Groucho Marx was a film legend whose fame transcended the movies. The ones he made with his brothers - Chico, Harpo and Zeppo - are hilarious, anarchic and witty; live-action cartoons that follow no rules save their own. Like many great comedians, though, Groucho lived quite a different life off-screen.
The portrait Kanfer paints of Groucho is of a man who missed out on childhood and spent the rest of his life making up for it, in which Groucho the character - iconoclastic, puckish, irreverent - became more important than Julius Henry Marx the man. His mother was never completely satisfied with him, which could explain his impaired relationships with any woman who wasn't Margaret Dumont. He tried to goad his children into show biz, like he was goaded by his mother. Late in life he was blind - perhaps willfully so - to the machinations of someone who said she loved him, but alienated him from friends and family and made him perform to order.
While this is a well-written and highly informative biography, a part of me almost wishes I hadn't read it. The tale of Groucho's life is tragic in many places. The image of the sad clown is a cliché, but it contains truth: comedians often use laughter to hide deep pain.
I bought Groucho used. Once again, signs of the previous owner are apparent: there are some notes written on the sides of the pages, some which correct an error made by Kanfer, others which supplement what he wrote. These are very few, perhaps four or five, all in the first half.
Tracy and Hepburn