Born Julius Henry Marx on 2nd October 1890, Groucho Marx is a 20th Century icon. His iconic status stems from his distinctive appearance, the bushy eyebrows, the cigar, the funny moustache and thick glasses.
Stepping into the limelight
After leaving school aged just 11, Groucho got his first job in showbusiness in the summer of 1905 as a boy soprano with the Leroy Trio. From this he joined Gus Edwards' Postal Telegraph Boys at the Alhambra Theater, New York City on April 23, 1906, performing in many different shows and revues. After this the first sign of the Marx Brothers shone through1.
Where His Act Came From
Groucho's characteristic style came from him being fed up with his early audiences and so he began throwing jokes and insults into the act, directly addressing the crowd in as hilariously nasty a manner as possible. His painted-on moustache comes from the time when he was unable to find his prop moustache and rapidly painted one on with greasepaint. He stuck with the look and this is how he would appear with his brothers ever afterward, despite efforts by certain film directors to make his moustache look realistic.
A Marriage of Marx
I've had a wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.
On the 4th February, 1920 Groucho married Ruth Johnson
and on 21st July, 1921 - Groucho and Ruth's child, Arthur, was born. The pair divorced on 15th July, 1942 after 22 years together. The saucy devil then married Kay Gorcey on 21st July, 1945 and had Melinda with her the following year. The two divorced on 12th May, 1950 and on 17th July, 1954, Groucho got hitched again to Eden Hartford. Surprise, surprise on 4th December, 1969, Groucho and Eden divorced.
Dipping his Ink
Groucho always considered himself a writer first, a comedian second, and over the years turned out several witty books and articles. He was gratified in the '60s when his letters to and from friends2 were installed in the Library of Congress, quite an accomplishment for a man who never finished grade school. From time to time Groucho also write articles and books including 'Memoirs of a Mangy Lover' and 'Groucho and Me'. He also contributed to 'The Marx Brothers Scrapbook'.
Groucho Goes Solo from the Brothers
In the 1940's, after the Marx's hey-day was over3, Grouch kept himself busy with radio appearances and a stint with the Hollywood Victory Caravan.
Please accept my resignation from your club, I cannot be a member in a club that accepts members like myself.
In 1947 producer/writer John Guedel asked Groucho to host a radio quiz show called You Bet Your Life, Groucho at first refused, not wanting another failure on his resume4. He accepted the assignment when assured that, instead of being confined to a banal script or his worn-out screen character, Groucho could be himself, adlibbing to his heart's content with the contestants. Groucho's inital run of You Bet Your Life on the radio was so successful for the sponsor, Elgin American, that they ran out of powder compacts and cigarette cases. The first radio, then later TV, runs of You Bet Your Life lasted from 1947 to 1961, winning high ratings and several Emmies in the process. While he was doing You Bet Your Life, he also became involved during 1953 in The Big Show, an NBC attempt to generate more interest in radio variety, hosted by Tallulah Bankhead. The frission between Bankhead and Groucho was monumental and the bits they did are legendary. After You Bet Your Life Groucho hosted another TV game show, Tell It To Groucho. However, this only lasted a few weeks before being pulled.
Groucho was on television until 1963 and, in the late sixties, the syndication of "You Bet Your Life" took off. Groucho, before the VCR became reasonable, used to take a nap so he could stay up and watch You Bet Your Life. By that time he'd forgotten most of the answers, many of the questions and almost all of the guests, so it was vastly entertaining to him. Groucho was also the guest host on "The Tonight Show" on the night Johnny Carson took over in 1962.
The Seventies and Groucho
Groucho worked less and less as the 1960's came to an end, but he came back into the limelight in the early '70s when his old films were rediscovered by the young anti-establishment types of the era, who revelled in Groucho's willingness to deflate authority. By this time, Groucho's health had been weakened by a stroke, but through the encouragement of his secretary/companion Erin Fleming, Marx returned to active performing with TV guest appearances and a 1972 SRO appearance at Carnegie Hall. In 1974 Groucho accepted a special Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony.
Groucho died on 19th August, 1977 from pneumonia, aged 86. By this time all the other Marx Bros were dead, except Zeppo, who died 2 years later.
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