Biography of Comedy Stars The Marx Brothers Part 3

About the famous comedy stars The Marx Brothers, biography and history of Groucho, Harpo, and Gummo.


The Marx Brothers

Julius "Groucho" Marx (1890-1977) was the intellectual of East 93rd Street, the odd man out who preferred books to cards. His nickname has been variously attributed to his moodiness and to the "grouch bag" in which the stingiest Marx kept his money. The most verbally aggressive member of the family--possibly to get a word in edgewise--he developed into a master of the insult, the non sequitur, and the pun. "If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff," he would say. Or "Time wounds all heels." Whenever an attractive young lady asked him to join her, he would reply, "Why, are you coming apart?" With his greasepaint mustache (later real), articulate eyebrows, and predatory leer, he had the most physically distinctive comic persona of the brothers.

Groucho was the only one to develop a successful solo career in show business, as the host of You Bet Your Life, a quiz program that endured 4 years on radio, 11 seasons on TV, and went into repeated reruns. Compulsively looking for a laugh, he was able to recall or ad-lib a witty or insulting rejoinder for every statement made by his guests. He was also a voracious reader and the author of several books of his own, including Memoirs of a Mangy Lover (1963) and a volume of his correspondence with such luminaries as James Thurber, Harry Truman, and T. S. Eliot--proud accomplishments for a 7th grade dropout. But his caustic wit, exercised on all around him, left him a lonely old man with three ex-wives, three estranged children, and a secretary-companion.

The two younger brothers, Milton "Gummo" Marx (1893-1977), who as a boy wore rubbers to ward off colds, and Herbert "Zeppo" Marx (1901-1979), the dead-end kid of the family, took turns playing straight man in the act. Gummo, who has been described as a cross between Harpo and Groucho, both sweet and funny, had a fair singing voice as the second "nightingale" but suffered from nerves onstage. He left the act to serve in W.W. I, Minnie having allegedly made a deal with the draft board, or so it was said. By volunteering Gummo, Minnie presumably secured exemptions for the others. He was replaced by Zeppo, who wanted to be a comic rather than a straight man. (Standing in once for Groucho, who was in the hospital with appendicitis, Zeppo got a lot of laughs but also got sick on Groucho's cigars.) Zeppo retired from the team after Duck Soup was filmed in 1933, became a successful theatrical agent, and later branched out into other fields. Gummo, after failing in business on his own, also became a successful agent with a lucrative piece of Groucho's TV interests.

The camaraderie of Minnie's boys from East 93rd Street survived the years of celebrity and affluence and continued into the years of decline. The brothers always chipped in to bail out a needy relative. Groucho, a sentimentalist despite himself, even supported Chico's ex-wife. As they sang in Animal Crackers, by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby:

We're four of the three musketeers.

We've been together for years.

Eenie, meenie, minee, (horn),


It's one for all and two for five.

We're four of the three musketeers.

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