In 1964, the entertainment industry lost a truly unique performer, a silent comedian who became famous as a pantomime with numerous and odd props hidden in his oversized coat sleeves, with wide, bright eyes shining from beneath the curls of a red wig, with the silliest honk of a horn, and the accompaniment of the celestial strings of the harp beneath his fingers… the one and only, Harpo Marx.
According to Lois Rodden’s Astro Databank, Harpo Marx was born on November 23, 1888 at 2:30AM in New York, New York, USA. Using the sidereal zodiac in Vedic Astrology, Harpo had a Virgo Ascendant with Moon in Cancer and Sun in Scorpio; a solid, enduring, and sensitive gentleman with the tumultuous emotionality and fluctuations of a deep, calm lake and a wildly wavy sea. In this article, his fascinating history and career will be looked at through his natal chart, and in the light of astrology, we will peek into the life experience of a most interesting individual.
Adolph Arthur Marx
Born Adolph Arthur Marx, Harpo was the third* oldest son born to Sam “Frenchy” and Minnie Schonberg Marx. (*Their first son, Mannie, died at six-months.) His older brother was Leonard (Chico) and his younger brothers were Julius (Groucho), Milton (Gummo), and Herbert (Zeppo).
His father, Samuel Marx, worked in the home as a tailor while Harpo’s mother, Minnie, worked outside the house as a promoter for her famous vaudeville comedian brother, Al Shean. In Harpo’s birth chart, his 9th house Taurus and ruler Venus in the 4th house shows how the father held down the fort, as somewhat of a Mister Mom, and supported his clan through his own artistic skills as a tailor. In the Dwadashamsha, the divisional chart of parents, the Sun (father) is in the 12th house, reflecting Sam’s position behind the scenes, while his children and wife actively pursued the limelight.
Strong Mother, Big Brother
Harpo’s mother, Minnie, wore the pants in the Marx household. In Harpo’s chart, the Moon (mother) is strong in its own sign of Cancer and is in an incredibly tight conjunction with Rahu, the North Node of the Moon, a conjunction which further exaggerates her power and influence. (The Moon is at 0°3 Cancer, Rahu is at 0°4 Cancer.) Her desires were the foundation and driving force behind the success of the Marx Brothers. In a wider orb, Saturn joins Moon-Rahu in Cancer, furthering her plan and methodology for pulling her brood together and making something out of them, giving them a structured experience in life, and teaching them the discipline and hard work necessary to be successful.
For Harpo, this concentration of strong energy and influence flowed from his 11th house, a house of aspiration, networking, and money from others. Not surprising then that his mother was more than just his mother but had become his agent. The 11th house also represents the older sibling, and for Harpo this would be his older brother, Chico, who must have, in his own right, served as a parental figure for Harpo.
Exalted Mars in 5th House Capricorn added fuel to the fire and propelled Minnie’s force and courage as a stage mother. This was, let’s not forget, a time when most women stayed at home raising children, cooking, and keeping the house clean. Harpo’s birth chart so clearly shows the maternal instinct within himself as well as this strength of influence from his mother towards entertainment (5th house).
The strength of the Moon and Rahu with Saturn and the aspect of an exalted Mars from the 5th House of entertainment leaves one questioning, did Harpo really like entertaining? As Harpo revealed himself, “I was being shanghaied to join Groucho, Gummo, and Leo Levy. On a stage. In front of people… It was probably the most wretched debut in the history of show business.” It is all possible that he may have experienced a love-hate relationship with acting, finding joy with the creative process and being in the moment, but struggling with discipline, schedules, and critics. He evidently saw himself in a realistic light, and was able to acknowledge his weaknesses and his strengths.
To Each His Own Harp
Venus (the arts) is located in Harpo’s Sagittarius 4th house (the mother). This speaks volumes to the adventurous mother she was; a woman who boldly aimed her arrow at the Hollywood stars, who enjoyed beauty, art, culture, and performing. Likewise, this shows Harpo’s own desire to explore the world of art, music, and entertainment and the joy it would bring him.
Years after his ‘wretched debut’, Harpo received a harp from his mother, to ‘add class to the act’. Harpo taught himself how to string the harp and play it, which according to experts was flat out wrong. After learning from a few teachers, Harpo continued to play the harp his own way, wrong or not, an indication of the boldness from Venus in the 4th House of Sagittarius. He played the way he felt most comfortable and able, the way he liked it, unafraid to break rules or go against the grain.
With Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius, in a conjunction with his Sun (self/ego), he played His way and he liked it. Jupiter-Sun in the intense sign of Scorpio in the 3rd House suggests a certain level of emotional attachment or possessiveness to the harp, perhaps making traditional, classical instruction to ‘correct’ him all the more challenging.
In his autobiography Harpo Speaks, Harpo shared, “There’s a character… he wears a ratty wig and shredded rain coat. He can’t talk, but makes idiotic faces, honks a horn, whistles, and leaps after blondes. When he’s chasing a girl across the screen, it’s Him. When he sits down to play the harp, it’s Me. Whenever I touch the strings of the harp, I stop being an actor.”
Bullied into a Street Education
This strong Cancer-Capricorn 11th/5th house axis brought challenges as well, particularly in Harpo’s earlier days. The only Jewish boy in a public school class, and small for his age, a not uncommon physical trait for Virgo Ascendants, Harpo had been bullied daily, until one day at age 8 when bullies threw him out the window and on to the street, he left school for good.
Exalted Mars positioned in the 7th House from the Moon produces difficulty with others, domineering people or dominating them, and forceful situations which could, in worst cases, include violence. Being tossed out of the window on a regular basis (and where were the teachers?…), shows this cutting, separative quality of Mars, especially in its close conjunction to Ketu, the South Node of the Moon. Both enable detachment under the right circumstances from situations of disinterest.
His religious-intolerant classmates literally wanted him removed, and did so. His Mercury-ruled Virgo Ascendant couldn’t stand up, especially housed in Libra, the sign of mediation and harmony. With the only aspect to the Ascendant coming from Saturn, he experienced this oppressiveness, hitting hard while running Saturn’s mahadasha.
Exalted Mars-Ketu in the 5th House created difficultly gaining a proper education, while giving Harpo the courage and conviction to gain the intelligence he would need, when he would need it. He developed his own ‘street education’ once he dropped out of school. Exalted Mars as ruler of the Aries 8th house with Sun/Jupiter in the Mars-ruled Scorpio 3rd house enabled him to fend for himself; he learned as he went, earning his own money, creating his own values and smarts as he encountered different situations.
Odd Jobs and Show Business
When the family could afford lessons for only one child, Minnie sent Chico to a piano teacher. It was Chico’s responsibility then to train his younger brother Harpo all of what he had learned. This didn’t work out well due to Chico’s less than perfect motivation.
In one particular situation, Chico, who looked very similar to Harpo, interviewed for a job as a theater pianist who, if hired, would play songs to accompany the movies that were playing. Chico was hired, but Harpo showed up for work, ill-prepared, since Chico had only taught his younger brother how to play two songs. Due to his inadequacy, Harpo was soon fired. This is a great example of an 11th House experience- the mother providing proper training for Chico, Chico’s minimal training for Harpo, and both the mother and Chico’s limited opportunity, yet in everyone’s best interest, including Harpo’s.
While Harpo struggled to find and keep jobs, his brothers Groucho and Gummo had begun performing with Leo Levy as “The Three Nightingales”. In January 1910, Minnie’s plan finally included Harpo, and the three became “The Four Nightingales”, marking the ‘wretched debut’ Harpo later spoke of. The following month, February 1910, Minnie and Aunt Hannah Schickler joined the group, who then became known as “The Six Mascots”. During this time, Harpo was in his Saturn mahadasha, Jupiter bhukti- still experiencing the structured planning of his mother but with new opportunity for growth.
In 1912 during a performance without Minnie participating or watching, the group broke out into “madcap comedy” and received a request to return the following week for a second performance, a request that launched them from singers to comedians. At this time, Harpo shifted from his long Saturn mahadasha to Mercury. The energy of these planets is so different, like the difference between heavy lead and fluid quicksilver. With Mercury as Harpo’s Ascendant/1st house ruler, ruler of his 10th house of fame, and Mercury’s position in the 2nd House of communication, his childish antics, “idiotic facial expressions”, and comedic stage presence took off running.
The Marx Brothers Emerge
The group, now recognized and known as “The Marx Brothers”, performed for many years, particularly successful in 1912, 1913, 1914, 1918, and 1921, all during Harpo’s Mercury mahadasha.
