Les Marsden Professional Biography

(and other egregious falsehoods)


Les Marsden is best known (if at all) for his long-time work in recreating the many Marx Brothers. It all began in a high-school talent show when he decided to play Harpo because he'd get to wear a blond wig and chase girls. Shortly before Mr. Marsden's college graduation, a professor suggested to the 21-year-old that he create a showpiece to demonstrate everything he had learned in school. After realizing that such limitation would only produce a very tiny play, Mr. Marsden instead decided to write a one-man show on the life and times of Harpo Marx. After initial refusals from Harpo's widow Susan to allow such a show, Mr. Marsden won her blessing and full cooperation. A Night at Harpo's was honored at its 1978 premiere during the American College Theatre Festival and immediately went on to professional bookings in California, Las Vegas and Scotland's Edinburgh Festival. In addition to writing and starring in the play, Mr. Marsden has also directed all productions of Harpo's. After a lengthy engagement in 1984 at the Cast Theatre in Los Angeles, Mr. Marsden retired A Night at Harpo's and in the ensuing years has given only two performances of the show: at Burt Reynolds' Jupiter (Florida) Theatre in April of 1989 and at Lucille Lortel's Westport, CT White Barn Theatre in August of 1993.

Mr. Marsden has been honored with a Laurence Olivier Award nomination, arguably the highest theatrical honor in the world, in the category 'Comedy Performance of the Year' as well as a London Critics' Award nomination (Best Actor) for his dual performance as Chico and Harpo in Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher's Groucho: A Life in Revue, a role created specifically for him by the authors. Prior to its run on London's West End, Groucho was successfully produced in New York at the celebrated Lucille Lortel Theatre and all across North America. More recently, Mr. Marsden was asked to play the title role, most notably in Boston where Groucho became the longest running hit of the '90-'91 season. His performance as Groucho was noted as one of the best of the season in the year-end round-up by the Boston Herald. He made a triumphal return to Boston in the same play and role in 1997 and made the Boston Globe's 'Ten Best' list at year's end. In addition to playing the title role and his Chico/Harpo dual role, Mr. Marsden has directed many productions of the play.

He was seen at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut as The Professor (Harpo) in Animal Crackers, for which he was named Best Actor in a Musical (1992) in Connecticut's Best of the Arts Awards, a singular honor in light of the fact that he neither speaks nor sings in the entire show! He does, however, play a lengthy harp solo in the style of the Master. He has performed Animal Crackers previously at The Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, Boston's Huntington Theatre Company and Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, as well as the spring of 1999 long-awaited revival of Animal Crackers at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, the theatre which originally revived the play in 1982 for the first time since the Marx Brothers had last performed it in 1930. Many years ago, Mr. Marsden starred as Groucho in the Los Angeles area production of the musical comedy/biography Minnie's Boys, also written by Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher. The ensuing rave notices he drew led Universal Studios to ask him to create a format in which he (as Groucho) could be employed by the famed studio tour. Seizing the opportunity for easy work, Mr. Marsden became (as Groucho) spokesman for the tour at press events and in the media, general bully to small children, VIP guide, and unfortunately, the bane of a great many tour visitors, most of whom ended their encounters with him regretting that they had not gone to Knott's Berry Farm instead. In 1976, Mr. Marsden was privileged to meet Groucho at Mr. Marx's home and was delighted to find himself thoroughly insulted by the Master, who also gave the young imposter his imprimatur. Mr. Marsden is frequently asked to appear at special celebrity events as one, two, or all of the Marx Brothers; he performed as Harpo and Groucho in September and October of 1993 in a series of productions honoring Uta Hagen and the famed Herbert Berghof Studio in Manhattan with performers such as Donna McKechnie, Stiller and Meara, and Matthew Broderick, all directed by Charles Nelson Reilly, who also played straight man to Mr. Marsden's Harpo and was the recipient of some 400 knives falling from Mr. Marsden's sleeve.

Mr. Marsden has tried to keep some balance to his career, not wishing to be known only for the Marx Brothers. He was asked by James Kirkwood (A Chorus Line, P.S. Your Cat is Dead) to create the lead role in what sadly turned out to be the author's final work: Stage Stuck, which was directed by the legendary Charles Nelson Reilly. Other favorite roles include Touchstone in Shakespeare's As You Like It (The Huntington Theatre, Boston, and the Pittsburgh Public Theatre,) Max Prince in the regional theatre premiere of Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor (GeVa Theatre, Rochester and the American Stage Festival, New Hampshire; both productions directed by Karen Azenberg,) and Jimmy Deegan in the first-ever revival since 1930 of Cole Porter's The New Yorkers, performed at Town Hall, Manhattan etc., in which he recreated the role which made Jimmy Durante a Broadway star. He has also been seen in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Nine Armenians as Pop, and Singin' in the Rain as Roscoe Dexter at the Westchester Broadway Theatre. He has appeared as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma! at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Allenberry Playhouse and the Jupiter Theatre (Carbonell Award nomination.) He played the starring role in the Los Angeles revival of the '30's Broadway comedy See My Lawyer. He has been seen in leading roles in The Front Page, Macbeth, The Cherry Orchard, The Merchant of Venice, The Little Foxes, The Visit, Tiny Alice, Zorba, South Pacific, What The Butler Saw, and many others.

He can be seen in an episode of the NBC comedy Lateline in the spring of 1999 appearing with star Al Franken. Other television appearances have included General Hospital, The Bob Newhart Show, Matt Houston, Mel Brooks' The Nutt House, CBS Morning Show, Good Morning, America, The Joe Franklin Show, and numerous others. On film, he's appeared in The Siege with Denzel Washington, Kerouac Looking Back (as beat generation poet Allen Ginsberg,) A Legend in His Own Mind, Macbeth, and the Robert Redford-directed film Quiz Show. Commercials include the currently-airing national and international spots for Clairol Infusium shampoo, in which he plays the character of 'Uncle Lester.' His many other past commercials have included long-running spots for KraftMaid Cabinet Systems, Freixenet Champagne, Tropicana Orange Juice, Cutter Insect Repellant, Pioneer Television Systems-Japan (as a badly dubbed Japanese-speaking Groucho!), Spicer's Wheat Twists, and with Joan Rivers in a series of promos for the now-defunct Joan Rivers Show, etc.

Mr. Marsden wrote both music and lyrics for the musical Telethon Fool, which was successfully produced in California. A musically precocious brat, he was credentialled to teach the piano at age 11, wrote his first symphony at 13, and is proficient on all keyboards, concert grand harp, most brass instruments, the clarinet, cello, etc. A devotee of classical music and a minor authority on its development throughout the nineteenth century to present times, he's currently writing a new play for himself called Beating Time, an historically-based bitterly dark comedy about Stalin's purges of Soviet composers between the years 1936 and 1953.

Among Mr. Marsden's prized possessions are Harpo's own hand-made golf putter, a world War I vintage military helmet which was used in the Marx Brothers' 1933 film Duck Soup, and an 80-year-old harp which belonged to Harpo's musical mentor, the great harpist and teacher Mildred Dilling and upon which instrument Harpo played while studying with her. Mr. Marsden lives in the forested mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania with a dog, a chinchilla, a ferret, six cats, his wife (who has patiently put up with and occasionally encouraged her husband's Marx nonsense for more than twenty years,) and his best friend: his son Maxfield Charles Marsden, born in perfect health against million-to-one odds April 11, 1997.


(©Les Marsden, 1999 'cause nobody else had the nerve to claim it)


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