GROUCHO MARX Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Name: Groucho Marx                                                                         
Born: 2 October 1890 New York, U.S.A                                                       
Died: 19 August 1977 Los Angeles, California, U.S.A                                       
Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx (October 2, 1890 - August 19, 1977), was an American           
comedian and film star. He is famed as a master of wit. He made 15 feature films           
with his siblings, the Marx Brothers, and also had a successful solo career,               
most notably as the host of the radio and television game show, You Bet Your               
Life. He had a distinctive image, which included a heavy greasepaint                       
moustache and eyebrows and glasses.                                                       
The Marx family grew up on the Upper East Side (E 93rd Street) of New York City,           
in a small Jewish neighborhood sandwiched between Irish-German and Italian                 
neighborhoods. Groucho's parents were Minnie Schoenberg Marx and Sam Marx (called         
"Frenchie" throughout his life).                                                           
Minnie's brother was Al Schoenberg, who shortened his name to Al Shean when he             
went into show business. He was half of Gallagher and Shean, a noted vaudeville           
act of the early 20th century. According to Groucho, when Shean visited 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 asked him on several occasions to write some material for them.               
Minnie Marx did not have an entertainment industry career, but she had intense             
ambition for her sons to go on the stage like their uncle. While pushing her               
eldest son Leonard (Chico Marx) in piano lessons, she found that Julius had a             
pleasant soprano voice and the ability to remain on key. Even though Julius'               
early career goal was to become a doctor, the family's need for income forced             
Julius out of school at the age of twelve. By that time, Julius had become a               
voracious reader, particularly fond of Horatio Alger. Throughout the rest of his           
life, Marx would overcome his lack of formal education by becoming very well-read.         
After a few comically unsuccessful stabs at entry-level office work and other             
jobs suitable for adolescents, Julius took to the stage as a boy singer in 1905.           
Though he reputedly claimed that in the world of vaudeville, he enjoyed only "modest       
success" but was "hopelessly average," it was merely a wisecrack. By 1909,                 
Minnie Marx successfully managed to assemble her sons into a low-quality                   
vaudeville singing group. They were billing themselves as 'The Four Nightingales',         
Julius, Milton (Gummo Marx), Adolph (Harpo Marx) (later changed to Arthur), and           
another boy singer, Lou Levy, traveled the U.S. vaudeville circuits to little             
fanfare. After exhausting their prospects in the East, the family moved to La             
Grange, Illinois to play the Midwest.                                                     
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 liked them better as comedians than singers. They             
modified the then-popular Gus Edwards comedy skit, "School Days", and renamed it           
"Fun In Hi Skule". The Marx Brothers would perform variations on this routine             
for the next seven years.                                                                 
For a time in vaudeville all the brothers performed using ethnic accents.                 
Leonard Marx, the oldest Marx brother, developed the "Italian" accent he used as           
"Chico" to convince some roving bullies that he was Italian, not Jewish. Julius           
Marx's character from "Fun In Hi Skule" was an ethnic German, so Julius played             
him with a German accent. However, after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in               
1915, public anti-German sentiment was widespread, and Marx's "German" character           
was booed, so he quickly dropped the accent and developed the fast-talking wise-guy       
character he would make famous.                                                           
The Marx Brothers became the biggest comedic stars of the Palace Theatre, which           
billed itself as the "Valhalla of Vaudeville". Brother Chico's deal-making                 
skills resulted in three hit plays on Broadway. No comedy routine had ever                 
infected the hallowed Broadway circuit. But reports are unanimous that the                 
Broadway audiences were just as convulsed with laughter as the vaudeville ones             
had been. The Marx Brothers were now more than a vaudeville sensation; they were           
a Broadway sensation.                                                                     
All of this predated their Hollywood career. By the time the Marxes made their             
first movie, they were major stars, with sharply honed skills, and when Groucho           
was relaunched to stardom on You Bet Your Life, he had already been performing             
successfully for half a century.                                                           
Marx developed a routine as a wise-cracking hustler with a distinctive chicken-walking     
lope, an exaggerated greasepaint moustache and eyebrows, and an ever-present               
cigar, improvising insults to stuffy dowagers (often played by Margaret Dumont)           
and anyone else who stood in his way. As the Marx Brothers, his brothers and he           
starred in a series of extraordinarily popular stage shows and movies.                     
