As mentioned, he had, what can conservatively be termed, one of the most remarkable careers in show business.
The grounding centerpiece of a chaotic comedy band of five vaudevillians — all brothers of which three formed the performing core — Groucho Marx’s talents spanned the stage, movies, radio, tv and tv syndication. By the time he died in 1977 at age 86, he was a revered show business figure cherished by generations of fans.
Yes, you undoubtedly recall Groucho’s distinctive stage presence, the bushy eyebrows topping a generous mustache, the omnipresent eyeglasses and cigar, the leering double-entendres and magnificently literate puns. But how much else do you know about this legendarily durable figure?
Let’s take a look at the answers to our Groucho Marx Monday Quiz. Our inspiration here is author Stefan Kanfer’s 2000 tome, GROUCHO: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx. (To review the questions, just scroll down to one blog below.)
1) Answer: a) Milton (Gummo) was really not part of the Marx Brothers act, at least not a core member. For example, he does not appear in any of the Brothers’ movies. Adolph (Harpo), Leonard (Chico) and Herbert (Zeppo) were core members as was, of course, Julius (Groucho).
2) Answer: d) The fabulous Margaret Dumont was considered by Groucho to be “the fifth Marx Brother.” She, of course, played the formidable society doyenne in so many Marx Brothers pictures, the butt of Groucho’s innuendos and insults. Her imperturbability is based on the placid knowledge that she is stronger than Groucho, that all his insult is childish prattle, wrote critic David Thomson.
3) Answer: Minnie’s Boys opened on Broadway in 1970, starring Shelley Winters as Groucho’s mother Minna. The show flopped.
4) Answer: a) The final Marx Brothers Hollywood movie is 1949’s Love Happy, a musical comedy featuring Ilona Massey, Vera-Ellen, a young Raymond Burr and an even younger Marilyn Monroe.
5) Answer: d) You Bet Your Life, a half-hour quiz show that began its tv incarnation on Oct. 5, 1950, and ran for 10 seasons. It was Groucho’s only tv “series,” and nicely showcased his brash humor. If a contestant spoke a “magic word” the replica of a stuffed duck dropped from the ceiling to signal the event. In addition to its original run, You Bet Your Life played for quite a while in syndication.
6) Answer: c) The You Bet Your Life announcer was George Fenneman, a sometime actor who appeared in the Dragnet tv series and in RKO’s superb 1951 sci-fi outing, The Thing From Another World.
7) Answer: a) True. The tune was Hooray For Captain Spaulding from the 1930 Marx Brothers comedy, Animal Crackers. “Captain Spaulding” was played by Groucho opposite a surprisingly sexy Margaret Dumont. The tune was recycled and adapted for You Bet Your Life tv use.
8) Answer: b) False. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer detested the Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho, and almost sabotaged what may be the boys’ best movie, 1935’s A Night At The Opera. When the movie was disastrously received at a mid-afternoon test screening in a Long Beach theater, Mayer gloated. MGM’s production chief Irving Thalberg stepped in, made some changes and saved the day.
9) Answer: c) Groucho’s estate at his death had an estimated worth of some $2.6 million. The legal actions referred to involved Erin Fleming, the Canadian actress who insinuated herself into — and some say took over — Groucho’s life from 1969 until his death. Although Groucho was uncharacteristically smitten, the couple never married.
10) Answer: b) Art Fisher, a traveling monologist who worked with the Marx Brothers in vaudeville. Popular comic strip characters of the day often tacked an “o” onto words and names, notes author Stefan Kanfer. Julius became “Groucho” because he was the dour one. Leonard became “Chicko” (later “Chico”) because he was a womanizer. Adolph, the musical brother, became became “Harpo” and so on.