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    The Comedy News For 01/21/18

    Search Returned: 1 Biographies | Directory

    1) Groucho Marx | Biography
    Birth: 10/02/1890 Death: 08/19/1977
    Show Quotes
    | Comic Actor

    Groucho Marx was born Julius Henry Marx on October 2nd, 1890 in the Yorkville neighborhood of the Upper East Side. Today Groucho Marx is best remembered as an American comedian and the famed leader of a team of Marx Brothers, who starred in film, TV, radio, stage and the last years of Vaudeville. Groucho also had a successful solo career, most notably as the host of the radio and television game show You Bet Your Life. His distinctive image included a heavy greasepaint moustache, enlarged eyebrows and horned rimmed glasses. The trademark look identified and defined the comic actor, who would be voted one of the 62nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly and the #20 Greatest Actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends List by The American Film Institute. His son, Arthur Marx, is a successful writer of biographies and TV scripts, once complained that Groucho was always on. If he asked Groucho any personal questions, Groucho would usually reply with a one-liner response.

    The Marx family grew up in a small Jewish neighborhood sandwiched between Irish-German and Italian neighborhoods. His parents were Minnie Schoenberg Marx and Sam Marx, who went by Frenchie throughout his life worked as a tailor. Minnie's brother was Al Schoenberg, who shortened his name to Al Shean and became a noted Vaudeville act. According to Groucho, when Shean visited the family he would throw the local waifs a few coins so that when he knocked at the door he would be surrounded by child-like adoring fans. Marx and his brothers respected his opinions and often asked him to write material for them.

    Grouch's parents, especially his mother, had an intense ambition to push their children on the stage like their uncle. Chico Marx was the eldest. He was driven to the entertainment field through piano lessons. While Chico studied piano, Julius, who would later be known as Groucho, realized that he had a pleasant soprano voice and began singing. At the time, Julius wanted to become a doctor. However, poverty forced Julius out of school at the age of twelve. Despite dropping out of school, Julius remained a voracious reader though out his life. His friend Dick Cavett once said "I, with my college education, had merely heard of the book, but Groucho had actually read it."

    Although Groucho was the third-oldest son, he was the first to go into show business. With his mother's blessing, the 14-year-old Groucho Marx took a job as with a group called the LeRoy Trio. However, Groucho's first gig was nearly his last when, while on tour, he was stranded in Colorado and had to work his way back home. At the time, Marx was willing to chuck the theater and resume his dream of becoming a doctor. To stop that from happening, his mother Minnie organized Groucho, his younger brother Gummo and a less than talented girl named Mabel O'Donnell into a Vaudeville act called The Three Nightingales. Before long, Groucho's older brothers Chico and Harpo joined the act, which, by 1910, the group was renamed The Six Mascots.

    Groucho's brother Adolph would soon change his name to Harpo, because he played the harp, while Milton Marx would eventually become the lesser known Gummo, due to his fascination with detective stories. After exhausting their prospects in the East, the family moved to La Grange, Illinois to play the Midwestern United States. After a particularly dispiriting performance in Nacogdoches, Texas, Julius, Milton, and Arthur began cracking jokes onstage for their own amusement. Much to their surprise, the audience preferred the brothers as comedians. That's when they became a comedy team the Marx Brothers. Their first skit was modified a Gus Edwards comedy skit School Days. They renamed it Fun In Hi Skule, [Fun in High School]. The Marx Brothers would perform variations on this routine as a comedy team for the next seven years.

