Groucho : the life and times of Julius Henry Marx

by Stefan Kanfer

Hardcover, 2000

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Knopf, 2000.

Description

A candid portrait of the twentieth century's most memorable comedian traces Groucho's rise to stardom; his famous ego; and his relationships with wives, mistresses, and children.

User reviews

LibraryThing member waitingtoderail
A hard look at a painfully funny, painfully unpleasant man. Woe to any woman who crossed paths with Groucho. Three wives and two daughters, all who had to battle demons - one of which was Groucho. He seemed to be fine with most of the men he came in contact with (excepting his own son), but had painfully complicated relationships with the women. The best parts are those with his brothers - I'd prefer to read a compendium of their skits, honestly. Reading this just made me sad for those who came in contact with them - except Harpo, who comes off here as a genuinely nice and intelligent, if poorly educated man.… (more)
LibraryThing member lewisw
not bad but a little slow
LibraryThing member ralphz
A difficult woman at the beginning, a difficult woman at then end, laughs and tears everywhere. That's Groucho's life, in "Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx."

Groucho and the boys wouldn't be the same without their overbearing mom Minnie, and the story starts with their sometimes-reluctant entry into show business, following the footsteps of their uncle, Minnie's brother Al Shean. He helps shape them and they grow into the world-famous gang of comedic anarchists.

Through the ups and downs, Groucho seemed to have the most difficulty. Chico was carefree and perpetually in debt from gambling and girls, the uncomplicated Harpo settled into domestic bliss, and Zeppo, always the underappreciated straight man, became an amazing agent, along with the "other" brother, Gummo.

But Groucho battled alcoholic wives and alcoholic kids, the stock market crash and his own, massive self-doubts.

This isn't a tell-all expose, but it is honest. And it's also funny, relating some of the best movie and TV lines, the letters, the conversations and dinners and retrospectives.

Groucho, for all his faults and foibles, was a sharp-witted, funny, satirical man. His humor set the stage for the modern era, and it's worth knowing more about him.
… (more)
LibraryThing member rocketjk
This is an interesting, well-written biography of an important figure in American culture. Kanfer here makes a strong case for the pervasive nature of the Marx Brothers' (and in particular, Groucho's) influence on comedy in particular and our national zeitgeist in general. The sections on the brothers' art, including vaudeville and movies, and on Groucho's post-Brothers work, is detailed, informative and enjoyable. Unfortunately, Groucho the person was a different kettle of fish. Kanfer presents Groucho as having been permanently scarred by the brothers' determined stage-mom, Minnie, who gave preferential treatment to the two older brothers (I'll use stage names here for ease of communication) Chico and Harpo and younger brothers Zeppo and Gummo, to the detriment of Groucho, the middle son. In fact, Minnie's name for Groucho during childhood was a Yiddish phrase meaning "the jealous one." More specifically, Minnie dragged Groucho out of school at before he was 10 so that he could take part in the family stage act. The result, according to Kanfer, was a man who would remain suspicious of and cold to the women in his life, including three wives and two daughters, all of whom he drove away. Groucho's son, Arthur, evidently didn't fare much better in his relationship, either. It seems unfortunate, even if understandable, that Kanfer chose to spend so much time dwelling on the mostly unhappy concluding chapters of Groucho's long life. This is a biography of Groucho, the man, rather than solely of Groucho the star, but, still the concluding chapters do dive down into a lot of depressing details. So we can see this both as an illuminating biography of a beloved and important figure in American comedy, arts and culture and as a cogent cautionary tale that famous and even revered public figures are not necessarily happy, or even necessarily particularly nice people. Bottom line, though: I found the writing and the subject matter entirely engaging. Very much recommended.… (more)

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4467
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