Mercury, as stated earlier, is the ruler of Harpo’s Virgo chart, and therefore, becomes the planet which most intimately connects his individuality to the world. The individualized Mercurial expression which he presented to the world stage is his signature, his legacy. Positioned in the Libra 2nd House, Mercury played a vital role in rooting Harpo into a field of creative expression. An air sign, Libra is a sign of harmony and the merging of the creative and intellectual mind. Where Venus-ruled Taurus is more about bringing beauty to form, Venus-ruled Libra is concerned with bringing about harmony and cooperation through creative thinking.
All is Quiet Now
Then something quite outrageous occurred, something most show business performers would dread and fear. While Harpo was in his Mercury mahadasha, Ketu bhukti, he received a horrible review of his performance in “Home Again”. The reviewer stated something to the effect that Harpo was a talented “pantomime” who ruined his performance every time he opened his mouth. It was said that Harpo had difficulty keeping up with the racy, witty, back-and-forth dialogue his brothers performed so fluidly. To this, Harpo disagreed.
Then why did he graciously step back, wholeheartedly listen to the review, and decide to clam up and not speak throughout the remainder of his professional career? A few things in Harpo’s natal chart illustrate this rather unusual decision.
The ability to stop and fine-tune the material for the shows came under Ketu’s influence, the bhukti Harpo ran at the time. As much as Ketu can bury us firmly into something, often stemming from past influences, Ketu can separate us from it. In this case, Ketu, in the practical sign of Capricorn, brought a new way to entertain (Ketu in the 5th House), and he was able to break from a method that apparently wasn’t working. After the bad review, Harpo’s lines were literally removed.
Exalted Mars in conjunction to Ketu in the 5th House gave him the courage to create, play, and perform in a different way. Rather than walk away, he had the determination and audacity to shift, and in so doing brought more fame and longevity to the Marx Brothers.
The ability to change his behavior for the good of the group, so the brothers as a team would remain in good standing with the industry and the audience can be seen from the gentleness of Virgo and the lunar nakshatra, Hasta, in which Harpo’s Ascendant resided in at the time of his birth.
Hasta gives one the ability of self-control, makes one hard-working, supports the ability of yogic practices (refraining from speech can be seen as a yogic practice), and encourages self-development. Likewise, it can bring impediments along with the cleverness to overcome any restraints. It is a beneficial nakshatra for entertaining, for artistic pursuits, communication, and public relations. Its overall motivation is Moksha, or liberation, giving Harpo the ability to rise above, turning a negative into a positive, taking a bad review and transforming his act with a long, successful career as the result. Hasta is ruled by the Moon, which gives depth of maternal instinct, the caring and willingness to please others, and the desire to nurture rather than create conflict.
Harpo’s natal Moon resided in the Jupiter-ruled nakshatra, Punarvasu. The quality of this lunar placement gives the ability to prosper through creative and inspired motivation, aimed towards material comfort. Punarvasu is referred to as ‘the star of renewal’, so fitting to how Harpo renewed himself as a comedian, became ‘silent’, entertained millions, and kept the Brothers moving forward.
Furthermore, Harpo’s Sun was positioned in Anuradha, a Saturn-ruled nakshatra. This lunar placement is referred to as ‘the star of success’ and gives courage, the love of travel, and cooperation. With Sun in Anuradha, the person is respected and responsible. Vedic Astrologer and author Dennis Harness states in his book The Nakshatras regarding Anuradha, “Fame and recognition can be attained through friendly cooperation with other people.” Anuradha’s primary motivation is Dharma, or right activity, giving Harpo the skill to use his entire physicality (Sun) in a renewed manner in order to do the right thing for himself and for The Marx Brothers.
Mercury, the Planet of Speech
It seems a bit ironic that the planet of speech, Mercury, who is pleasantly positioned in Harpo’s 2nd House of communication and is the ruler of his Virgo Ascendant, would have to contend with a forced obstruction– Harpo’s decision to keep quiet. But Mercury is behind the playful antics, the childish honking horn, and the exaggerated facial expressions, too, which enabled Harpo to maintain stage presence and continue bringing humorous material to the shows.
A principle in Vedic astrology states that if the planetary indicator of a certain thing is located in the house that rules that same thing, there will be obstruction, delay, or denial of that thing. To clarify, this principle suggests that since Harpo has Mercury, the planet of speech, in the 2nd house, the house of speech, speech will present obstacles or be delayed in life. Of course this is true for the other 2nd house indications as well, such as security, values, and earned money.
