Julius Henry Marx was the sharp-witted middle child of five brothers. His mother Minnie favored the handsome, fair-haired older brothers and the adorable younger two, but she apparently thought less of young Julius. The dreamy, slightly wall-eyed boy loved books and music, but he had to drop out of school early to help support the family. In later life he read voraciously and corresponded with authors and intellectuals like Carl Sandburg and T. S. Eliot. His own writing style ranged from the trenchant to the brilliantly absurd.
Depending on the source, he was a moody, mean-tempered skinflint who drove his wives to drink, or just a moody skinflint. His woman-chasing may have been a joke, but his misogyny apparently wasn't. He was married and divorced three times. After growing up in poverty, he earned a fortune--and lost $800,000 in the big stock-market crash that heralded the Depression. Afterwards he never stopped being obsessed with money. In the 1950s he stopped by the New York Stock Exchange to entertain the dazzled stockbrokers -- an act that literally shut down all Wall Street trading for fifteen minutes. He was determined to get his $800,000 worth.
He had hit shows in vaudeville, on Broadway, in the movies, on radio, and on television. He wrote several books--and yes, he actually wrote them. He died at 86, more than 30 years ago, and he is still one of the funniest men who ever lived.
Although it is generally known, I think it's about time to announce that I was born at a very early age.
I've got the brain of a four year old. I'll bet he was glad to be rid of it.
A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.
My mother loved children—she would have given anything if I had been one.
Because we were a kid act, we traveled at half-fare, despite the fact that we were all around 20. Minnie insisted we were 13. "That kid of yours is in the dining car smoking a cigar," the conductor told her. "And another one is in the washroom shaving." Minnie shook her head sadly. "They grow so fast . . . "
I married your mother because I wanted children; imagine my disappointment when you came along.
I read in the newspapers they are going to have 30 minutes of intellectual stuff on television every Monday from 7:30 to 8. to educate America. They couldn't educate America if they started at 6:30.
Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.
No one is completely unhappy at the failure of his best friend.
All people are born alike—except Republicans and Democrats.
In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.
Politics doesn't make strange bedfellows—marriage does.
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
[when told that a swimming pool was off-limits to Jews] My son is half-Jewish; can he wade in up to his knees?
Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?
Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.
Money frees you from doing things you dislike. Since I dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy.
Money will not make you happy, and happy will not make you money.
Blood's not thicker than money.
While money can't buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.
I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.
If he (Chico) made ten thousand dollars a day, he'd spend ten thousand dollars a day. I don't mind that. What I do mind is that he still sleeps better than I do.
From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.
I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.
Humor is reason gone mad.
Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does.
Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted.
I didn't like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions—the curtain was up.
I was so long writing my review that I never got around to reading the book.
I can't understand why you don't get any mail from me. Perhaps it's because I haven't been writing.
I write by ear. I tried writing with the typewriter, but I found it too unwieldy.
If you've heard this story before, don't stop me, because I'd like to hear it again.
My favorite poem is the one that starts 'Thirty days hath September' because it actually tells you something.
Anybody who doesn't like this book is healthy.
I’ll put off reading Lolita for six more years until she turns 18.
We'll meet at the theater tonight. I’ll hold your seat till you get there; once you get there, you're on your own.
Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you're probably watching the wrong channel.
[after viewing Samson and Delilah (1949) starring Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature] Well, there’s just one problem. No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s tits are bigger than the leading lady’s.
I’d have liked to have gone to bed with Jean Harlow. She was a beautiful broad. The fellow who married her was impotent and he killed himself. I would have done the same thing.
[on Bob Hope] Hope? Hope is not a comedian. He just translates what others write for him.
[On Charles Chaplin]: The greatest compliment I ever got was from Chaplin. He came up to me and said ëI wish I could talk like you on the screen.’ I said ëI think you’re doing all right.’ He had made $50 million by that point. He was the best comedian we ever had.
Jerry Lewis hasn’t made me laugh since he left Dean Martin.
[asked in 1975 if he’d seen any recent movies] I saw Jaws. But I think it would have been funnier if a guppy had swallowed the boat instead of a shark.
[on Margaret Dumont] She was a wonderful woman. She was the same off the stage as she was on it—always the stuffy, dignified matron. And the funny thing about her was she never understood the jokes. At the end of Duck Soup Margaret says to me, "What are you doing. Rufus?". And I say, "I am fighting for your honor, which is more than you ever did." Later she asked me what I meant by that.
My experience is that people are most likely to listen to reason when in bed.
Years ago, I tried to top everybody, but I don't anymore. I realized it was killing conversation. When you're always trying for a topper you aren't really listening. It ruins communication.
No man goes before his time—unless the boss leaves early.
I drink to make other people interesting.
A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.
A moose is an animal with horns on the front of his head and a hunting lodge wall on the back of it.
While shooting elephants in Africa, I found the tusks very difficult to remove. But in Alabama, the Tuscaloosa...
Women and Sex
Women should be obscene and not heard.
Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men, the other 999 follow women.
How do you feel about women's rights? I like either side of them.
Behind every successful man stands a woman. And behind her stands his wife.
I remember the first time I had sex—I kept the receipt.
Whoever named it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.
