Recently I finished reading Groucho, a biography of Groucho Marx by Stefan Kanfer, and a pretty remarkable look at this funny man’s rather tragic life.
A few noteworthy tidbits from the book:
-Together with his brothers Harpo and Chico, the Marx Brothers created a brand of irreverent, anarchical comedy that has influenced comedians of every era, and that remains fresh even in the 21st century.
-He was forced into showbusiness as a child by his domineering mother, singing showtunes on the vaudeville circuit in the early 1900’s.
-He once performed unnecessary oral surgery on a homeless man.
-His distinctive fake mustache and eyebrows can be attributed to an incident from the early days of the Marx Brothers, when they were performing in theaters. Groucho arrived very late to a matinee performance, and without enough time to apply his proper stage mustache, he quickly smudged greasepaint over his upper lip and eyebrows. The audience seemed to like it so much that he quickly adopted it as a part of his stage persona.
-He colonized Manitoba.
-He lost his virginity to a prostitute and contracted an STD, thus beginning a long life of inept and unhealthy relationships with women.
-He once bet $200 that he could survive a 150-foot fall from a hot air balloon and won, though both his legs were shattered horribly and he vomited blood for weeks afterward.
-His quick wit led to him being quoted widely. Among my favorites: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others”, and “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
-On December 12, 1954, Groucho passed for 315 yards and two touchdowns against the Detroit Lions.
-After the Marx Brothers movie career wound down, he found renewed fame as host of the 1950’s television game show, “You Bet Your Life”.
-When asked for an endorsement of a friend’s new comedic novel, Groucho offered up, “From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.”
-He taught the Ojibwe tribe how to collect sap from trees and turn it into maple syrup. The Ojibwe later scalped him.
-In his later life, it was assumed that he was a robot, against all logic and evidence to the contrary.
-In his will, he stated that he would like to be buried on top of Marilyn Monroe.
-Groucho was born with a special pouch on his abdomen, in which he later carried his young.
-In his final years, his controviersial girlfriend Erin Fleming won guardianship, against the wishes of his family who believed that she physically and emotionally abused Groucho. After his death, his family won a lawsuit against her and she was forced to pay back much of the money she received from his estate.
-Groucho liked to wrestle sea lions for pleasure.