Mercury resided in the Jupiter-ruled nakshatra, Vishakha, at the time Harpo was born. Referred to as ‘the star of purpose’, this nakshatra gives patience, the ability to accomplish tasks with determination and commitment, and shows positive results in the long run. With Jupiter conjunct Harpo’s Sun, the exploration of silent yet ‘loudly’ entertaining performances emerged and established an unforgettable image and legacy.
According to Wikipedia, in 1911 Harpo legally changed his name from Adolph to Arthur. He was in the Saturn mahadasha, Jupiter bhukti, and we see in his natal chart the aspect of Saturn on his Ascendant, which we could define as the worldly presentation of our individuality to the external environment around us. The Moon-Rahu conjunction with Saturn likely stirred a mental-emotional disturbance around the disliked name. His natal Jupiter is conjoined his Sun, the planet of self-image and the persona, and aspects the Saturn-Rahu-Moon conjunction in Cancer.
A Telling Transit: The Star of Restraint
It was during the year 1914 when Harpo became a ‘pantomime’ and virtually stopped talking for the remainder of his career. During 1914, Venus transited through Aries and the lunar nakshatra Bharani. This Venus-ruled nakshatra is referred to as ‘the star of restraint’. Venus (arts and entertainment) in Aries (self-initiating, self-control) transited through Harpo’s 8th house of change and transformation, casting an aspect to his natal Mercury (speech, humor) in the 2nd house (communication).
One Successful Film After Another
1929 was a mixed year for the brothers with the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression, the release of their first film “Cocoanuts”, and the death of their mother Minnie.
With the neutrality of Mercury, operating through a balanced Libran outlook and the support of Jupiterian optimism (from the nakshatra Vishakha) in the 2nd House of money and security, Harpo likely survived the financial loss of the stock market crash with steady enthusiasm. The success of their first film assured the Brothers material comfort. They had been better off than most Americans.
The Marx Brothers success rose steadily throughout the 30’s. Moving from vaudeville, to Broadway, and then to Hollywood films, their fame had been sealed with such hits as “Animal Crackers” in 1930, “Monkey Business” in 1931, “Horse Feathers” in 1932, and “Duck Soup” in 1933. During most of this decade, Harpo was in the Ketu mahadasha, emphasizing his creative 5th House of entertainment where Ketu is conjunct the competitive, exalted Mars in hard-working Capricorn. They entertained US troops during the Second World War, starting in 1939, and continued making movies through 1949 during Harpo’s Venus mahadasha, which ran until 1955.
The Long-time Bachelor Accepts a Proposal
Venus, of course, represents the performing arts, music, and entertainment in general. It is also the indicator of marriage. In 1936 while running Venus dasha, Venus bhukti, Harpo married Susan Fleming, after first meeting on set in 1932, while Harpo was still in his Ketu period. It is said that Ms. Fleming proposed to Harpo three times before he finally accepted.
Harpo and Susan had no children of their own. They adopted four children- Bill, Alex, Jimmy, and Minnie. The exaltation of Mars conjunct Ketu in the 5th House of children may have denied Harpo children of his own. Yet his Saptamsha chart for children has a Parivartana Yoga between Jupiter and Venus in the 5th and 10th Houses. This simply means Jupiter is in a Venus-ruled house while Venus is in a Jupiter-ruled house. This creates an intimate link between these two planets, and a link between children and the career. This yoga may provide a hint into the care and involvement his children would have in the preservation of their famous father’s legacy, such as their oldest child Bill Marx’s website harposplace.com. It is possible that Susan’s natal chart sheds additional light on the adoption of children rather than having had their own.
On September 28, 1964, Harpo passed away after open heart surgery. He was in the Moon mahadasha, Rahu bhukti, and Mars sub-sub period. At age 75, the trigger of this karmic axis and the power of exalted Mars with Ketu in the 5th house of the physical heart proved too much to overcome.
Countless additional encounters, experiences, and accomplishments could be addressed. Hopefully this brief research has shown significant highlights of Harpo’s life and career, and the amazing insight which astrology provides. For all the laughs Harpo Marx gave to the world, it seems appropriate to end this article with a bright-eyed smile, a wink, and a silly honk.
Renate Maria Bell is a certified Vedic Astrologer, Jyotish Visharada, and approved teacher with the Council of Vedic Astrology. She currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: all images are courtesy of Wikipedia or from Google Image search results. The author has no claim to them. The image of Harpo Marx’ natal chart is courtesy of Andrew Foss’s Shri Jyoti Star software, of which the author is a registered user. The chart is shown in the North Indian style.