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August 27: The Ritz Brothers

Lawrence Bush
August 26, 2016

The-gorilla-1939-posterAl Ritz (Joachim), the eldest of the precision-dancing trio, the Ritz Brothers, was born in Newark, New Jersey on this date in 1901. Ritz became a vaudevillian before recruiting his brothers, Jimmy (Samuel) and Harry, after their graduation from high school. Their trio act played with tap dance, lampoons of popular songs and stories, ethnic humor, and creative slapstick. They starred in several films in the 1930s, including The Three Musketeers (1939), The Gorilla (1939) and Argentine Nights (1940), which also featured the Andrews Sisters, but “their hyperbolic style and unsubtle brand of insanity . . . were not always complemented in their films,” according to critic Gary Brumburgh. “They were an acquired taste (or an acquired lack of taste) and their critically-drubbed clowning never achieved the box-office distinction of Groucho, Chico and Zeppo,” not to mention Harpo. Ultimately, their most enduring success would be as supper-club headliners. Al’s death of a heart attack in 1965 forced his brothers into semi-retirement. To see them performing, look below.

“They followed in the huge clown shoes of the Marx Brothers and stumbled a bit in doing so, but the Ritz Brothers slapstick trio (comprised of Al Ritz, Jimmy Ritz and Harry Ritz) were troupers all the way as they did their part in helping American audiences forget about the Depression and World War II.” --Gary Brumburgh

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.