I’ve mentioned a few times this week my new favorite podcast ‘The Marx Brothers Council Podcast’ and the episode I listened to this morning, which focused exclusively on Chico Marx, is one of the best and most touching so far. Leonard Marx remained an enigma to most people who knew him and to all who didn’t, due to his not leaving behind a memoir as Groucho and Harpo did. We know that he gambled compulsively and loved playing cards. Indeed, card playing was very much part of the German/Jewish culture he grew up in and Pinochle was the Marx family’s card game of choice from the early part of the twentieth century into the 1920s. In the early/mid twenties, however, Alfred Vanderbilt revised the rules of contract bridge, merging it with Pinochle’s rules (Bridge formerly hadn’t involved setting a contract prior to play as Pinochle did) and the game caught on with a strange fervor. Bridge was all the rage in high society and showbiz and the Marx’s were converted to the game early on. Of all the brothers Chico was considered the best gambler and he remained a devoted Bridge player throughout the rest of his life. In 1960, just a year before he died, he appeared on a television show called ‘Championship Bridge’, hosted by Bridge maven Charles Goren. It’s an interesting appearance for a few reasons. One, sadly, is that we see Chico in his ailing and rather fragile state–and somehow, this gives a poignancy to his appearance; low-energy and exhausted as he was, the old dog still came out for a game of cards and an appearance on television. (Most likely he needed the no-doubt small amount he was paid to come to Chicago where the show was shot; one assumes he blew the money on a card game on the plane back to L.A.). There’s a nice moment early on when Goren references his bridge partner Helen Sobel, who Chico remembers as a chorus girl in ‘The Cocoanuts’, which he incorrectly identifies as their first Broadway show. In the opening hand Chico makes a bad bid which shocks Goren (who’s narrating off-camera, out of the players earshot). The result is devastating; the great Hollywood card shark is responsible for a disastrous opening game from which he and his sullen partner never recover. Chico sits slumped, smoking and not looking terribly interested or concerned; its the attitude of a veteran card player. ‘Win some, lose some, deal another hand’. In the opening we hear Chico’s New York accent more than his faux-Italian one but he soon puts the vocal mask on and, alas, we don’t get to hear Leonard Marx. Do we ever? Is there any audio of Chico’s real voice? Harpo sounds exactly like Groucho in the audio of his that I’ve heard. I imagine they all had roughly the same East Side/Yorkville delivery, diction, pronounciation etc. By the way, even though I’ve attempted to learn and play Bridge a number of times over the years I am stymied by the game when watching it played by experts. And if you don’t know the rules at all I’m sure its about as interesting as taking a forced four hour tour of your own living room. But give the show a try. It’s a nice view of the aging but intrepid Leonard, still happy to be immersed in a game of skill rather than chance, even if his skills had apparently diminished.


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