    As much as Harpo and Chico were difficult to recognize without their wigs and costumes, it was almost impossible to recognize Groucho without his trademark glasses, fake eyebrows and moustache. His greasepaint moustache and eyebrows developed spontaneously prior to a Vaudeville performance when he did not have time to apply the pasted-on moustache he had been using. After applying the greasepaint moustache, a quick glance in the mirror revealed his natural hair eyebrows were too under toned and thus did not match the rest of his face. For this reason, Groucho added the greasepaint to his eyebrows and headed for the stage. The exaggerated walk was a spoof of a fad from the 1880s and 1890s. At the time, young upper class men of the upper classes of the time would walk with their right hand held fast to the base of their spines. They would then lean forward at the waist with a slight twist toward the right allowing their left hand to swing free. There several versions of how Julius Henry Marx got his more famous nickname Groucho. One popular explanation was his general disposition. The other explanation was that during the Marx Brothers' early days in Vaudeville, Groucho was the keeper of the act's grouch bag or money purse. The fact that he lost so much money during the Great Depression, has led some people to believe this explanation was the most likely to be true. Groucho, on the other hand, had once said, "My own name, I never did understand."

    Groucho was married three times, all of which ended in divorce. His first wife was chorus girl Ruth Johnson. The couple married February 4th, 1920. At the time, Groucho was 29 and she was 19. The couple had two children, Arthur and Miriam. They divorced July 15th, 1942 leaving Grouch to marry his second wife was Kay Marvis on February 24th, 1945, the former wife of Leo Gorcey. Groucho was 54 and Kay 24 at the time of their marriage. They had a daughter, Melinda. They divorced on May 12th, 1951. Mis final marriage was to Eden Hartford on July 17th, 1954. They also divorced on December 4th, 1969.

    After managing to offend several powerful Vaudeville magnates, the Marx Brothers accepted work with a Broadway-bound plays including the theatrical comedy I'll Say She Is. They scored a surprise hit when I'll Say She Is play opened in 1924, making the Marx Brothers became the toast of Broadway. I'll Say She Is ran from 1923 until 1925. The Marx Brothers followed up with 1925's The Cocoanuts, in which playwrights George Kaufman and Morris Ryskind refined Groucho's character into the combination con man and perpetual wisecracker that he would portray until the team of sibling comedians dissolved. The Cocoanuts was also the first time Groucho appeared with his future perennial foil. The Cocoanuts ran from 1925 until 1928, with its score by Irving Berlin. In 1928, Animal Crackers featured Groucho as fraudulent African explorer Capt Geoffrey T. Spaulding. By this time, Gummo had dropped out of the act, though he and Groucho would remain close for their entire lives. Gummo was meanwhile replaced by Zeppo, who had either been named either after a zeppelin or an acrobatic monkey named Zippo.

    For a time, in Vaudeville all the brothers performed using ethnic accents. Julius Marx's character from Fun In Hi Skule was a German teacher, so Julius played him with a German accent until an anti-German sentiment erupted during World War I. Meanwhile, Leonard Marx, the oldest Marx brother, developed the Italian accent he used as Chico Marx to convince some neighborhood bullies that he was Italian. The Marx Brothers soon became stars at the Palace Theatre which billed itself as the Valhalla of Vaudeville. This would eventually result in the sibling comedy team moving from Broadway to film. By the time the Marx brothers made their first movie, they were already major stars. Groucho Marx woul make a total of 26 movies; fifteen of those films would co-star his brothers Chico and Harpo. The brother's first movie was a silent film that was never released called Humor Risk. Groucho's first credited appearance was playing the Ghost of Julius Caeser in the 1931 film the House that Shadow Built. A year later Groucho was cast on the short lived radio series, Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel, co-starring his brother Chico Marx. Though the radio series failed, the failure may have been a result of its a poor time slot or it may simply have overlapped the Marx Brothers' returning to Hollywood to make another film.

    Soon, both Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers were made into early talkies, prompting Paramount to invite the Brothers to Hollywood for a group of comedies written specifically for the screen. This resulted in appearances in Monkey Business in 1931, Horse Feathers in 1932 and Duck Soup in 1933. The brothers' Paramount films de-emphasized the usual Hollywood storylines and romantic subplots. Most of the films simply provided screen time for the Marx Brothers to perform their Vaudeville routines. The nearly plotless Monkey Business featured four nameless stowaway characters who wreak havoc on a luxury liner. Horse Feathers, on the other hand, was a free-form journey through college life, with Groucho playing Professor Wagstaff. Though all three films are now considered classics, box-office receipts dropped off with each new feature film and they were all considered failures by Paramount Pictures when they were released.

