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Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers [Paperback]

Simon Louvish
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 20.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

8 May 2003
This is the first full and properly researched biography of all five Marx Brothers - Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo. It features the first authentic account of their origins, of the roots of their comedy, and their twenty-four years on the stage prior to the shooting of their first movie, The Cocoanuts, in 1929. Never-before-published scripts, well-minted Marxian dialogue, and much madness and mayhem feature in this tale of the Brothers' battles with Hollywood, their loves and marriages, and the story of the forgotten brother Gummo, who never appeared on screen. Spicing up the anarchic brew are accounts of Salvador Dali's 'missing' script for Harpo, the true identity of the long-suffering Margaret Dumont, and the FBI's verdict on Groucho's particular brand of Marxism.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (8 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571193501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571193509
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.6 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Louvish, born Glasgow, Scotland, in 1947, author, film maker, lecturer in film at London Film School. I work in both fiction and non-fiction, having published more than ten fiction novels and seven and a half books of movie biography, mainly on Hollywood's golden-age comedians. I have now returned full-time to the fiction field, and am currently involved in re-printing the entire BLOK SAGA, to include the four books already published and two unpublished volumes, BLOK 5: THE FUNDAMENTAL BLOK and BLOK 6: THE CHINESE SMILE. These will appear under the imprint of Margaret Macdonald Books, which is my present personal imprint and will include in due course the hard-copy issue of the new paperback BLOK SAGA and e-book publications. THE BLOK SAGA Special Edition begins with the first two volumes in the series, THE THERAPY OF AVRAM BLOK and CITY OF BLOK, which are now available on Amazon vended by my own merchant label "louvishbooks." These books were first published in 1985 and 1988 and received a wash of fine reviews, but have been out of print for some time. The Saga began by dealing specifically with the madness of the modern Middle East and Avram Blok's wanderings in the labyrinth of Israel-Palestine and in Europe and America of the 1970's and `80's but morphs in the later volumes to encompass China and a wide historical sweep. So it goes. Hoping it finds a new generation of readers in the world of global turmoil, crisis and collapsing certainties, who can foresee more madness yet to come...

Product Description

Amazon Review

There is no chapter 13 in this book. There are, however, 35 others sections, each meticulously detailed; plus a Marx Bros. family tree, personal chronology, a bibliography (with separate notes on sources used), a comprehensive filmography useful for Kevin Bacon factor games, and an all-important comedy appendix about an optometrist from Jakarta who is often mistaken for a certain man named Groucho.

To say Monkey Business, the latest instalment in the superb Faber and Faber film series is well researched is to make a spectacular understatement. Author Simon Louvish's study is almost academic in its approach; indeed, his ability to weigh up conflicting accounts of Marx Brothers' history (particularly their childhood years, which until now have been perhaps sluggishly chronicled) is admirable. Correcting even the brothers' own autobiographies at times, the author leaves the reader with the impression that no stone has been left unturned in the quest to find the truth.

The danger, of course, is that many an academic study fails to capture the spirit of a comedy act such as this. Louvish's obvious love of his subject, however, is the perfect antidote, allowing quotes and jokes from the brothers themselves to creep into the text, lightening the mood where necessary, and illustrating many a point better than any description could manage. Included also are several key Marx brothers script extracts, particularly from early film outings and theatre scripts, which will no doubt allow real Marx aficionados to trace the evolution of their favourite sketches.

Here is the full story of the Marx family; including for the first time a biography of Zeppo; the last-but-one son who bowed out of showbiz because of a stutter. Uncle Al also makes an appearance, and Louvish explains the incalculable help his stage experience and play writing had on the style of the fledgling foursome.