In the 1930s and 1940s, Marx also worked as a radio comedian and show host. One           
of his earliest stints was in a short-lived series in 1932 entitled Flywheel,             
Shyster, and Flywheel, co-starring Chico, who was the only one of his brothers             
also willing to appear on the show. Most of the scripts and discs were                     
subsequently destroyed, turning up only in 1988 in the Library of Congress.               
In 1947, Marx was chosen to host a radio quiz program entitled You Bet Your Life           
broadcast by ABC and then CBS, before moving over to NBC television in 1950.               
Filmed before a live audience, the television show consisted of Marx                       
interviewing the contestants and ad libbing jokes, before playing a brief quiz.           
The show was responsible for the phrases "Say the secret woid [word] and divide           
$100" (that is, each contestant would get $50); and "Who's buried in Grant's               
Tomb?" or "What color is the White House?" (asked when Marx felt sorry for a               
contestant who had not won anything). It ran for eleven years on television.               
One quip from Marx concerned his response to Sam Wood, the director of the                 
classic film A Night at the Opera. Wood was furious with the Marx Brothers' ad-libs       
and antics on the set and yelled to all in disgust that he "cannot make actors             
out of clay." Without missing a beat, Groucho responded, "Nor can you make a               
director out of Wood."                                                                     
A widely reported, but likely apocryphal, ad-lib is reportedly a response to a             
female contestant who had almost a dozen children. Marx asked why the contestant           
had so many children, to which the contestant replied "I love my husband." Marx           
responded, "Lady, I love my cigar, too, but I take it out once in a while."               
Hector Arce inserted the claim into Marx's memoir The Secret Word Is Groucho but           
Marx himself denied that it ever happened.                                                 
Throughout his career he introduced a number of memorable songs in films,                 
including "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It", "Hello,       
I Must Be Going", "Everyone Says I Love You" and "Lydia the Tattooed Lady".               
Frank Sinatra, who once quipped that the only thing he could do better than Marx           
was sing, made a film with Marx and Jane Russell in 1951 entitled Double                   
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, or fake eyebrows and moustache.                                                   
The greasepaint moustache and eyebrows originated spontaneously prior to a                 
vaudeville performance when he did not have time to apply the pasted-on                   
moustache he had been using (or, according to his autobiography, simply did not           
enjoy the removal of the moustache every night because of the effects of tearing           
an adhesive bandage off the same patch of skin every night). After applying the           
greasepaint moustache, a quick glance in the mirror revealed his natural hair             
eyebrows were too undertoned and did not match the rest of his face, so Marx               
added the greasepaint to his eyebrows and headed for the stage. The absurdity of           
the greasepaint was never discussed on-screen, but in a famous scene in Duck               
Soup, where both Chico and Harpo are disguising themselves as Groucho, they are           
briefly seen applying the greasepaint, implicitly answering any question a                 
viewer might have had about where he got his moustache and eyebrows.                       
Marx was asked to do the greasepaint moustache once more for "You Bet Your Life,"         
but refused, opting instead to grow a real one, which he wore for the rest of             
his life.                                                                                 
He did paint the old character moustache over his real one on a few rare                   
performing occasions, including a TV sketch with Jackie Gleason on the latter's           
variety show in the 1960s (in which they performed a variation on the song "Positively     
Mr. Gallagher, Absolutely Mr. Shean," written by Marx's uncle Al Shean) and the           
1968 Otto Preminger film Skidoo. In his 70s at the time, Marx remarked on his             
appearance: "I looked like I was embalmed." He played a mob boss called "God"             
and, according to Marx, "both my performance and the film were God-awful!".               
