Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Groucho Marx
1890 - 1977

Eden Memorial Park

With his trademark swallowtail coat, greasepaint moustache and ever-present cigar, the career of comedian Groucho Marx spanned more than 70 years, and included success in vaudeville, films, radio and television. He also wrote six popular books, including "Groucho and Me," "The Groucho Letters," "Beds" and "Memoirs of a Mangy Lover."

Groucho -- born Julius Henry Marx -- was the master of the ad-libbed insult and the hilarious non sequitur, usually delivered with rolling eyes and arched eyebrows. With his brothers Harpo (Adolph), Chico (Leonard) and sometimes Zeppo (Herbert), the Marx Brothers created a comedy world of slapstick farce, rapid-fire repartee and free-spirited anarchy, usually aimed at deflating the pompous and the upper class. A fifth brother, Gummo (Milton), performed with his brothers during their early vaudeville days, but left the act to become a theatrical agent. (A sixth brother, Manfred Marx, died in infancy.)

The Marx brothers got their names from Art Fisher, a comedian who specialized in making up nicknames -- Adolph played the harp and became Harpo, Leonard had a reputation as a woman-chaser and became Chico, Milton wore gum-soled shoes and became Gummo, and Herbert was named after a popular performing monkey named Zippo. And, of course, because of his typically sardonic disposition, Julius became Groucho.

Groucho's father, Sam, was a struggling, immigrant tailor in New York City and their mother, the former Minnie Schoenberg, was the stage-struck sister of Al Shean, of the popular comedy team of Gallagher and Shean. Minnie Marx pushed all of her five sons into show business, even joining them for a while in an act called "The Six Musical Mascots," which consisted of Groucho, Harpo, Gummo, a young singer named Janie O'Reilly, Minnie and her sister, Hannah. When Minnie and Hannah left the act, it became "The Four Nightingales," then "The Marx Brothers and Company." While touring through small towns in the South and Midwest, the Marxes began to add more comedy to the act, including a wide assortment of jokes, puns and ad-libbed comments, usually made up for their own entertainment in the small-town theaters, and often at the expense of their audience.

Groucho was also gradually creating his familiar look. The swallowtail coat was added when he played a teacher in a classroom sketch. The cigar was a useful comedy prop to make him look older, and also helpful to puff on while trying to remember a line. Even Groucho's distinctive walk came from a sketch that required him to portray an older man. Groucho hunched his shoulders and leaned forward, but when he walked quickly across the stage, the audience laughed, so he continued to do it. His painted-on mustache was born when he arrived late at the theater, and didn't have time to apply his fake mustache, so he just smeared greasepaint under his nose.

The Marx Brothers' first appearance on film was in a silent comedy short titled "Humor Risk" (1921). The film was previewed once, shown again five years later, but never widely released, and is believed to have been lost.

Eventually, the Marx Brothers returned to the stage in New York City and, by 1924, they were a hit on Broadway with their musical comedy show, "I'll Say She Is," They followed that with two more Broadway hits -- "The Cocoanuts" and "Animal Crackers." When talking pictures were introduced in the late 1920s, studios came to Broadway looking for comedians, and the Marxes were signed by Paramount Pictures to appear in the filmed version of "The Cocoanuts" (1929), which they worked on during the day, while appearing on stage in "Animal Crackers" every evening.

"Animal Crackers" was filmed in 1930, with Groucho in one his most popular roles as celebrated big-game hunter Capt. Jeffrey T. Spaulding. Groucho arrives as the guest of honor at a high-society soiree, and greets the guests with the song, "Hello, I Must Be Going." He then delivers a lengthy discussion of his adventures in Africa, in typical Groucho fashion -- "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I'll never know. ... While shooting elephants in Africa, I found the tusks were very difficult to remove. But in Alabama, the Tuscaloosa."

