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Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx [Hardcover]

Stefan Kanfer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Sep 2000
This biography uncovers the man behind the character, looking at his complicated life dominated by personal and professional satisfaction. Why was he so scared of ending up in poverty, why were his relationships with women often so destructive, and what of his complex relations with his brothers? Groucho Marx, like Stefan Kanfer's biography, consists of much more than just throwaway jokes. Beneath the most famous Marx Brother's one-liners and carefree attitude was a life dominated by deep sadness, professional dissatisfaction and personal turmoil. Now, for the first time, one of the most influential and revered comedians of the 20th century is revealed in all his fascinating complexity. Beginning with the Marx Brothers' family heritage and their youth in turn-of-the-century New York, we see Julius and his brothers Adolph and Leonard become Groucho, Harpo and Chico. We go backstage as they develop their routines in Vaudeville, on Broadway and, finally, in Hollywood. Groucho's story unfolds against the backdrop of the changing world around him and his star-studded milieu, which includes other classic comic figures such as Charles Chaplin, and W.C. Fields, as well as great names like George Gershwin and T.S. Eliot. Kanfer delves into Groucho's complicated relationships with the people around him - his failed marriages, his destructive behaviour with his children, and his clashes with the self-indulgent Chico. The Brothers become the biggest movie stars in the world - a success bitterly followed by slow decline as age, years of profligacy and ego all catch up with them. Finally, we witness Groucho's extraordinary resurrection as he comes back from the career-dead to host the television quiz show "You Bet Your Life" and cements his legendary status in popular culture.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (7 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071399469X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713994698
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.6 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,096,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, I'm a Marxist! 7 July 2000
As a Marx Brothers fan, I've purchased and read many of the biographies/critiques of Groucho and Bros. (and there are a *lot* of them!), and I found this to be one of the most entertaining. We've reached the point in history where first-hand biographies can no longer be written--most of Groucho's friends, collaborators, and family are dead, so Kanfer's is likely the first of books that will study Groucho from a more historical perspective, using newspaper articles, movie reviews, and the books that have gone before (Kanfer points out, a little defensively for my tastes, that Groucho told so many tall tales you couldn't take first-person testimony at face value anyway). "Groucho" makes for an effective (if somewhat detached) bio: overall quite entertaining, not skimping on Marx's low points and somewhat pessimistic worldview as well as his more familiar triumphs. By all accounts, including this one, Groucho was not a guy you'd want to pal around with unless you had the sharpest wit (and even then he'd dislike any attempt to outshine him), and Kanfer does a credible job of portraying Groucho's sourness as well as handling a controversial subject: just how badly Groucho was treated by women in his later years (and to be perfectly fair, his less-than-stellar treatment *of* women throughout his whole life). I have to praise an aspect of this book not many other reviewers have mentioned: it is immensely funny, not because Kanfer is a humorous writer, but because he has the good sense to occasionally step aside and recount some of Groucho's funniest lines or dialogue. Still, the occasional sloppiness in writing and editing (as mentioned by other Amazon reviewers) did make me scowl once in a while as I read it. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another life of Groucho. 7 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As other reviewers have noted, there are a lot of Groucho biogs out there and a lot of books of Marx quotes. This biog is of value to the interested fan who wants to know a lot about Groucho's life but not too much. It's a good, honest account of the man and his talents, faults and personality; his relationships with his brothers, family and contemparies; it is informative about his private life without (IMHO) being too intrusive. The authour's obvious admiration for the man's work doesn't blind him to Groucho's faults and failings. For my money it's greatest strength is in the detailed and generally impartial account of Groucho's relationship with Erin Feming, a stage of his life which tends to make some writers, especially those with a love of the man's work, abandon their objectivity. Read, digest, enjoy, draw your own conclusions.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sad, and insightful 9 Jun 2002
By A Customer
He was funny, he was an icon and yet, so nasty!
This biography pulls no punches in displaying Groucho for all he was- insecure, mean and cruel, but you'll probably love him all the same. This is a comprehensive, unbiased history with a liberal sprinkling of his best gags and lines, as well as anecdotes and pictures.
Makes for an excellent read for any Groucho- or non Groucho- fan.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted... 31 May 2001
By A Customer
This is a very entertaining book, a well-paced documentary of the struggles and eventual success of the Jewish Marx family, interspersed with the glorious skits and waspish lines that mark Groucho Marx as one of the most quick witted, erudite performers of the 20th century. He was a literary man, and had many funny lines relating to literary pursuits:
"From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it."
"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
"I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book."
This is a very funny book, perhaps unusually so for a biography, and I thoroughly recommend it to all, but then, to quote Groucho one last time:
"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I am a 15 year old Marxist, and I own this book. I just finished reading it today... if you love Groucho,you won't read this book. He will get on your nereves and his life is far from plesant to read about! If you are reading a bio on him for the first time,don't get it! Grouch's story's sad!
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