Happy Broadway Birthday to Groucho Marx!
Julius Henry Marx was born in New York City in 1890. Like Julius and all his brothers, his parents also known by nicknames: Minnie (born Miene) and Frenchie (aka Simon or Sam). His brothers were known professionally as Chico (Leonard), Harpo (Adolph, later Arthur), Zeppo (Herbert), and Gummo (Milton). Minnie pushed the boys into a stage career, at first in vaudeville. Groucho became the leader of the troupe, developing a character featuring a stooped walk, bushy eyebrows, a painted-on moustache, and generally smoking a cigar. Although the brothers would go on to do 13 films together, Groucho did another 13 without his siblings. Before making his feature first film (he had done a short in 1921), Groucho appeared on Broadway in the musical revue “I’ll Say She Is” with his brothers using their given names. The show ran more than 300 performances at the Casino Theatre in 1924. Late in 1925 – now using their adopted stage names – they appeared in George S. Kaufman and Irving Berlin’s musical play “The Cocoanuts,” so named because it was set in and around a club in Cocoanut Beach, Florida. It was so popular that it played a two week return engagement several months later. This would also be his first full-length feature film in 1929. Before filming “The Cocoanuts” he did his third Broadway show, “Animal Crackers,” also by Kaufman. It introduced the song “Hooray for Captain Spalding” that eventually became Groucho’s signature tune. The show played 141 performances at the 44th Street Theatre and became his second film in 1930. Groucho stayed in Hollywood with his brothers to make the now classic films “Monkey Business,” “Horse Feathers,” “Duck Soup,” and “A Night at the Opera.” Although he continued to do films well into the 1940s, Groucho returned to Broadway as a playwright with 1948’s “Time for Elizabeth” which he co-wrote with director Norman Krasna. It lasted just a week at the Fulton Theatre. His only other involvement with the Great White Way was as ‘advisor’ for “Minnie’s Boys,” a 1970 bio-musical about Groucho and his brothers starring Shelley Winters as his mother. His son, Arthur, was author of the book for the musical, and it is widely thought that he convinced Groucho to lend his name to add credence to the project. It lasted only ten weeks at the Imperial Theatre, but won a Drama Desk and Theatre World Award for Lewis J. Stadlen, who played Groucho. Marx won a prime time Emmy in 1951 for outstanding personality with his TV game show “You Bet Your Life.” He was also the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 1971. Groucho Marx died in 1977 at the age of 86. He was married three times and left three children.
“Because we were a kid act, we traveled at half-fare, despite the fact that we were all around 20. Minnie insisted we were 13. ‘That kid of yours is in the dining car smoking a cigar,’ the conductor told her, ‘and another one is in the washroom shaving.’ Minnie shook her head sadly. ‘They grow up so fast.’” ~ Groucho Marx