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Groucho Marx
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Groucho Marx

Julius Henry Marx, known as Groucho Marx (October 2, 1890 - August 19, 1977), was an American comedian, working both with his siblings the Marx Brothers and on his own.

The Marx family grew up on the Upper East Side of New York City, in a small Jewish neighborhood sandwiched between Irish/German and Italian neighborhoods. Leonard Marx, the oldest Marx brother, developed the "Italian" accent he used as "Chico" to convince some roving bullies that he was Italian, not Jewish. For a time in vaudeville, all the brothers performed in ethnic accents; Groucho did a German accent. However, after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915 there was anti-German sentiment, and Groucho's "German" character was booed. He quickly dropped the accent and developed the fast-talking wise guy character he would make famous.

Groucho developed a routine as a wise-cracking hustler with a distinctive chicken-walking lope and an exaggerated greasepaint moustache, improvising insults to stuffy dowagers (often played by Margaret Dumont) who stood in his way. He and his brothers starred in a series of extraordinarily popular movies and stage shows, often departing from the scripts they were using. (See: Marx Brothers)

Groucho also worked as a radio comedian and show host in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s, he hosted the popular television program You Bet Your Life. The show consisted of Groucho interviewing the contestants and ad libbing jokes. Then they would play a brief quiz. The show was responsible for the phrases "Say the secret word and win a prize" and "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"

Throughout his career he introduced a number of memorable songs in films, including "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", "I'm Against It", "Hello I Must be Going", "Everyone Says I Love You" and "Lydia the Tattooed Lady". Crooner Frank Sinatra once quipped that the only thing he could do better than Marx was sing.

Off-stage he was bookish and stated late in life that he lamented the fact he had never finished school or gone to college. Some of the letters displaying his wit were incorporated into a book.

In later years he grew a real mustache. His stage name, "Groucho," was said to have been bestowed on him because while in Vaudeville he kept his money in a bag around his neck known as a "grouch" bag. An alternate story is that he was grouchy. Groucho was a master at improvising clever insults, and became well known for this. One of his frustrations in later years was that when he insulted people who annoyed him they tended to laugh, thinking it was just part of the famous comedian's act.

Groucho Marx died on August 19, 1977. He was cremated, and the ashes were entombed in the Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, California.

Various Groucho-like characters have lived on since Julius' death—a testament to the character's lasting appeal. Alan Alda often vamped as Groucho on M*A*S*H. Gabe Kaplan personated him in the biographical Groucho. Dave Sim, in his controversial comic book Cerebus the Aardvark, cast Groucho as the slippery, wisecracking but indomitable Lord Julius, Grandlord of the bureaucrat-ridden City-state of Palnu. Bugs Bunny befuddles Elmer Fudd memorably in "Wideo Wabbit" by imitating the mustachioed comedian in a "You Bet Your Life" parody called "You Beat Your Wife". Later he imitates Art Carney and slaps comical glasses on Elmer, admonishing "don't be such a Groucho".

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