Longtime Northridge resident Zeppo Marx was the youngest and undoubtedly the least memorable of the four acting Marx Brothers.
While Groucho, Harpo and Chico delighted moviegoers with their slapstick antics, Zeppo was generally assigned bland romantic roles. On screen, he “got the girl,” but off screen Zeppo disliked the sidekick role and in 1933, after appearing in the team’s first five films, he gave up life in front of the camera.
“He was a lousy actor and he got out as soon as he could,” Groucho once said. “Zeppo didn’t like acting and didn’t want to be an actor, but we had to have a fourth brother.”
But, while his film career was brief and undistinguished compared to his brothers’, Zeppo was an entrepreneur who found success in other ways.
Among his many endeavors, Marx operated a successful theatrical agency with his brother Gummo Marx. As an agent Zeppo played a role in one of Hollywood’s most enduring--and false--myths.
Famed director Mervyn LeRoy, who was credited with discovering actress Lana Turner sipping a soda in Schwab’s drugstore, explained before his death in 1987 what really happened.
“She was in high school when Zeppo Marx, who was an agent at the time, brought her in to see me,” LeRoy said. “The minute I saw her, I knew she would be a sensation on film.”
In the 1930s, Marx and actress Barbara Stanwyck opened a thoroughbred horse ranch at Reseda Boulevard and Devonshire Street in Northridge. With the onset of World War II, they sold the ranch and Zeppo shifted his attention to another venture, a machine shop in West Los Angeles. Coupling devices built by Zeppo’s company were fitted on U.S. bombers, including the famed “Enola Gay,” which dropped the first atomic bomb.
In 1969, Marx patented a wrist alarm to monitor the heartbeat.
Both of his marriages ended in divorce. His second wife, Barbara, is now married to Frank Sinatra.
Zeppo died of lung cancer in 1979 at 78.