’ve smuggled secret papers out of Russia… I’ve gambled with Nick the Greek, sat on the floor with Greta Garbo, sparred with Benny Leonard, horsed around with the Prince of Wales, played ping-pong with George Gershwin. George Bernard Shaw has asked me for advice. I’ve basked on the riviera with Somerset Maugham… I’ve been thrown out of the casino at Monte Carlo.”

(From the back flap of “Harpo Speaks” by Harpo Marx).

Harpo Marx, the silent Marx brother in the tattered raincoat and even more tattered red wig, tells his life story, and what a story it is! This book is full of bizarre, funny, sad, thoughtprovoking, touching anecdotes. In short, this book is full of life.

Harpo’s humble beginnings were in New York, where he was thrown out of Public School 86 at the age of 8 (literally – through a first floor window), never to return. Harop and his brothers went on to even humbler efforts to break into show business in vaudeville, performing in a new town every night, every performance a struggle to earn enough money to make it to the next town – and maybe even a little extra for food and a room to sleep in. Then on to Broadway success, Hollywood success and semi retirement.

Harpo managed to embrace everything that happened to him, whether good or bad, and make the best of it, and the book bubbles with his good cheer, and his straightforward approach to life. It’s summed up in the first few pages of the book, where Harpo writes:
“I can’t remember ever having a bad meal. I’ve eaten […] in the finest restaurants in Paris, but the absolutely most delicious food I ever ate was prepared by the most inspired chef I ever knew – my father. My father had to be inspired, because he had so little to work with.
I can’t remember ever having a poor nights sleep. I’ve slept in the mansions of the Vanderbilts and Otto H. Kahn and in the Gloverville jail. I’ve slept on pool tables, dressing-room tables, piano tops, bathhouse benches, in rag baskets and harp cases. I have known the supreme luxury of snoozing in the july sun, on the lawn, while the string of a flying kite tickled the bottom of my feet.
I can’t remember ever seeing a bad show. If I’m trapped in a theatre, and a show starts disappointingly, I have a handy way to avoid seeing it. I fall asleep.

These are words from a person who knows how to enjoy life, and who knows to look back on his life and see only the good. Read this book, and see why the world can still learn from it’s fools.

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