The Marx Brothers

By the middle of the 1920s, vaudeville was dying out and one of the medium's greatest acts, the Marx Brothers, was looking to make the transition to the legitimate stage.

Marx Brothers - Animal Crackers The producer Sam H. Harris brought Kaufman together with composer-lyricist Irving Berlin to craft a major musical for the Marxes. The result, The Cocoanuts (1925) was extremely popular and launched several projects for which Kaufman worked with the wildly anarchic comedy team.

Another musical, Animal Crackers (1928) followed, this time with a score by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Kaufman wrote the book to this show with Morrie Ryskind, a journalist and satirist.

Harpo MarxThese two musicals were the basis for the Marx Brothers' first two feature films and Kaufman and Ryskind later wrote the screenplay for A Night at the Opera (1935), perhaps the brothers' best film. Although his ability to ad-lib appeared to be effortless, Groucho Marx's best lines in the early projects were written by Kaufman and the comedian always gave the playwright credit for helping to create his enduring comic persona.

However, the explosive spontaneity of the Marxes was a thorn in the side of the perfectionist Kaufman: once, in the back of the theater during a Marx musical, Kaufman interrupted a conversation with a companion, saying, "Excuse me, I thought I heard one of my original lines."