Groucho Marx

Groucho MarxJulius Henry, aka "Groucho" Marx was an outstanding comedian who was born on October 2, 1890 in New York, NY. He and his siblings, later known as the Marx Brothers, grew up on the Upper East Side of New York. He was the first of the brothers to take the plunge into show business. With his mother's blessing, the 14-year-old Marx took a job as a boy soprano with a group called the LeRoy Trio. This first engagement was nearly his last when, while on tour, he was stranded in Colorado and had to work his way back home. Perfecting various accents, Groucho and his brothers soon performed on Vaudeville.

Groucho developed a routine as a wise-cracking man with a distinctive chicken-walking lope and an exagerated greasepaint moustache, improvising insults to stuffy grande dames who stood in his way.

After managing to offend several powerful vaudeville magnates, the Marx Brothers accepted work with a Broadway-bound "tab" show, I'll Say She Is. The play scored a surprise hit when it opened in 1924, and the brothers became the toast of Broadway.

They followed this success with a 1925 play, The Cocoanuts. Animal Crackers, which opened in 1928, cast Groucho as fraudulent African explorer Capt. Geoffrey T. Spaulding. Both Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers were made into early talking movies (silent film was just on the way out), prompting Paramount to invite the Brothers to Hollywood for a group of comedies written specifically for the screen. Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup (1933) are now acknowledged classics, but box-office receipts dropped off with each successive feature, and, by 1934, the Marx Brothers were considered washed up in Hollywood.

Groucho also worked as a radio comedian and show host in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s, he hosted the popular television program You Bet Your Life. The show consisted of Groucho interviewing the contestants and ad libbing jokes. Then they would play a brief quiz. The show was responsible for the phrases "Say the secret word and win a hundred dollars" and "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"

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, he walked into view, was given a loud cheer by the traders, and 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, the Wall Street stock ticker was running blank.

Groucho was a master at improvising clever insults, and became well known for this. One of his frustrations in later years was that when he insulted people who annoyed him they tended to laugh, thinking it was just part of the famous comedian's act.

Groucho lived long enough to see the team of him and his brothers rediscovered and adored anew. He returned to active performing with TV guest appearances and a 1972 sold-out appearance at Carnegie Hall. He received a special Oscar in 1973.The most famous of the Marx brothers died on August 19, 1977 and was laid to rest in Mission Hills, California.

A famous French witticism was "Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho", meaning "I'm a Marxist of the Groucho variety".