You may remember him as Captain Jeffrey T. Spaudling in “Animal Crackers,” as Rufus T. Firefly in “Duck Soup,” as Otis P. Driftwood in “A Night at the Opera” or as Doctor Hugo Z. Hackenbush in “A Day at the Races.” With his exaggerated stooped walk, his trademark cigar, greasepainted bushy eyebrows and mustache, horn-rimmed glasses and split-second wit, Groucho Marx performed with his brothers Chico, Harpo and Zeppo in a baker’s dozen movies as well as having a long and enviable solo career as a comedian.
Groucho called T. S. Eliot, W. Somerset Maugham, rock star Alice Cooper and Elton John (whom he referred to as John Elton) friends and he regretted that he had to leave school in the sixth grade to help support his family. Despite a lack of formal education, he was well-read, wrote five books and has a collection of his letters in the Library of Congress.
On Thursday, May 17, hundreds of people gathered at the Jewish Community Center in Woodbridge, donning his Groucho glasses-a one piece mask of horn –rims, large plastic nose, thick bushy eyebrows and mustache-to pay tribute to the man at their Perspective Speaker Series. Television host Dick Cavett, who knew Groucho personally and had him on his talk show seven times, had a conversation on the comic with Robert Bader, a renown expert on the man and his mania.
Cavett called Groucho “the most supremely gifted comedian of our time” while Bader confessed he has loved him since he was a kid, collecting clippings of the man from a young age. These clippings have proven helpful in Bader’s book detailing the history of Groucho and the Marx Brothers, “Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx.” In addition to telling Groucho stories, they shared film snippets from his colorful career.
Tidbits you might not know: Groucho was born in 1890 in New York City in a room over a butcher shop; He left school at age 12 to earn money for his family, giving up his dream of becoming a doctor; Despite being married three times, he had no luck with women but always admired Harpo’s wife Susan; On Cavett’s show, Groucho proposed marriage to Truman Capote; The Marx Brothers did things on television, they had done fifty years earlier in vaudeville; Groucho was a brilliant writer and would prefer to be remembered for his written words; To Groucho, “humor is reason gone mad;” The quiz show “You Bet Your Life” came along at the right time to save his career, even though he was insulted by it; He was like a Jewish uncle to Cavett, easy to talk to and quick to put you at ease; When Cavett introduced him at Carnegie Hall in 1972, Groucho got more applause than the Beatles.
Groucho Marx will be long remembered for his sharp and quick wit, his exaggerated facial features and his contributions to the world of laughter and letters.