In later years, fame in pantomime personas allowed The Marx Brothers a certain freedom outwith their characters, and Louvish eagerly retells tales of Harpo's acceptance into intellectual cafe society, and the brothers' brushes with the FBI. This is a matter-of-fact tale, told with neither an over-rosy view of these cinematic heroes nor an agenda to shock. One for fans and film buffs alike. --Helen Lamont


"Told with tremendous style and sparkle, Louvish's composite portrait of the Marx Brothers offers an indispensable overview of the actors' saga."—"Publishers Weekly" "Mr. Louvish has written a well-researched and playful version of this hysterical history."—"The Orlando Sentinel" "[The Marx Brothers are] well captured in Simon Louvish's zippy group portrait, "Monkey Business", which ferrets out the facts behind the brothers' often murky accounts of their lives with a care that never interferes with the fun."—"Elle" "Louvish is a . . . committed researcher and has come up with new material . . . [He] has interesting things to say about scripts versus finished films and fills in details [others] omit."—"The New York Times Book Review "

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is the first time that someone has done a fully researched history of the Marx Brothers. But don't be put off by it's scholarly intentions! By turns witty, informative and (to Marxophiles) often amazing in its revelations Louvish presents us with a gripping true story which captures the fascinating worlds of early vaudeville, '20s Broadway and Hollywood in its golden age. Anyone wanting to know how and why the Marx legend survives or anyone wanting a great saga to get their teeth into should grab this book immediately.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN EXCELLENT THOROUGH FUNNY BOOK 21 Jan 2001
By A Customer
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lives and Legends of the Marx Bros 3 Nov 2009
I am finding the going pretty hard, the book starts slowly and seems to include a little too much information. There are obvious highlights, I am just hoping the pace picks up sometime soon.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious and drab 31 Oct 2013
This author has made a habit of writing about great comedians. Unfortunately, he is totally humourless himself. His books are deadly dull.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well, "Monkey Business" IS my all time fave Marx movie...... 6 Jun 2004
By devotedmarxist - Published on
And I must say that this book of the same title is right up there too. I thought Simon Louvish did an excellent job of digging up the truth on the Marxian tales that have swirled around for many, many years. His research of the ancestral roots of Minnie and Sam "Frenchy" Marx are impeccable.....and Louvish's way of putting the "ages" of the brothers in their proper timeframe is first rate. I think he captured each brother perfectly. I was impressed at his case for giving Chico a hell of lot more credit in steering the brothers to superstardom. Chico was a go-getter, just like his mother Minnie, and I was happy to see Chico portrayed as something more than just the gambling, womanizing, loose cannon type of a guy we all know about (or thought we knew about). That's not to say Chico wasn't like that, it's just good to hear something else about him for a change (I'd kill to have the mathematical mind that guy had!). Harpo is always just the Harpo we all know (just like in "HARPO SPEAKS!") and love. He definitely marched to a beat of a different drummer (Louvish captures that perfectly), Harpo was his own man to say the least. That's a good thing. Groucho, is displayed (like usual) as cantankerous, moody and insulting (well, this IS Groucho we're talking about!). But Louvish gets into the reasons WHY Groucho was that way (let's just say insecurities MIGHT have played a small part in Groucho's disposition).
For me, reading of Zeppo's burden of being so much younger and feeling he was always an afterthought is sad. To be bearing the middle name of his deceased eldest brother, you have to feel some sympathy towards the poor guy. Zep's talents lie elsewhere, as subsequent chapters explain. Louvish's use of prime Marxist dialogue is superb, and he really outdid himself in research at the Libary of Congress, finding several vintage manuscripts just lying there waiting to have their moment in print.......speaking of moments, I was really intrigued by the true story of Margaret Dumont. This woman managed to pull off the ultimate lifelong-practical joke on GROUCHO of all people. Read the book to see what I'm talking about. Everything you'd want to know about the Marxes is here, and there's so much irony in the stories, it's mind boggling. What really got me was the sad way each of their lives ended. None of them (except maybe Gummo) just went along peacefully. Chico died of arteriosclerosis, with practically nothing to show for all the glory years in the movies, Harpo had a heart attack during open-heart surgery (on his 28th wedding anniversary no less), Zeppo died of lung cancer. Groucho's surviving relatives' feud with Erin Fleming (even after Grouch was gone) was a sad closing to an amazing, but sometimes painful life. But it's the laughter that kept the brothers (and brought all of us) together. That's what this book celebrates more than anything. The genius of their comedy, their anarchistic style, they brought THEMSELVES to us, the movie goer. That's why almost 80 years later, we're still interested in them, because there was no one else like them, probably never will be. But it's the legacy of laughter they left behind, the legacy that Louvish writes about so beautifully. First rate book, get this one.