Although the Marx Brothers films were officially written by some of the top comedy writers of the time, including George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, S. J. Perelman, Nat Perrin, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the versions that finally appeared on the screen were often more ad-lib and re-writes by the brothers than the original script. Kaufman once jumped to his feet during a rehearsal, apparently shocked at something he had heard. When asked if there was a problem, Kaufman said, "I think I just heard one of the original lines."

"Animal Crackers" was followed by "Monkey Business" (1931), "Horse Feathers" (1932) and two films that most Marx Brothers fans agree are the brothers' best work -- "Duck Soup" (1933) and "A Night at the Opera" (1935), which was their first film at MGM studios. Irving Thalberg, the vice president and head of production at MGM, was given the responsibility of controlling the Marxes, but he quickly discovered that they couldn't be controlled. According to a popular story, the Marxes were called to Thalberg's office for a meeting, but were kept waiting for more than two hours. When Thalberg finally arrived, he discovered the brothers sitting in front of his fireplace, nude, roasting potatoes over the open fire.

"A Night at the Opera" was also the brothers' first film without Zeppo, although there were four members of the family in the film. Sam Marx, their father, appeared in two scenes as an extra. The three remaining Marx Brothers -- Groucho, Harpo and Chico -- made five more films at MGM -- "A Day at the Races" (1937), "Room Service" (1938), "At the Circus" (1939), "Go West" (1940) and "The Big Store" (1941). After taking several years off, they returned to the screen in "A Night in Casablanca" (1946) and "Love Happy" (1950) -- which is perhaps less significant as the Marx Brothers' final film together than it is as one of the first film appearances of a young actress named Marilyn Monroe.

With his film career essentially over, the 60-year-old Groucho moved to a new medium - television - as the host of "You Bet Your Life," a comedy and quiz show that premiered in 1950 and ran for more than 10 years. Groucho started hosting "You Bet Your Life" on radio in 1947, and the show was popular more for Groucho's interviews with the contestants than for the actual question and answer portion of the show. Though Groucho never received any major awards during his film career, he won an Emmy in 1951 as "Most Outstanding Personality" for his work on "You Bet Your Life." The show was also nominated for five Emmy awards, first as Best Comedy Show, and later as Best Quiz Show. In 1948, "You Bet Your Life" won a Peabody Award, which honors distinguished achievement and meritorious service in radio and television.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new generation of fans discovered the Marx Brothers. In May 1972, Groucho appeared in "An Evening With Groucho," a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. In 1974, Groucho was given an honorary Academy Award, "in recognition of his brilliant creativity and for the unequaled achievements of the Marx Brothers in the art of motion picture comedy."

After Marx died in 1977, his remains were placed at Eden Memorial Park. Five years later, in May 1982, his ashes were stolen, and were found later that day at the gates of Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, about 12 miles away. The kidnapper -- or, in this case, ash-napper -- has never been caught, and so the questions remain. Why were Marx's ashes stolen? An obsessed fan looking for the ultimate souvenir? A ghoulish opportunist planning to make a ransom demand, then changing his mind? Or simply someone who thought the comedian should be buried at a more high-profile location closer to Hollywood?

Whatever the reason, the management at Eden Memorial Park responded to the incident by moving Marx's remains to a more remote location in a room inside the mausoleum, and installing security monitoring devices throughout the cemetery. And they also are reluctant to give out the location of any of their more-famous residents.

Recently, the American Film Institute selected a ranked list of "America's 100 funniest movies" of the past century. Even though the Marx Brothers made only 13 films together, they placed five in the top 100, including "Duck Soup" (ranked 5th on the list), "A Night at the Opera" (12th), "A Day at the Races" (59th), "Horse Feathers" (65th) and "Monkey Business" (73rd). "Duck Soup" also appeared in the 85th spot on AFI's list of the top 100 films of all time.

Groucho was married three times, and had three children. His son, Arthur Marx, is a successful scriptwriter and author of several Hollywood biographies.

Marx was born Julius Henry Marx in New York City, NY, on Oct. 2, 1890. He died on Aug. 19, 1977, in Los Angeles, CA. BIO

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