Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Two Comedy Greats, One Silent, One Not

Groucho bets on people
he finds he likes them after forty years in show business

GROUCHO MARX, whose NBC show, You Bet Your Life, has been consistently among the Nation’s favorites, has been accused of sometimes presenting contestants in an unfavorable light in order to get laughs. It’s one charge that can cut through the poise built up during 40 years of show business.
“I don’t insult people on my show, I spoof them,” Groucho says indignantly. “Others who did insult contestants have failed. You Bet Your Life wouldn’t be a hit, if I did. There’s a big difference between kidding and ridicule.”
As a matter of fact, Groucho, whose barbed wit was the highpoint of many shows and movies before he turned to television, has grown to genuinely like and appreciate people while doing the thousands of interviews involved in his quiz show.
“My estimation of people has risen tremendously in the past six years,” Marx says. “There are a lot of wonderful people in the world, and this job has given me a chance to meet them.
“I’ve seen poor people give their prizes to charity. I’ve met baseball umpires and the motorcycle cops who hide behind billboards, and they’re nothing like what you’d expect.
“I find that they enjoy the fun of the shows, whether they win or not, and they like a lot of spoofing. That goes for everybody, because I’ve quizzed people from some 50 countries, and the list has included Congressmen, admirals, and other people you might expect to be stiff and formal.”
In six years, Groucho has learned to take everything in his stride, including a woman with two husbands named Bodovnic, triplet sisters from Pinsk, Russia, and the Irish janitor of a synagogue.

“I’ve never been stumped yet,” Marx says. “I guess those years of trouping do something for you.”
In fact, he considers being a quizmaster a soft job. “Next to robbing a bank, it’s about the easiest of all,” Groucho contends. “But this is the culmination of years of hard knocks, believe me. Maybe I’ve earned this kind of job.”
In spite of his gruff pose, Groucho is happy that his show has succeeded and pleased that it appeals to a full cross-section of the public.
He gets letters and an occasional gift from viewers all over the country. Contestants strive for a place on his program, not only for the prizes and the fun of matching wits with Groucho, but because it can be a stepping stone to the movies. One young Mexican, a natural comedian, was signed to a Hollywood contract immediately after appearing on Groucho’s show.
This happy way of life caps nearly 40 years of nomadic trouping in vaudeville, stage, motion picture and radio roles for Groucho.
He started in 1906, at the age of 11, when he joined a Gus Edwards troupe as a boy soprano. Born Julius Marx in New York City on October 2, 1895, he and his brothers Leonard (Chico), Adolph (Harpo), Milton (Gummo) and Herbert (Zeppo) were spurred to theatrical careers by their mother Minna.
Early Days Were Hard
The hardships of the early days in their struggle for success still cling to Groucho’s retentive memory. On a vaudeville circuit in Canada he strolled by a theater one day and was stopped by the unrestrained sounds of laughter. He looked in and saw a bushy-haired, baggy-pants comedian, recently immigrated from England. It was Charlie Chaplin.
Their tours finally brought them to Los Angeles simultaneously and there a film producer spotted Chaplin and offered him $100 a week in pictures. “I won’t take it,” said Chaplin.
“Why not?” asked Groucho.
“Nobody can be worth that much money!” scoffed Chaplin.
Several years later, Groucho returned to Los Angeles. He received an invitation to Chaplin’s home for a party. It was a palatial residence, with formally-dressed servants, sparkling silverware and all the accoutrements of costly living.
The few years had brought a striking change in Chaplin’s manner of living but not corresponding mental satisfaction. “He once said to me, ‘You’re the greatest comedian of all’”, Groucho recalls now, “but I attribute that to his admiration of someone who could speak on a stage, instead of being confined to pantomime.

A Comfortable Life
To Groucho, the experiences of 58 years of hardy living have brought beneficial results in that he knows what he wants and achieves his desires. He lives comfortably in Beverly Hills. His program has settled into a relaxed weekly schedule.
Groucho spends much of his free time with old friends, like Norman Krasna, Hollywood writer, and with his children. His two oldest children, Arthur and Miriam, are writers. Groucho’s youngest daughter, Melinda, 7, finds him always willing to take time to play with her.

P.S. from Yowp: This article, with accompanying photos, appeared in TV Guide of July 24, 1953.

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