cover image Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence

Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence

Lee Siegel. Yale, $25 (184p) ISBN 978-0-300-17445-8

Born in October 1890, Julius Henry Marx was the third of five surviving sons, and he would grow up to become Groucho, the most famous of the Marx Brothers. Drawing heavily on previous biographies and other studies of the vaudevillian, film star, comedian, and television host, journalist Siegel (Are You Serious?) provides a captivating glimpse of how Marx turned himself into a legend. Siegel examines in detail Marx’s most acclaimed films with his brothers, such as Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera, as well as his days on the stage, to highlight how Marx seamlessly blended stage persona and personal identity. For example, Siegel observes that Marx turned his anxiety about being a nobody back on itself with his famous joke about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him for a member, thereby “negat[ing] the world around him to carve out a private freedom.” Siegel covers topics including Marx’s misogyny, his television career as host of You Bet Your Life, and the essentially Jewish character of his humor. While Siegel offers no new information about Marx’s life, he encourages readers to see the films again, for they contain “Groucho’s fullest disclosure of who he really was.” (Jan.)