A man's only as old as the woman he feels.
I wish you'd keep my hands to yourself.
Groucho: You know I think you're the most beautiful woman in the world?
Groucho: No, but I don't mind lying if it gets me somewhere.
Funny, I've met a lot of pin-up girls, but I've never been able to pin one down.
Man does not control his own fate. The women in his life do that for him.
A woman is an occasional pleasure but a cigar is always a smoke.
Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.
Marriage and Divorce
Will you marry me? Do you have any money? Answer the second question first.
Marry me and I'll never look at another horse!
What do you say the three of us get married: You girls have everything, you’re short and tall, and slim and stout, and blonde and brunette. And that’s just the kind of girl I crave!
One of the best hearing aids a man can have is an attentive wife.
Wives are people who feel they don't dance enough.
Some people claim that marriage interferes with romance. There's no doubt about it. Anytime you have a romance, your wife is bound to interfere.
I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.
Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse.
In Hollywood, brides keep the bouquets and throw away the groom.
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?
Sickness, Aging, and Death
I'm not feeling very well—I need a doctor immediately. Ring the nearest golf course.
A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running.
Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.
I'm going to Iowa for an award. Then I'm appearing at Carnegie Hall, it's sold out. Then I'm sailing to France to be honored by the French government. I'd give it all up for one erection.
[in the late 1960s, on how it felt to be an elder statesman of comedy] Like an old jerk.
I intend to live forever, or die trying.
Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.
I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.
Bury me next to a straight man.
The Secret of Life
The first thing which I can record concerning myself is, that I was born. These are wonderful words. This life, to which neither time nor eternity can bring diminution—this everlasting living soul, began. My mind loses itself in these depths.
The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.
It isn't necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.
There's one way to find out if a man is honest—ask him. If he says, "Yes," you know he is a crook.
The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can’t fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland. If you write about yourself the slightest deviation makes you realize instantly that there may be honor among thieves, but you are just a dirty liar.
Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.
Threats and Insults
Do you suppose I could buy back my introduction to you?
Don't point that beard at me, it might go off.
Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
I'm 42 around the chest, 52 around the waist, 92 around the golf course and a nuisance around the house.
Why, I'd horse-whip you if I had a horse.
Next time I see you, remind me not to talk to you.
I was going to thrash them within an inch of their lives, but I didn't have a tape measure.
I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.
I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.
Why don't you go home to your wife? Better yet, I'll go home to your wife, and outside of the improvement, she won't notice any difference.
Don't look now, but there's one man too many in this room and I think it's you.
I have nothing but respect for you—and not much of that.
Go, and never darken my towels again.
I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought I'd rather dance with the cows until you come home.
I don’t have a photograph, but you can have my footprints. They’re upstairs in my socks.
Policeman: A hermit, eh? Then why's your table set for four?
Groucho: That's nothing. My alarm clock is set for eight.
Before I speak, I have something important to say.
Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
I'm leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it's not raining.
If I held you any closer I would be on the other side of you.
One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know.
Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.
You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night.
Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?
Room service? Send up a larger room.
dropping acid with Paul Krassner
He told me about one of his favorite contestants "a gentleman with white hair, on in years but a chipper fellow. I inquired as to what he did to retain his sunny disposition. "Well, I'll tell you, Groucho," he says "every morning I get up and I make a choice to be happy that day."
We had long periods of silence and of listening to music. I was accustomed to playing rock 'n' roll while tripping, but the record collection here was all classical and Broadway show albums. After we heard the Bach "Cantata No. 7 Groucho said, "I may be Jewish, but I was seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals. Do you think Bach knew he was doing that?"
There was a point when our conversation somehow got into a negative space. Groucho was equally bitter about institutions such as marriage ("like quicksand") and individuals such as Lyndon Johnson ("potato-head"). Eventually, I asked, "What gives you hope? Groucho thought for a moment .... . Then he said just one word out loud: "People."
After a while, he started chuckling to himself. I hesitated to interrupt his reverie. Finally he spoke: "I'm really getting quite a kick out of this notion of playing God like a dirty old man in Skidoo. You wanna know why? Do you realize that irreverence and reverence are the same thing?"
"If they're not, then it's a misuse of your power to make people laugh"
And right after he said that, his eyes began to tear.
When he came back from peeing, he said, "Everybody is waiting for miracles to happen. The human body is a goddam miracle."
He mentioned, "I had a little crush on Marilyn Monroe when we were making Love Happy - I remember I got a hard-on just talking to her on the set."
During a little snack: "I never thought eating a fig would be the biggest thrill of my life."
He held and smelled a cigar for a long time but never smoked it.
"Everybody has their own Laurel and Hardy," he mused. "A miniature Laurel and Hardy, one on each shoulder. Your little Oliver Hardy bawls you out-he says, 'Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into.' And your little Stan Laurel gets all weepy -"Oh, Ollie, I couldn't help it, I'm sorry, I did the best I could. . . ' "
Groucho and cigars, by his son Arthur.
Groucho's FBI file.
Quotes about Groucho from his fans, including Terry Southern, T. S. Eliot, George Burns, George Bernard Shaw, and Candice Bergen.
The young Jon Carroll interviews the elderly Groucho.