Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx was born October 2, 1890 in New York City. He appeared as a 15-year-old singer on stage in 1905 and had an excellent soprano voice.
Marx appeared in every entertainment venue , as he was in vaudeville, burlesque, radio, television and movies. He was part of the Four Nightingales singing group with his brothers. A performance in Nacogdoches, Texas would prove to be a turning point in their careers, when they started cracking jokes, which was better received by the audience than their singing.
The Marx Brothers became a major hit when they entertained at the Palace Theater which epitomized success in the vaudeville era.
It would be 1921, before the Marx Brothers made their first silent movie Humor Risk, which was so bad that it was only shown once. Eight years would pass before they appeared in Cocoanuts in 1929 and would be followed by Animal Crackers in 1930. Groucho would appear in his last movie in a brief cameo, when he appeared in The Candidate in 1972.
From 1921 to 1968 Groucho appeared in movies and also was heard in 379 episodes of various radio shows from 1933-1975 with his last five shows having no date shown for those broadcasts. His most famous show You Bet Your Life was on the air from 1947-1956.
Television would become the new home for the show, but it was being heard on radio and seen on television simultaneously from 1950-1957. Marx appeared in 84 episodes of the television show from 1950-1961, but very few episodes were filmed in any of those years.
The show included a quiz, but the show was best known for the humorous banter, between Groucho and his guests. The best way to appreciate the humor in the shows is to watch one of the shows on YouTube.
I can remember when going to summer school back in my high school days, that I would return home and watch the show.
One of my favorite memories of the show was when Groucho asked a girl from India, if she knew who was buried in Grant’s Tomb and she replied “Me??!!” which caught everyone by surprise. He was trying to ask her an easy question and she still missed it. Another easy question was “What color is the White House?” Groucho was one of the best ad-libbers in show business and his ability to ad lib is what made this show so much fun.
Groucho was the very first guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show in 1962.
Some of Groucho’s quotes:
Marriage is a wonderful institution. But who wants to live in an institution?
While shooting elephants in Africa, I found the tusks very difficult to remove. But in Alabama, the Tuscaloosa…
The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.
Even more quotes from Groucho:
The last years for Groucho were not happy ones, as his caretaker Erin Fleming treated him harshly, which is best described in this Wikipedia article:
Relationship with Groucho Marx
Fleming’s influence on Marx was controversial. Many close to him admitted that she did much to revive his popularity; these efforts included a series of one-man shows, culminating in a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall which was released on a best-selling record album and an honorary Academy Award he received in 1974. Also, some observers felt the apparent relationship with a young starlet boosted Groucho’s ego, adding to his vitality. Others, including Marx’s son, Arthur, described her in Svengali-esque terms, accusing her of exploiting an increasingly senile and frail Marx in pursuit of her own stardom.
In the years leading up to Marx’s death in August 1977, his heirs filed several lawsuits against Fleming. One allegation leveled against Fleming was that she was determined to sell Marx’s favorite car, a Cadillac, against his wishes. When Marx protested, it was said, Fleming threatened, “I will slap you from here to Pittsburgh.” Another allegation had her dancing nude around Marx, fondling herself and asking “Don’t you wish you could have some of this?” Many people close to Marx believed Fleming was abusive towards him. Arthur wanted temporary conservatorship of his father, and took Fleming to court. According to the book Raised Eyebrows by Groucho’s secretary Steve Stoliar, Fleming had several personal problems; he stated in his book that she used drugs, had mood swings, and was given to inappropriate outbursts, both in public and in private.
The court battles dragged into the early 1980s, but judgments were eventually reached in favor of Arthur Marx, ordering Fleming to repay $472,000 to the Marx estate.
Fleming’s mental health deteriorated in the 1990s. She was arrested once in the Los Angeles area on a weapons charge, and spent much of the decade in and out of commitments to various psychiatric facilities. She was also reportedly impoverished and homeless in her final years, living on the streets of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Fleming committed suicide in 2003 by shooting herself.]
Groucho Marx died on August 19, 1977 of pneumonia. His death wasn’t given much publicity, due to the fact that Elvis Presley had died three days earlier.