    By 1934, the Marx Brothers were considered washed up in some Hollywood circles. However, following Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers were still picked up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, AKA MGM, at the request of its production chief Irving Thalberg. The new company used the comic team into the more sterotypical Hollywood storylines. The result was the films A Night at the Opera in 1935 and A Day at the Races in 1937. By that time of their latest film, Groucho had already established himself as a solo act on radio and TV. He had also established himself as a writer with the screenplay for Warner Brothers' The King and the Chorus Girl in 1937. Meanwhile, in 1946, Groucho co-wrote the play A Time for Elizabeth with Norman Krasna almost a decade later. Groucho was also making successful solo appearances in the 1947 film Copacabana, the 1951 film Double Dynamite and the 1952 film A Girl in Every Port. At this point, except for an occasional reunion with his brothers in the 1949 film Love Happy and the 1959 TV special The Incredible Jewel Robbery, Groucho became a solo performer for the remainder of his career.

    In the mid-1940s, during a lull in his career, Groucho was scheduled to appear on a radio show with Bob Hope. Annoyed that he was made to wait in the waiting room for 40 minutes, Groucho went on the air in a overtly foul mood. When Hope started by saying, "Groucho, what brings you here from the hot desert," Groucho responded, "Hot desert my foot; I've been standing in the cold waiting room for 40 minutes." Groucho continued to ignore the script and improvised the rest of the show. Hope couldn't keep up with Groucho, as lengthened the scene well beyond its allotted time slot to adjust for Groucho's unexpected onslaught of improvised wisecracks. Listening in, was radio producer John Guedel. Guedel was impressed with Groucho's improv skills and approached Groucho about doing a quiz show that would use Groucho's talent for improvising. Groucho initially refused the offer. But he accepted the job when he was assured that, instead of being confined to script or his worn-out screen character, Groucho could simply be himself while ad-libbing the show's content to his heart's content.

    Thus in 1947, Marx was chosen to host a new radio quiz program entitled You Bet Your Life. The series debuted on ABC October of 1947. Filmed before a live audience, the new radio show consisted of Groucho Marx interviewing the contestants and adlibbing jokes, before they played a brief quiz. After a few years, it moved to CBS and then finally to NBC, running all the way up until May 1961. The series aired on both radio and television from 1950 to 1956. After 1956, You Bet Your Life ran exclusively on television, lasting another six years until 1961. At its peak, it was one of the most popular in the history of radio and television, winning over both high ratings and several Emmy awards.

    Despite this lack of formal education, Groucho wrote many books during his life including his own autobiography, Groucho and Me, which was published by Da Capo Press in 1959. He also wrote Memoirs of a Mangy Lover in 1963. Another TV show hosted by Groucho, Tell It To Groucho, premiered on January 11th, 1962 on CBS shortly after You Bet Your Life had come to an end. However, Groucho's new series only lasted five months. Meanwhile, in 1962, after acting as occasional guest host of The Tonight Show during the six-month interval between Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, Groucho introduced a young Johnny Carson as the Tonight Show's new permanent host. In the 1950s Groucho was invited to take a tour of the New York Stock Exchange. While in the observation booth, he grabbed the public address system handset and began singing Lydia the Tattooed Lady. Upon hearing silence coming from the trading floor, Groucho walked into view, was given a loud cheer by the traders as he shouted shouted, "Gentlemen, in 1929 I lost eight hundred thousand dollars on this floor, and I intend to get my money's worth!" For fifteen minutes, he sang, danced, told jokes, and all this time while the Wall Street stock ticker ran blank.

