THE CHICO/HARPO THING

On April 21st, 1954, Garry Moore–host of the TV game show ‘I’ve Got A Secret’–welcomed one of the Marx Brothers as a special guest. The gimmick was that it was Chico but that he was dressed up as Harpo, with wig, trench coat, horn, the whole number. The panelists had to guess ‘Harpo’s’ secret which of course was that he was really Chico pretending to be Harpo. The routine goes downhill quickly due to Chico not being able to remember that honking the horn once means yes and twice means no, as established at the beginning of the segment. Once he inadvertently switches the signals–one becomes no and two becomes yes–the contestants are unable to make any sensible progress. What I like about this is that it’s in keeping with Chico’s generally amateurish performance style–there are many moments in the movies when Chico clearly goes up on his lines and has to be rescued by Groucho and for some reason these goofs were left in. (Most of these are in their first feature ‘The Cocoanuts’ but a number are evident in ‘Duck Soup’ as well). Chico’s endearingly slapdash style is clearly the reason for this segments descent into chaos and not, as might have been the case with Harpo, a carefully planned ruse. The other issue with this gag is that Chico, in fact, doesn’t look like Harpo that much. From the moment he comes out he’s clearly Chico dressed as Harpo. It’s his upper lip that gives him away and I’m quite sure that even if we hadn’t been informed at the top of the segment that it was really Chico we’d see through the whole thing as soon as he arrives. Of course the panel finally ‘guesses’ the truth in a thoroughly unbelievable Eureka moment and Chico mumbles a few words in his faux-Italian accent. He’s then sent on his way with a carton of smokes as his reward for not doing a particularly successful job on a show which probably paid him a decent sum that he no doubt owed his creditors…

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