Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Zeppo Marx (1901-1979)

This is one of a blog grouping for the Marx Brothers: see also ChicoGroucho, Gummo and Harpo.

Birth name: Herbert Manfred Marx
Birthdate: Monday, February 25th, 1901
Location: New York City, USA

Died: Friday, November 30th, 1979
Location: Rancho Mirage, California, USA
Cause of death: Lung cancer

Best known for: One of the original, and youngest, of the Marx Brothers act who appeared in the siblings' first five films before retiring from acting to become a theatrical agent and engineer. He became a multi-millionaire as a result of his engineering efforts.

Pictured circa 1957, the Marx Brothers.
From left, Harpo (aged 69), Zeppo (56),
Chico (70), Groucho (67)
and Gummo (65)
After making the Marx Brothers' classic 1933 film Duck Soup, Zeppo decided to turn his back on showbiz, retiring in March 1934, aged 33. His career off-camera involved owning Marman Products (latterly Aeroquip), which employed over 500 people and made parts for the war effort, including a motorcycle called the Marman Twin, and Marman clamps which held the atomic bomb inside the Bockscar aircraft which destroyed Nagasaki in 1945. He also founded a large theatrical company with brother Gummo, which represented his brothers for many years.

Zeppo did not like to be reminded of or connected to his time as part of the Marx Brothers, and was often brusque with those who brought it up in his company. By the mid-1970s, Zeppo's manufacturing business was falling on hard times, and his brother Groucho was sending him $4,000 a month subsistence.

In 1978, an incident that took place in 1973 finally reached court. Zeppo was accused of physically assaulting a girlfriend, Jean Bodul, in his car. Zeppo shrugged it off as "a little pushing and shoving" when Bodul tried to drive off with his keys and credit cards, but he was found guilty and ordered to pay five-figure damages.

Zeppo with his second wife Barbara
pictured in 1959, when he was aged 58
Zeppo very rarely appeared on screen - there were only two instances when he appeared on TV post-Duck Soup. Firstly when he appeared on Jack Lescoulie's talk show Tonight! in February 1957 along with his brothers Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Gummo, and then in August 1979, just three months before he too would pass away, to pay tribute to his late brother Groucho on Barry Norman's Hollywood Greats. I can't find footage of either of these programmes, and it may well be that the latter appearance was stock footage rather than a fresh interview.

In 1978, at the age of 77, Zeppo fell ill with cancer and moved to a house on the golfing fairway off Frank Sinatra Drive in California. Although doctors thought at first the cancer had gone into remission, it was not the case, and he had to continue attending hospital, accompanied by his then ex-wife Barbara Blakeley (who in 1976, after divorcing Zeppo, married his good friend Frank Sinatra).

Zeppo - as the last surviving Marx Brother - died of lung cancer at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage on November 30th, 1979, aged 78. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean. According to Barbara, at the end Zeppo was somewhat sad and alone, having pushed away many people who used to be close to him, due to what many describe as an unpleasant nature.

Zeppo toward the end of his life in the 1970s


  1. RIP Herbert Manfred Marx

  2. "By the mid-1970s, Zeppo's manufacturing business was falling on hard times." Maybe it was, but he'd sold it in the 1950s, at the time of his first divorce, and retired. He spent the rest of his life gambling and chasing younger women.


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