Sunday, June 24, 2012

Life with Groucho

1960 Popular Library edition
Arthur Marx
Life with Groucho
Original price 35 cents, purchase price unknown
Falling apart paperback

For the most part, this seems to be the same as the original 1954 version, including a reference to Arthur as 33, but I'm going with the 1960 date, because a few chapters mention the quiz show scandals of the later 1950s, as well as a reference to Arthur's half-sister Melinda as 13, and she was born in '47.  The early parts of Groucho's life are dateless (insert obligatory joke), although we now know that he was born in 1890.  Not till the late 1920s does Arthur get more specific, which is also about the time his clear memories of his father start.  (He was born in '21 and died April of last year.)

Arthur seems to have been fond of his father, although he does point out some of his contradictions, like about money.  He doesn't question his father's sexism, like that the twice-divorced sixty-something Groucho was horrified to be set up with a 40-year-old.  (In 1954, he married his third wife, who was 24.  In the 1970s he was involved with Erin Fleming, who was 51 years his junior.  I'll talk about her when we get up to Charlotte Chandler's 1978 Groucho biography, Hello, I Must Be Going.)

Groucho was alternately strict and indulgent with the children of his first marriage, while little Melinda, whom you can see on You Bet Your Life, seems to have been a bit spoiled.  But, yes, like Charlie Chaplin, Groucho was as funny at home as on screen.  The book is laugh-out-loud funny at times, although much of it has been quoted elsewhere.  I most enjoyed the bits about his popular game show, including some accidentally suggestive quotes that got edited out before airing.  (No sign of the now infamous "I like my cigar, too, but I take it out once in awhile.")

However, I like Groucho a little less after reading the book, because he was indeed grouchy.  (I've read in other books that his name actually came from his grouch [money] bag.)  He married pretty women he didn't have anything in common with, and then he'd want to stay home and play guitar or read while they'd want to go out and dance.

He also believed that women have no sense of humor and generally didn't enjoy Marx Brothers movies.  He thought Thalberg saved the team's career.  While the box office for those two "middle" Night and Day movies is unquestionable (after Duck Soup came along and baffled the depths-of-the-Depression audience in a notorious bit of bad timing), it's just not true that they're better than the Paramount movies.  OK, I'll concede that Day at the Races is better than The Cocoanuts [sic], but the latter is a much funnier movie in a so-bad-it's-good sort of way.  (When the male romantic lead looks like he could be a young Richard Nixon, you know a movie hasn't aged well.)  Arthur understandably agrees with his father about the quality of the movies, but by the end of the 1960s, the public had definitely changed its mind about anti-war (and anti- much else) Duck Soup.

Arthur was named after his Uncle Harpo, in that Adolph Marx fortunately changed his name to Arthur in 1911, before acquiring his famous nickname.  The younger Arthur wrote three more books about his father, none of which I've read.

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