The family name was Joachim, their parents immigrants from Austria-Hungary and Poland. All were born in Newark, New Jersey, USA: Al (b. 27 August 1901, d. 22 December 1965, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA), Jimmy (b. 5 October 1904, d. 17 November 1985, Los Angeles, California, USA), Harry (b. 22 May 1907, d. 29 March 1986, San Diego, California, USA). Teamed as a dance and comedy act in 1925 with another brother, George, as manager, they became popular appearing on Broadway in Earl Carroll’s Florida Girl (1925), then toured the Shubert Brothers’ circuit. Their theme song was ‘Collegiate’ and they also sang ‘The Man In The Middle Is The Funny One’ (that was Harry). They also appeared in early 30s editions of the Earl Carroll Vanities. After making a film short, Hotel Anchovy (1934), they made several feature films for 20th Century-Fox; the company hoped they would compete with the Marx Brothers. Their films included Sing, Baby, Sing (1936, singing ‘The Music Goes Round And Round’), One In A Million (starring Sonja Henie and in which the brothers sang ‘Horror Boys Of Hollywood’, ‘Chloe’, ‘I Wish I Was In Dixie’s Land’, ‘Old Folks At Home’, ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ and ‘Toreador Song’), On The Avenue (singing ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm’ with Alice Faye and Dick Powell), You Can’t Have Everything and Life Begins In College (all 1937), The Goldwyn Follies (singing ‘Here, Pussy, Pussy’), Kentucky Moonshine and Straight Place And Show (all 1938), The Three Musketeers, The Gorilla and Pack Up Your Troubles (all 1939).
Although their zany routines and musical numbers were often effective, the Ritz Brothers’ success was limited and they moved to Universal Studios, making Argentine Nights (1940), Behind The Eight Ball (1942), Hi’ya, Chum and Never A Dull Moment (both 1943). This was the end of the trio’s film career and they returned to the stage and were on the road until Al’s death. They made few television appearances; Harry outspokenly doubted the suitability of the medium for an act like theirs. Jimmy and Harry appeared in Blazing Stewardesses (1975) and Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), and Harry alone appeared in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1975). Brooks has expressed his admiration for Harry’s work, declaring him to have been an important influence upon his own career. Other entertainers the Ritz Brothers influenced are Sid Caesar, Danny Kaye and Jerry Lewis.