Last week, Groucho; this week, Chico. One might ask me, “Hey, didn’t you only do one post on Laurel and Hardy? Why a post on each Marx Brother? Why not one on Laurel and one on Hardy?” That’s pretty easy to answer. You never see Laurel without Hardy, nor Hardy without Laurel. Even if both are not in the same shot, the gag will eventually involve both of the boys. With the Marx Brothers, each had unique comedy gifts that separate them from each other.
Just as Groucho had his wise-cracking conman identity in every film, Chico (pronounced “Chick-O”, not “Cheek-O”) had his happy, dim-witted Italian-paisano persona. As with Groucho, Chico ‘became’ Chico because of that one episode in which they were so bad as singers that they resorted to comedy to keep themselves interested in performing.
In every Marx Brothers movie, Chico was in partnership with Harpo and they had some classic scenes together. Quite often, the plots of these movies had Chico and Harpo bedeviling Groucho, in some way. And always, there had to be a music scene, so that Chico could play piano. After all, before being comics, the Marx Brothers were musicians, and Chico was an accomplished pianist. In fact, for a while, in real life, Chico was a bandleader, fronting his own orchestra; it is Chico who gets the credit for giving Mel Torme his start in performing.
Famous for mugging at the piano, and famous for his idiosyncratic piano techniques (note-shooting among them), he was a delight to watch at the keyboard. Here is Chico, in A Night At The Opera, playing “All I Do Is Dream Of You.” (which later is sung in Singin’ In The Rain). You can tell that he and the kids are having a wonderful time together.