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars near-top of the marx 7 Jun 2000
By A Groucho Marxist - Published on
Louvish's comprehensive biography is intelligent, solidly researched (with careful notes, unlike the new Kanfer bio of Groucho), and written with warmth and affection. Where others have accepted mythologies about the lives of the boys, Louvish has dug for facts and unearthed all sorts of tantalizing details and contradictions: he is particularly strong on the family's European roots and their vaudeville career, and he offers the most detailed and lovingly iconoclastic biographical sketch of the implacable and heretofore mysterious Margaret Dumont.
One wishes that his analyses of Marxian comedy were sharper and deeper, and at times the British author seems to have only a slippery grasp of the American pop culture idiom; there are references he just doesn't get. Also, the chatty tone of his writing and his conversational interjections can be distracting.
Overall, though, this is the best Marx book in years--it is trustworthy and enjoyable. Buy it, and tell them AGrouchoMarxist sent you!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enjoyable 13 Jan 2003
By Michael Samerdyke - Published on
I found "Monkey Business" very enjoyable and interesting. I had trouble putting the book down. It reads very quickly and is not dull or academic in the least.
The one drawback I found was that the book is not as focused as Louvish's bio of W. C. Fields, but then here he is following five people as opposed to one.
Still, this was a very good book. I liked the way Louvish challenged some old stories about the Marx Brothers, and I liked the way he made a case for Chico being the chief "behind the scenes" brother in business matters. His assessment of the films seemed quite fair to me, and I found it interesting that the Marxes (or their writers) originally intended "Duck Soup" to be more political, and that they made it after plans to film "Of Thee I Sing" fell through.
Still, this is perhaps not the best "first book to read" on the Marx Brothers. I would nominate Joe Adamson's "Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo" for that.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A window into their madcap world 31 May 2000
By ron capshaw - Published on
An excellent book not only for Louvish's analysis of their films but for showing how their homelife at turn of the century New York influenced their humor. The author highlights the personality differences in each brother: Groucho was penny-pinching, cynical, and yes grouchy; Unlike his cinematic woman-chasing (literally) image, Harpo was happily-married and monogamous; and Chico was an inveterate gambler and womanizer.The author does a good job of highlighting their hilarous off-screen antics; of particular value is his recounting of their cruel but always hilarious practical jokes on the stiff and dignified Margaret Dumont.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book Yet on the Marx Brothers 18 Nov 2000
By Parker Benchley - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Simon Louvish follows up his excellent biography of W. C. Fields with this ground-breaking study of the Marx Brothers. As with the Fields biography, Louvish demythologizes the story of the Marxes and gives us Marx fans a lot more information to digest and enjoy. Fans have tended to accept the early stories of Marx family life as carved in stone; Louvish shows how the real story differs and does it with loving respect rather than the harshness of a debunker. In addition to the Marxes, Louvish also takes a few sidebar trips into the lives of the not so well known supporting players, such as Margaret Dumont, whose life was draped in legend. Well researched and well written. As to the criticism of those who think his writing reflects too much of the Marx style of comedy, I can only reply that no one seemed to mind when Joe Adamson did the same thing in his landmark study on the Marx Brothers films, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo. I think this style of writing goes with the turf, so to speak, and in any case its annoyance factor is negligible compared to the rewards of his research. Highly recommded for any serious as well as casual Marx fan.
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