Harpo’s Harp(s)

15 May

File this under “things you never think about”: what ever happened to Harpo Marx’s harp? His nickname came from the harp he played, (actual name Adolph, changed to Alfred) apparently during a card game. But what happened to the harp?

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not very conversant in the Marx Brothers–wrong generation, I’ll have to say– so it’s something that never occurred to me. You’d think that a major comedy figure’s instrument would be in some museum somewhere. But no, it gets weirder. According to Wikipedia, he willed his harps to the State of Israel, where they are still used in an orchestra.

But that wasn’t good enough an answer for me. Which orchestra? Is it still there? Thankfully, someone put a link to justify this claim, so I followed that to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews website (which my grandparents-in-law were members of, being both… well, Christian and Jewish). They have a link to another blog post that says that the instrument is still at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

So… mystery solved, right? No. The story gets more interesting. You look through the pictures and the saga of finding the harp at JAMD, and then you get to the comments. Since the harp is not a… popular instrument, those that play it are passionate about their harps. So let a harpist from Yosemite, California tell the next part of the tale:

“Harpo’s TWO harps were donated to the state of Israel, and not by Harpo, who didn’t “will” his harps to anyone. His widow Susan was VERY explicit in this and told me first-hand; in her own words, “no, he didn’t will anything to anything.” In a nutshell, after Harpo’s death, Susan was invited to judge the first International Harp Festival in Israel. She – as she told me: knew nothing about harpistry and asked if their son Bill (who’s a pretty brilliant musician and had worked extensively with his dad) could come along and judge in her place. And then SHE decided to donate those TWO harps of Harpo’s to the state of Israel, with the proviso that they NOT be kept in glass cases, but that they be used by students; she told me she wanted one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv. But when they were being unloaded from the plane in Israel, Susan was presented with a bill for 100% duty – which she told me, was a total of $12,000 (and this was in 1965.) She was furious and said, “Forget it! I’ll send them home!” And she then told me it took (so she claimed) intervention from the highest levels of government to arrange for those two harps to be “allowed” in as nothing had ever been admitted to Israel duty-free. But that’s the story, straight from Harpo’s wife, as told to me. Two harps, not one!”

So where’s the second harp? The comments continue to be revealing. Apparently it was donated to the Tel Aviv Music Academy, which today is the Buchman Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. Cool. Mystery solved. But then if you’re a Marx Brothers fan, you know there was a third harp that was used in an episode of I Love Lucy. Apparently this harp has a lot of provenance, It was owned by Harpo and he used it playing with Milton Berle, on a Pepsi commercial, and played with Louis Armstrong. He sold it in 1962, three years before he died.

So instead of a simple answer, I found a whole epic tale about different harps and a chain of events throughout history. It’s amazing what you find down the rabbit hole. Have you ever run into this before? Let me know in the comments below! While you’re there, go ahead and pick up one of my books! However, if you’re not ready to commit to my epic tales, go ahead and download one of my stories. You’ll be glad you did.

4 Responses to “Harpo’s Harp(s)”

  1. joliesattic May 15, 2021 at 8:17 am #

    An added tidbit to your Harpo article is, I heard he was quite the ladies man. lol. That harp scored for him, I guess.

  2. iFlyMSP May 15, 2021 at 1:01 pm #

    Harpo was an absolutely hilarious mute in the Marx Bros. flicks. Some of the funniest films you’ll ever see. Hold me closer, closer, closer!!! Groucho: if I hold you any closer I’ll be behind you. So much adlibing that was amazing. Interesting story.

  3. Amorina Rose May 16, 2021 at 12:10 am #

    This was so random and so very fascinating.

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