Generations have relished the Marx Brothers films, which include A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, Duck Soup, Monkey Business, and Horse Feathers. Five of their films are included in the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Comedies. The brothers also had successful careers on the vaudeville circuit and on Broadway. Of course, Groucho went on to host You Bet Your Life (from 1947 to 1961).
I, as I am sure many others have done, associated the brothers with New York City—its their vibe. Yet, as a vaudeville act, they traveled the country. At the height of their vaudeville career, trains were the mode by which entertainers traveled cross country. Minnie Marx, the brother’s mother, decided that Chicago would be a better base of operation for the brothers because Chicago is centrally located and was a major rail hub. So the family moved to Chicago, first residing at 4649 South Calumet Avenue. In 1912, the family purchased a graystone in what was then a German-Jewish neighborhood. Note: The Chicago Tribune reports the purchase year as 1914, but a site detailing the Marx Brothers’ homes year-by-year indicates the purchase date as 1912. The house was located at 4512 South King Drive, which was known at the time as Grand Boulevard. The purchase price was $21,000, with a $1,000 downpayment.
In 1917, the family bought a 27-acre farm on Route 66 south of what is now La Grange, because farmers were exempt from the draft during World War I. Groucho recounted that the family bought 200 chickens, but that the chickens wouldn’t lay eggs. Before visitors came to the farm, the brothers bought eggs, placing them under the chickens so as to avoid embarrassment. Groucho acknowledged that they were not good farmers, at least in part because they preferred to spend time at Wrigley Field. Minnie sold the Grand Boulevard house in 1920, although I have seen a number of dates for the sale. In 1920, the brothers returned to New York to pursue careers on Broadway.
Had the Marx Brothers remained in Chicago for a few more years, their paths would have crossed with Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, who purchased a house at 421 East 44th Street in 1925. That home is about a block away from the Marx Brothers’ South King Drive home. I can only what the parties would have been like had the brothers joined forces with Satchmo.
A Trumpet Player Three Blocks from Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s Chicago Residence
Former Residence of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong at 421 East 44th Street
Note: Both the Marx Brothers and Armstrong homes are private residences that do not give tours.