When the four Marx Brothers became an overnight sensation on Broadway in I'll Say She Is in 1924, they had already spent 20 years in show business. Their uncle, character actor Al Shean (of Gallagher and Shean), helped them get started in the business, spurred on by their mother Minnie. The boys toured the vaudeville circuits, first as singers and eventually as comedians, until they slowly improved enough to make it to Broadway. Ultimately, the Marx Brothers revolutionized American comedy with their anarchistic, faster-than-lightning, anything-goes approach.
By the time of their first film, The Cocoanuts, in 1929 -- which was basically a filmed version of their second Broadway hit -- brother Gummo (Milton Marx, 1897-1977) had retired from the act and been replaced by the baby, Zeppo (Herbert Marx, 1901-1979). Ultimately, Zeppo retired from performing as well, leaving the three Marx Brothers best known today: Chico (Leonard Marx, 1886-1961), Harpo (Adolph Arthur Marx, 1888-1964), and the one and only Groucho (Julius Henry Marx, 1890-1977). Each of these three had his own strong screen persona: Chico was the Italian who mangled the English language and played the piano; Harpo never spoke, chased blondes, created general mayhem, and played the harp; Groucho, with his grease paint mustache and tilted walk, was a fast-talking wisecracker often on the dubious side of the law or morality.