Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx

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9780140294262: Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx

Since his death in 1977, no major biography of Groucho Marx, the most influential comedian of his generation, has been written. This book intends to tell the whole story, and reflect the Marxian spirit, an anarchic force that still animates contemporary comedy. Kanfers biography explores the sources of the Marxian wit and include quotes and observations from friends, family and fellow comic artists, as well as hilarious pieces written by the subject himself.

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Without Groucho Marx, modern comedy would be unrecognisable. With his painted-on moustache, ever-present cigar, loping walk, and instant put-downs, he achieved an iconic status. His comic routines have enthralled audiences, impressed critics, and inspired a number of academic theses. But what of Julius, the man behind the greasepaint? In this, the first major biography since the comedian's death, Stefan Kanfer suggests that the distinction between Groucho and Julius was never a simple one.

The author traces Groucho's difficulties back to his childhood: as the third of five brothers to an ambitious mother, Groucho found himself neglected in favour of the others. It was only with success on the stage that he could win his mother Minnie's approval. In later years, his relationships with women were rarely successful--he married on three occasions, each time alienating his wife with his relentless criticism. By the end of his life, Groucho was a lonely man, living with a woman who, many of his relatives claimed, was interested only in his money.

To reinforce his theories about Groucho's character, Kanfer resorts to speculation rather too often, as when he asks "Was he so marked by Minnie's dominance ... that he felt compelled to tyrannize and humiliate any woman who ventured too close?" However, unlike many revisionary biographies of iconic figures, Kanfer's book does not dwell exclusively upon the murkier aspects of his subject's life. It is clear throughout that the author has a deep respect for Groucho, and he takes any excuse to quote choice lines, making for an account that is both appropriately funny and necessarily poignant. --John Oates

About the Author:

Stefan Kanfer is the author of a number of acclaimed books, including one on the history of animation, and a journalist writing for Time and The New York Times Book Review

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