You Bet Your Life

To Harpo Marx

Harpo!  When did you seem like an angel
the last time?
and played the gray harp of gold?

When did you steal the silverware
and bug-spray the guests?

When did your brother find rain
in your sunny courtyard?

When did you chase your last blonde
across the Millionairesses' lawn
with a bait hook on a line
protruding from your bicycle?

Harpo!  Who was that Lion
I saw you with?

How did you treat the midget
and Konk the giant?

Harpo, in your recent night-club appearance
in New Orleans were you old?

Were you still chiding with your horn
in the cane at your golden belt?

Was your vow of silence an Indian Harp?
-- Jack Kerouac, 1959


"There was something in the way he touched that harp -- it was an act of love, almost too private for us to watch. There was something you could see then of the almost unbearable beauty of this man and his love for music. And you could feel his love for every other creature on earth in the way he touched his harp and in the way he played the music."
"...there was always something about Harpo I couldn't imitate. Later on I knew what it was. After meeting Harpo, I knew it was the simplicity of the man -- the beauty inside, the thing that God gives to maybe one in every fifty million of us. To see, and to laugh, and to give joy to others in a way so special that you can't imitate it -- it's a gift from God to one person alone at a time.
Harpo was a child who never grew up. He was the best part of a human being -- the innocent part that can see things with Wonder. He was beautiful, like a naked child dancing around free-form because of joy, because the world is music to dance to, because other people are delights to laugh with and play with. And Harpo had in him that wonderful vision that made him see in others the Beauty Part, the Good Part, the Happy Part.
He knew very well that there were Sad Things and Bad Things, and he knew that these are the things we call by the name of Reality. But Harpo could see more clearly than that. He could see deeper, where the real reality is, inside all of us where there is a warm place bubbling with fancy and laughter and music and playfulness and love. Harpo could feel all those things inside himself and inside every human being. He knew we were all born like that, but most of us get so scared to go around dancing free-form or singing out loud in public or laughing at the madness around us -- most of us get so scared, so civilized that we teach ourselves how to be ashamed and embarrassed, and we invent a disguise for ourselves, and we walk around looking serious and acting very somber and self-important. And we call it grown-up."
"...Harpo Marx had the good sense and the great gift never to Grow Up. And that was the soul of his Comedy. Children loved him and old people loved him because they saw themselves in those beautiful big rolling eyes. They saw themselves moving and dancing free and unembarrassed and not a bit worried about being Grown-Up. And Harpo made eyes at pretty girls, the way we all wish we had the nerve to do, and he invented harps out of broken pianos, and piccolos out of strands of spaghetti. And wherever he was, there was music for everyone, and laughter. And when he was sad, he was so sad, so very very terribly sad that we could see that there is even something funny about being sad, and so we laughed andforgot some of the things that made us sad.
Harpo was Comedy.
Comedy is gentle and sweet and good and intelligent and honest, and that is what Harpo Marx was.
Comedy makes you feel good, and that is what Harpo Marx did.
And when I met him, I found out the best thing of all: That the man, the person, was even more beautiful than the image."

Extrait de "A Gift of Laughter," par Allan Sherman