Zeppo Marx 1901-1979
Marion Marx 1904-1986
Herbert Manfred Marx was born in New York City. The family publicly told two versions of the source of “Zeppo”. One is it came from the Zeppelin airship. Another that it came from a popular trained chimpanzee named Mr. Zippo. Zeppo first became part of his brothers' act as a stand-in when Gummo joined the army. Zeppo appeared in the first 5 Marx Brothers movies as a straight man and romantic lead. In 1927, he married Marion Bimberg Benda (not to be confused with the Ziegfield Follies girl with the same name). In 1934, he left the movie business and joined his brother Gummo’s talent agency. Located in a Sunset Boulevard office building, their clients included their brothers, a 16 year-old Lana Turner and one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses, Barbara Stanwyck.
In 1936, Stanwyck joined Zeppo and his wife Marion to buy roughly 130 acres in Northridge, California to build 2 adjacent homes and a state of the art Thoroughbred training and breeding ranch. They named it Marwyck, a combination of their surnames.
At an early age, Zeppo was known as a self-taught mechanical prodigy. He was the one who kept the family car running. As owners of Marwyck Ranch, Marx and Stanwyck had many customers. One customer was the vice president of Douglas Aircraft. At Marwyck, Zeppo maintained a large home workshop for tinkering. The executive was impressed enough by Zeppo’s mechanical talents to ask his input on some machine work that was to remain secret as World War II progressed. Zeppo hired a studio machinist from RKO and discreetly went to work. In an oral history, Zeppo explained that one day a destitute man showed up unannounced with a drawing of a new type of locking clamp. Zeppo thought little of it and gave the guy a standard royalty based contract. Later he realized the new clamp could secure two pressurized hoses together with no drips. The clamp solved a critical problem with military aircraft.
The timing coincided with changes in west coast horse racing. After Pearl Harbor in December 1941, west coast tracks were converted to military use in 1942. With horse racing no longer a viable business, Zeppo exited both the Thoroughbred and Hollywood businesses to form Marman Products. Eventually, Marman Products would produce clamps from two factories in Inglewood, Califonia. Many of the 250 employees had been hired away from RKO and other studios, almost all of which had a machine shop in the property department.
In 1945, these clamps were adapted to secure the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs to their B-29 motherships. By the end of World War II, Marman had some 200 product lines. Other products included automotive clutches and an early motorcycle known as the Marman Twin, now highly collectible. Marman Products was sold to Aeroquip in 1955.
Today, the Marman Clamp can be found in virtually all moving vehicles, including the Cassini Orbiter which, even in 2016, is sending images of Saturn back to earth.
In 1967, Zeppo patented both a heart-rate monitor and a wearable heating pad. His heart-rate monitor is the forerunner of almost any device today with heart-rate monitoring capabilities. Wearable heating blankets are still available for purchase.
In 1954, Zeppo and Marion divorced. In 1959 he married Barbara Blakeley. Zeppo wanted to adopt her son Bobby but the boy's father wouldn’t allow it. Bobby used the Marx name anyway. Blakeley had arranged a showing of Spartacus to raise funds for Cedars-Sinai Hospital. At the last minute she was told she couldn’t have the film so Zeppo went to speak to his neighbor in Rancho Mirage, Frank Sinatra. Frank agreed to let him have an early release of “Come Blow Your Horn", the film he had just finished. Sinatra also flew everyone to Palm Springs for the event. The Marxes became frequent visitors to Sinatra’s compound and Barbara started seeing Sinatra behind Zeppo’s back. Following their divorce on May 1, 1973, Barbara continued seeing Sinatra and later they were married.
When Zeppo became ill with lung cancer in 1978, he sold his home and moved near Frank Sinatra Drive in Palm Springs. He spent his last days with Barbara and her family and passed away on November 30, 1979. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.