Groucho Marx, the genius

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Julius Henry Marx was born in New York in 1890, the third of six children (the first died a few months after birth), in a family of German immigrants. His mother, Minnie, had a crucial influence on the artistic tendence of the boys, who were literally thrown on stage by this energetic and cumbersome figure, a mother that wanted for her children something that was denied to her, but was evidently in the family DNA. In fact, his brother Adolph, rather than doing those small jobs available in New York, preferred to jump into the vaudeville scenes as Al Shean, establishing himself in a short time as one of the most wanted artists on the place.

Minnie, who together with her husband Sam tried to survive as she could, was surprised by the exceptional and fast career undertaken by his brother, and decided that her children deserved the same. She chose to spend all her savings on singing and music lessons, and then placed all them under Al’s enlightened guide, a move that actually led the young brothers to debut in the vaudeville circuit in short time. The apprenticeship was not simple and required various adjustments, but within a few years the Marx Brothers became one of the most acclaimed names in theaters.

Each Marx brother built a character recognizable from the stage name: Chico was the bully immigrant with a strong Italian accent; Harpo was the silent and a bit retarded one. Together with them, also the other brothers perform for short periods, as Gummo and Zeppo. But who stood out on the scene was Groucho (the stage name adopted by Julius, for that “grouchy”, grumpy character), the personality in the middle of the stage, playing with his humorous jokes and his puns.

Their repertoire developed basically adjusting the comic parts while the tour continued. When the vaudeville scene started to decline, at the beginning of the 1920s, Groucho Marx and his brothers moved to Broadway, where they further expanded their success: the surreal anarchy of their spectacles, the frenzy of their gags, the exaggerated and irrepressible comedy inside their lyrics, made their popularity.

Hollywood could not avoid to notice them and the film was their natural direction. In the 1930s, the decade of their biggest popularity, they realized masterpieces such as Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

In the 40s they were still on the big screen, a little weaker movie after movie, until they decided to stop making movies in the end of the decade, before risking that the audience decided in behalf of them. Groucho Marx’s career didn’t end together with his brothers. In the 50s he became a radio speaker and then a tv showman on You Bet Your Life, a show that kept his popularity still at high levels, practicing his humor always ready and surreal and continuing to amuse his audience.

After that he focused on writing, gathering good success also in this case: perhaps it was the one that which gave him more professional satisfaction, because he always regretted the premature interruption of the education due to work.

His great ability to annihilate the interlocutors on stage and the systematic and anarcoide destruction of every common sense (backed by a pungent irony that targeted every subject regardless of any rule) made him a comedian out of every scheme. His influence is still remarkable today and it will be forever, because his impudence attacked many of the useless social habits, directly and without hesitation, destroying them from the ground.

His death, in August 19th, 1977, unfortunately didn’t trigger the emotions he deserved, disturbed by the news of Elvis Presley’s death, that only few days before had consumed all the tears of the planet. He was the man who, starting from nothing, only with a brilliant talent and big dreams in his pocket, succeeded to  explode into the Western culture, conquering everybody with his jokes, ending up as a global reference for the whole comic art.

Many were his admirers, as well as those who mention him continuously, sometimes even unwittingly. Woody Allen, one of his most devoted disciples, dedicated him a beautiful scene in Hannah and Her Sisters: his character, an ansiogene and hypochondriac man (so obsessed that he no longer had life purposes after last check-up where nothing was found), found again his will will to live after watching Duck Soup at the theatre. The revelation that Groucho brought on the scene made him understand that one of the best reasons to live is to face his own existence with a smile. And there is nothing more true than this.

“I’m a Marxist – of the Groucho tendency.” This graffiti, which appeared in Paris in 1968, is one of the many signs of Groucho Marx’s cultural influence in Western culture. We all feel Marxists too. Of the pretty Groucho tendency.

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