Marx was married and divorced three times. His first wife was chorus girl Ruth             
Johnson (married 4 February 1920, divorced 15 July 1942). He was 30 and she 19             
at the time of their wedding. The couple had two children, Arthur and Miriam.             
His second wife was Kay Marvis Gorcey (married 24 February 1945, divorced 12 May           
1951), former wife of Leo Gorcey. Groucho was 55 and Kay 24 at the time of their           
marriage. They had a daughter, Melinda. His third wife was actress Eden Hartford           
(married 17 July 1954, divorced 4 December 1969)[3]. She was 20 when she married           
the 64 year old Groucho. All three wives were alcoholics. Many of his detractors           
wondered if he was just attracted to future alcoholics or if he drove them to it.         
Unfortunately, there is a shred of truth there; if anyone was "always on", it             
was Groucho Marx. Except for the rarest of occasions, such as parts of his                 
interview with Edward R. Murrow, and a televised one he did with columnist Hy             
Gardner, Groucho played Groucho everywhere he went and in everything he did.               
Often was the case, for instance, when the Marxes would arrive at a restaurant             
and be greeted by an interminable wait. "Just tell the maître d' who we are,"             
his wife would nag. (In his pre-moustache days, he was rarely recognized in               
public.) Groucho would say, "OK, OK. Good evening, sir. My name is Jones. This             
is Mrs. Jones, and here are all the little Joneses." Now his wife would be                 
furious and insist that he tell the maître d' the truth. "Oh, all right," said           
Groucho. "My name is Smith. This is Mrs. Smith, and here are all the little               
Similar anecdotes are corroborated by Groucho's friends, not one of whom went             
without being publicly embarrassed by Groucho on at least one occasion. Once, at           
a restaurant (the most common location of Groucho's antics), a fan came up to             
him and said, "Excuse me, but aren't you Groucho Marx?" "Yes," Groucho answered           
annoyedly. "Oh, I'm your biggest fan! Could I ask you a favor?" the man asked. "Sure,     
what is it?" asked the even-more annoyed Groucho. "See my wife sitting over               
there? She's an even bigger fan of yours than I am! Would you be willing to               
insult her?" Groucho replied, "Sir, if my wife looked like that, I wouldn't need           
any help thinking of insults." Also, Groucho's son, Arthur, published a brief             
account of an incident that occurred when Arthur was a child. The family was               
going through airport customs and, while filling out a form, Groucho listed his           
name as "Julius Henry Marx" and his occupation as "smuggler". Thereafter, chaos           
Off-stage, Groucho was a voracious reader. He unceasingly lamented the fact that           
he had only a grammar school education and he compensated by reading everything           
he got his hands on. His knowledge of literature from all eras was extraordinary.         
Typical of his achievements, this one was discussed only demurely by Groucho               
himself: "I think TV is very educational," he once said. "Every time someone               
turns on a TV, I go in the other room and read." His friend Dick Cavett,                   
speaking of Groucho and referencing a certain philosopher's writing, said "I,             
with my college education, had merely heard of the book, but Groucho had                   
actually read it." Cavett also remarked that Groucho could never end a letter;             
there was always at least one postscript. In one letter he recalls, Groucho               
wrote "P.S. Did you ever notice that Peter O'Toole has a double-phallic name?"             
Despite this lack of formal education, he wrote many books, including his                 
autobiography, Groucho and Me (1959), and Memoirs of a Mangy Lover (1963).                 
And he was personal friends with such literary figures as T. S. Eliot and Carl             
Sandburg. Much of his personal correspondence with those and other figures is             
featured in the book The Groucho Letters (1967) with an introduction and                   
commentary on the letters written by Groucho, who donated his letters to the               
Library of Congress.