A Year: Day to Day Men: 2nd of October
October 2, 1890 marks the birthdate of actor and comedian Groucho Marx.
Groucho Marx, born Julius Henry Marx, was born in New York City. His father Samuel never had much success as a tailor, and the family struggled financially. His mother Minnie became a stage mother, guiding her children’s theatrical acts and even performing herself. The act eventually featured Groucho and his brothers Leonard, Adolph, and Milton.
Groucho Marx received his colorful nickname based on his personality from vaudeville performer Art Fisher, who also gave the brothers stage names: Leonard became ‘Chico’, Adolph became ‘Harpo’, and Milton became ‘Gummo’. Milton Marx left the act to fight in World War II and was replaced by the youngest brother Herbert, who became known as ‘Zeppo’.
By the 1920s, the Marx Brothers had become a hugely popular theatrical act. During this time, Groucho developed some of his famous trademarks; the long coat, the painted-on mustache, thick glasses, and the thick cigar. Groucho explained that the props were useful also: “if you forget a line, all you have to do is stick the cigar in your mouth and puff on it until you think of what you’ve forgotten”.
The Marx Brothers had a string of Broadway hits, starting with the 1924 “I’ll Say She Is”, which Groucho helped write. The following year, they returned to the stage with “The Cocoanuts”, a spoof on land speculation in Florida. The Marx Brothers hit it big again in 1928 with “Animal Crackers.” Working with producer Irving Thalberg, the Marx Brothers created one of their most popular movies “A Night at the Opera”, released in 1935.
Even before the Marx Brothers split up, Groucho Marx had been exploring other career opportunities. He wrote the 1930 humorous book “Beds”, and followed it up in 1942 with “Many Happy Returns”, his comic attack on taxes. On the radio, Groucho worked on several programs before landing a hit in 1947 with “You Bet Your Life”. He hosted the quirky game show, which focused more on his quick wit than on contestants winning prizes.
Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life” moved from radio to television in 1950, and Marx entertained America with his wisecracks for 11 years, also winning an Emmy in 1951. After that program ended in 1961, he appeared on “Tell It to Groucho”, a short-lived game show the following year. After the end of that game show, Grouch Marx retreated from the limelight, making only occasional appearances on television and film.
Groucho Marx died of pneumonia in a Los Angeles hospital on August 19, 1977. The New York Times article on his passing stated: “He developed the insult into an art form. And he used the insult, delivered with maniacal glee, to shatter the egos of the pompous and to plunge his audience into helpless laughter”.