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Groucho Marx was a world famous comedian and actor of the 20th century. Known for his distinctively bushy moustache, big eyeglasses, and ever-present cigar, Marx had a talent for politically incorrect humor. As part of the family comedy group The Marx Brothers, Groucho Marx made 15 films before launching his solo career as a game show host and entertainer. Marx is remembered as one of the greatest comedians of the first half of the 20th century.
Groucho was born Julius Henry Marx, the middle child of five sons. The mother of the family, Minnie, encouraged the boys to learn musical instruments and art, hoping that they would become entertainers. Julius was a talented singer and began working in Vaudeville theater after being forced to drop out of school at age 12. Despite their mother’s attempts to form the boys into a high-level singing group, they found more success telling jokes to the vaudeville audience. Groucho originally performed comedy with a fake German accent, but in the rise of anti-German sentiment Groucho dropped the accent in favor of the character that would make him famous, an innuendo-filled wise-cracker with a talent for one-line jokes.
As the success of the Marx Brothers comedy show increased, the brothers began making films, beginning with Humor Risk in 1921. Groucho also continued to work separately, finding personal success as a radio host and entertainer. In 1947, he began hosting an interview and quiz show on the radio and later on television called You Bet Your Life. He continued as a host of the program until 1961, during which time it was one of the most popular and recognizable quiz shows in the United States.
Groucho’s famous onscreen character is an icon often compared to Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character. With his moustache, heavy eyebrows, glasses and cigar, Marx was also recognizable by his exaggerated bent-over walking style. His famous moustache was originally painted on, but during the run of You Bet Your Life he grew a real one that he maintained for the rest of his life. His trademark comedy was one-liners full of sexual innuendo. However, Groucho Marx firmly believed in clean comedy, refusing to swear in his work or make overt comments.
In his personal life, Groucho Marx was always disappointed that his education was cut short. He attempted to compensate for his lack of schooling by becoming an avid reader and writer. During his lifetime, he published several books including an autobiography, Groucho and Me. He would frequently astonish colleagues with his broad knowledge of literature and philosophy.
Groucho Marx was a legendary comic with a flair for chaotic situations and brilliantly lucid insults. His death in 1977 marked the end of a great era in comedy, as one of the last original vaudevillian comedians. Many people credit Marx with being an inspiration to modern American wit and comedy, including famous comedic figure Woody Allen, who called Groucho Marx “the best comedian this country ever produced.”