Sunday, August 19, 2007

Groucho Marx; 1890 - 1977

Back in 1977 it was a bad week indeed. My mother was upset because Elvis fell off his perch, or more to the point, off the pot, but I was devastated to learn of the passing of one of my own true icons: Groucho Marx.

I adored Groucho and the Marx Brothers, in fact I still do. I love watching the movies and I enjoy reading about them. The more I discover about the family the more I'm impressed with what they managed to accomplish from where they came from and the problems that they had. On the surface of things they shouldn't have worked: a poor immigrant family, born into a slum. The oldest brother, Leonard (aka Chico) a womanising gambler, the second oldest, Adolph (aka Harpo) virtually illiterate yet exceedingly talented and then Julius (aka Groucho), acid tongue and full of self doubts and neurosis. Add the younger brothers to the mix, Milton and Herbert (or Gummo and Zeppo to you), each with their own problems and you see the dilemma. They should not have been a success yet they rose to become one of the genuine icons of the early 20th Century. Put a lot of that down to their mother, Minnie, who tirelessly worked to generate interest in the Brothers and insisted that they, above all, remain professional.

A lot of that success was due to the visual appeal of Harpo Marx and the vocal appeal of Groucho. In a time where movie stars were just finding their voices he appeared on the screen totally self-confident and not afraid of the microphone. If you want to realise his true power then watch virtually any movie from 1929 or 1930, listen to the approach of the leading men, and then watch The Coconuts or Animal Crackers. Nothing compares. Groucho was a man who, on screen at least, was never at a loss for what to do, or what to say.

There's just far too many of Groucho's lines to quote and it's impossible for me to pick any of the Brother's movies as being my favourite. Sure, the latter films aren't the best, but there's still some gems in them. When I think of Groucho Marx, especially today, 30 years after his death, I don't think of the problems he had, I don't think of how sad his life became and how totally screwed up things got towards the end, I tend to think of him dancing around, singing or just ripping strips off anyone and everyone that came near him. You think you've seen anti-establishment? Watch Duck Soup. Even today it's topical. In fact I discovered so much about American cutlure via the Marx Brothers. It was by reading Harpo Speaks at a young age that I discovered the Algonquin Round Table and people such as Alexander Woolcott and Dorothy Parker. It all went from there for me.

Ahhhhh Groucho Marx, you still make me chuckle out loud. You were funny at the turn of the 20th Century and you're still funny now, into the 21st Century. I hazard a guess that in another 100 years time people will still be discovering those movies and laughing all over again.

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