    In 1965, Groucho did a weekly show for British TV titled Groucho. However, the series was poorly received and only lasted eleven weeks. In 1968, he appeared as God in the movie Skidoo co-starring Jackie Gleason and Carol Channing. As it turned out, Skiddo got almost universally negative reviews. In 1972, Groucho made his last theatrical film appearance, a brief, uncredited cameo in Michael Ritchie's film The Candidate. At the age of 78, Groucho actually prepared for his role in the LSD-related movie by taking a small dose of the drug. Marx returned to the limelight in the early 1970s when his old films were rediscovered by a young antiestablishment era that revelled in Groucho's ability to deflate authority. By this time, Groucho's health had been weakened by a stroke, but through the encouragement of his secretary and his companion Erin Fleming, whom he began dating in 1970, Groucho never the less returned to active performing with several TV guest appearances and a 1972 sold-out appearance at Carnegie Hall. One person who was not impressed by Flemming pushing Groucho back into the limelight was Groucho's son Aurthur, who felt Flemming was pushing Groucho too hard and too fast despite the fact that Groucho was too old.

    A recording of Groucho's final concert at Carnegie Hall in 1972 was released as a double album called An Evening with Groucho on A&M Records. The recording was a surprise best-seller and a Grammy nominee for Best Comedy Recording. At the same time, Groucho met and befriended Elton John when the British singer was staying in California in 1972. According to writer Philip Norman, Groucho jokingly pointed his index fingers at Elton John as if holding a pair of six-shooters. Elton John put up his hands and said, "Don't shoot me, I'm only the piano player," and in doing so, named Elton John's new album. Groucho also made an appearance on a short-lived variety show hosted by Bill Cosby in 1973. In 1974, he accepted an honorary Academy Award in 1974, where he took a bow for all the Marx Brothers. By now Chico and Harpo had both passed on. As he got sicker, the increasing influence of Fleming that caused him the greatest amount of difficulty in Groucho's final years, resulting in the estrangement between Groucho and his children, as well as many of Groucho's oldest friends. In the midst of a heated battle between the Marx family and Fleming over the disposition of his estate, Groucho Marx became terminally ill.

    Grouch was hospitalized for pneumonia on June 22nd, 1977. He died on August 19th, 1977 at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles; he was 87. Groucho was cremated and his ashes were interred in the Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles. When he died in 1977, he left an estate valued at $2 million. Aged 86 at death, Groucho had the longest lifespan of all the Marx Brothers. He was survived only by younger brother Zeppo, who outlived him by two years, dying in 1979. Shortly after his death, his children found a gag letter from Groucho asking to be buried on top of Marilyn Monroe. In an interview, Groucho jokingly suggested his epitaph read "Excuse me, I can't stand up", however his mausoleum marker bears only his stage name, a Star of David and the years of his birth and death. Despite his widespread fame and historical importance to comedy, Groucho's death only received only passing attention because it occurred three days after that of Elvis Presley.

    Many Groucho-like characters and Groucho references have appeared in popular culture long after his death. To this day, glasses with fake noses and moustaches, often referred to as Groucho glasses, are still sold by novelty and costume shops. On the famous Hollywood Sign in California, one of the "O"s is dedicated to Groucho Marx. Alice Cooper contributed over $27,000 to remodel the sign, in memory of Groucho. During his life, Marx suffered from insomnia, which he claimed was due to a financial loss in the stock market. When he suffered from insomnia, he would often call people up in the middle of the night and insult them to pass the time. The FBI also even made a file on Groucho after he made some jokes about communism. In 1989, the Republic of Abkhazia proclaimed independence. To show the world they were rejecting their Communist past, they issued two postage stamps of Groucho Marx and John Lennon as opposed to Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin. The implication, of course, was that communism was a joke.

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    Film Appearances

    1.) Duck Soup | Details
    {With 1 Vote} And 5890 Hits
    2.) Monkey Business | Details
    {With 2 Votes} And 7511 Hits
    3.) A Night At The Opera | Details
    {With 1 Vote} And 8200 Hits
    4.) Horse Feathers | Details
    {With 1 Vote} And 6060 Hits
    5.) A Day At The Races | Details
    {With 7 Votes} And 7959 Hits

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