How Texas Created the Marx Brothers
Arthur Marx (Groucho's son) wrote:
"Somewhere during all this [about 1920], they stopped calling themselves "The Four Nightingales" and changed the name of the act to the "Marx Brothers & Co." Presumably this was to hide their identity, but essentially the act was the same. They were fooling no one, and by the time they pulled into a place called Nacogdoches, Texas, they were prepared for what could conceivably be a last ditch stand.
Their first performance in Nacogdoches was at a matinee. It was a real honky-tonk kind of theater. "The audience was full of big ranchers in ten-gallon hats, and a few small ranchers in five-gallon hats," Father told me.
The first part of the performance went fairly well, but in the middle of the show the audience suddenly got up en masse and disappeared through the front exit. Investigation disclosed that the customers had gone outside to view a runaway mule.
My father and his brothers, though accustomed to insults, were enraged by this one. When the customers filed back into the theater, thirty minutes later, the Marx brothers were no longer interested in giving a good performance. All they wanted to do was get even with the audience, and the only way they knew how was to burlesque the kind of singing they had been doing so seriously.
This quickly evolved into a roughhouse comedy bit, with the Marxes, led by my father, flinging insults about Texas and its inhabitants to the audience as rapidly as they could think of them... My father is not very clear about the exact phraseology of some of these insults, but he does remember calling the Texans in the audience "damned Yankees" and throwing in a couple of lines that went something like:
Is full of Roaches.
Is the finest
They were not looking for laughs; they fully expected to be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. But instead the audience loved their clowning and greeted their insults and most tired jokes with uproarious laughter.
And so they were suddenly comedians, with their fame traveling all the way to Denison, Texas. The manager of the theater in Denison not only wanted to book them, but he offered to raise the salary for the whole act from fifty to seventy-five dollars a week.
"After that we were a pretty big hit everywhere else we played in Texas. I guess we could have stayed there indefinitely, but after we got ourselves reasonably solvent, we decided to go back to Chicago. After all, how long can anyone eat chili con carne?"
----- Arthur Marx,"Life With Groucho," 1954
Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.