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August 19: Groucho Marx

He started his stage career at the tender age of 15 but many of his early traveling gigs left him penniless, abandoned, and far from home. In one instance, his acting partner took off with the pay and left him stranded in Colorado. He earned enough working at a grocery store to get back home.

Mama Minnie groomed her children for stage success, often performing with them as well! With a fairly large family to support, she figured prosperity would come through her kids.

Julius performed with his brothers, Leonard, Adolf and Milton, but when Milton answered the call of World War II, youngest brother, Herbert, joined the team. He credits Art Fisher, the vaudeville performer/monologist, for giving their stage names: Julius “Groucho”, Adolf “Harpo”, Leonard “Chico”, Milton “Gummo”, and Herbert “Zeppo”

So how did Groucho get that mustache anyway?

Well, he was running late for a performance of “I’ll Say She Is” and didn’t have time to glue his mustache on in time for his stage queue so he grabbed some black grease paint and slathered on a mustache. Realizing how quick and easy that was, he insisted on keeping it.

Stage productions of “Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers” were followed by movie remakes and they had very reasonable success, however, the grueling schedule nearly sent Leonard into a nervous breakdown. In 1929, they had devastating financial losses in the stock market crash.

Groucho continued to work in radio, had several guest appearances on various shows and wrote books. His radio show “You Bet Your Life” made the transition to television and he hosted and amused audiences for 11 years.

Now, he and his brothers produced one of their most popular movies, “A Night at the Opera” in 1935, and they had a string of other movies, but none as popular as Opera.

Now, with his quick wit and whip of a tongue, he had no qualms about expressing his political views, and Groucho found himself being investigated for being a communist on the FBI shortlist during the 1950s.

When Marx Brothers became popular again in the late sixties/early seventies Groucho made a comeback with a show in Carnegie Hall in 1972.

In 1972, he returned to the stage with a one-man show at Carnegie Hall. Being in his 80s at the time, his voice wasn’t as strong, but he delighted audiences anyway. In 1974 he was awarded a special Academy Award for his work on stage and in movies.

Here are five of his memorable one-liners:

  • “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.”
  • “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
  • “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”
  • “If I hold you any closer I’ll be in back of you!”
  • “Don’t look now but there’s one man too many in this room and i think it’s you.”

Sadly, declining in health, both mentally and physically, he remained in a Los Angeles hospital for nearly two months before pneumonia took his life on this day, August 19th. The year was 1977.

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