Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Originally nicknamed Chicko because in those days women were referred to as chicks and the guys who chased them as chicken chasers, of which he was one. A typesetter accidentally dropped the k in his name and it became Chico, but it was still pronounced as if it were Chicko. Chico developed the "Italian" accent he used to convince some roving bullies that he was Italian, not Jewish. Stereotyped ethnic characters were common with Vaudeville comedians, and all the Marx brothers sometimes performed "dialect characters" early in their careers, but Chico was the only one to continue this.
Chico was a talented pianist. As a young boy, he would get jobs playing piano to earn money for the Marx family. Sometimes Chico would even get work playing in two places at the same time. He would acquire the job with his piano playing skills, work for a few nights, and then substitute Harpo on one of the jobs. The two brothers looked so much alike, no one could tell the difference. Harpo however could only play a few tunes on the piano, which often would get both brothers fired.
Groucho Marx one time said that Chico never practiced the pieces he played. Before performances he would soak his fingers in hot water before going on instead. He was known for "shooting" the keys of the piano. As part of the act he would play passages with his thumb up and index finger straight--like a gun.
Chico became manager of the Marx Brothers after their mother Minnie, died. As manager he cut a deal to get the Marx Brothers a percentage of a film's gross receipts - the first of its kind in Hollywood.
Chico Marx had a lifelong gambling habit, which usually kept him short of funds, and which compelled him to continue in show business long after his brothers had retired in comfort from their Hollywood income. (Groucho continued to host the long-running televison show "You Bet Your Life" out of his love of being before an audience rather than any financial need.) The last two Marx brothers movies were made for Chico's benefit; the other brothers twice returned to the screen to bail Chico out of debt. Because of his gambling, the brothers finally took the money as he earned it and put him on an allowance, which he stayed on until he died. He had a reputation as a world-class pinochle player. It is said he would throw away good cards (with the knowledge of spectators) to make the play "more interesting".
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