Cover image for Monkey business : the lives and legends of the Marx Brothers : Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, with added Gummo
Monkey business : the lives and legends of the Marx Brothers : Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, with added Gummo
Louvish, Simon, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Physical Description:
vii, 471 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm
General Note:
"Thomas Dunne Books."
Corporate Subject:
Format :


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PN2297.M3 L68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PN2297.M3 L68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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Strange but true: this is the first authentic account of the Marx Brothers, their origins and of the roots of their comedy.

First and foremost, this is the saga of a family whose theatrical roots stretch back to mid-19th century Germany. From Groucho Marx's first warblings with the singing Leroy Trio, this book brings to life the vanished world of America's wild and boisterous variety circuits, leading to the Marx Brothers' Broadway successes, and their alliance with New York's theatrical lions, George S. Kaufman and the 'Algonquin Round Table'.

Never-before-published scripts, well-minted Marxian dialogue, and much madness and mayham feature in this tale of the Brothers' battles with Hollywood, their films, their loves and marriages, and the story of the forgotten brother Gummo.

Author Notes

Simon Louvish is the author of the biography of W. C. Fields, Man on the Flying Trapeze. He is also the author of nine novels. He teaches at the London International Film School

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

As blandly handsome You Bet Your Life announcer George Fenneman used to say (didn't he?), "Here's Groucho!" To which one could add "in spades." Just why all this attention comes just at this time is neither obvious nor explained in any of these books. The spotlight, however, is unquestionably on the youngest of the three brother comedians (the fourth and youngest performing brother, Zeppo, was too handsome and calm to be anything but a straight man), even in Louvish's collective biography. (For his part, because the Marxes worked together and lived near one another, Kanfer is obliged to limn the other brothers' lives quite fully.) Groucho was the most verbal Marx, gifted from the beginning with a wit capable of hilariously reducing, in mere seconds, any conversation, however rational and civilized, to free-associating, anarchic drivel. Indeed, Groucho's comic mind and tongue were so sharp that he was one of the few comics who could use another language-mangling, zany foil--Chico Marx--as a regular partner. The best parts of all three books are quotations from Groucho's routines and writings. Kanfer and Louvish know this and compensate for the comparative drabness of their own prose by, in Kanfer's case, homing in on Groucho's cantankerousness, and, in Louvish's, by covering the Marxes' enduring legacy--their films--in great detail. Early on, Kanfer allows that there really isn't anything in his book that hasn't been published before, and Louvish's reliance on the same sources endorses Kanfer's assessment. If neither book makes any big breakthroughs knowledge-wise, both books are more thoroughly researched and formally presented than any of their predecessors, and either is an excellent summary source on the Marxes, whose success is one of the greatest Lower-East-Side-to-Hollywood, vaudeville-to-the-cultural-vanguard stories. Readers could be forgiven, though, if they abandoned the biographies mid-read for Kanfer's gathering of writings (overwhelmingly) by Groucho. He just may have been the funniest man of the twentieth century. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Told with tremendous style and sparkle, Louvish's composite portrait of the Marx Brothers offers an indispensable overview of the actors' saga. Decked out with photographs and sprinkled with excerpts from reviews, interviews, memoirs, film dialogue and hitherto unpublished skits and scripts, this biography captures the sheer exuberance of the foursome as they conquered vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood. Louvish gives equal billing to all the brothersÄJulius (Groucho), Leonard (Chico), Arthur (Harpo), Herbert (Zeppo), plus Milton (Gummo), who left the act to become a Hollywood agentÄand vibrantly re-creates a supporting cast of characters that includes George Kaufman, Irving Berlin, Irving Thalberg, S.J. Perelman and Margaret Dumont. Yet the biographer of W.C. Fields (The Man on the Flying Trapeze) maintains critical detachment in assessing the brothers' onstage/onscreen antics and their often messy private lives. Groucho, for one, comes off as a lot more likable than in Stefan Kanfer's Groucho (Forecasts, Mar. 20). While Louvish fully acknowledges the abusive behavior that drove Groucho's first wife to alcoholism, Julius Marx seems more forgivably human here, and Louvish depicts Groucho's relationship with daughter Miriam as loving and solicitous. His fresh research clears up all manner of myths, embellishments and omissions in previous biographies and in the brothers' autobiographies. In this invigorating reappraisal, the Marx Brothers, more than "Minnie and Sam's boys who never grew up," are timeless satirists of pretension, folly, privilege and snobbery, in the tradition of Cervantes, Rabelais and Mark Twain. The "Four Horsemen of the Apoplexy," they embody an authentic acceptance of life's absurdity as well as a desperate need to leave one's mark. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Groucho Marx mastered the worlds of vaudeville, theater, movies, radio, and television, yet he remained a moody, morose, unfulfilled man. Plagued by nagging financial insecurities, partly realized literary ambitions, and difficult, unsatisfying relations with his wives, lovers, and daughters, Groucho was a "depressive clown," notes Kanfer (The Eighth Sin). This is the show business saga of "Minnie's boys," Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and, sometimes, Gummo and Zeppo. Groucho never really had a childhood, as mother Minnie drove the boys relentlessly as they perfected their trademark antic, ad-lib style. Many books on the Marx Brothers pay homage to their innovative wisecracks, word play, and nonstop non sequiturs, but Kanfer shows the show biz realities behind the madness. The book also details Groucho's ambivalent relations with his son, Arthur; his brothers; New Deal liberals; intellectuals and collaborators like S.J. Perelman; and his custodian, Erin Fleming. Although Chico and Harpo remain shadowy figures in this portrayal, this is the first comprehensive portrait of Groucho in years. Recommended for large public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.] Pubbing in the same month as Kanfer's book, this work may signal the beginning of a Marx Brothers revival. The brothers' nonstop barrage of verbal and visual gags delighted average moviegoers and intellectuals alike. Kanfer focuses on Groucho, where Louvish, the author of The Man on the Flying Trapeze, a biography of W.C. Fields, expands the canvas to appraise the contributions of the other brothers, plus Margaret Dumont, a regular target of the brothers' mayhem. Chico was a compulsive gambler and risktaker. Harpo, whose comedy career was limited by his silent act, found fulfillment in family life. Dumont, Louvish shows, was more than a dimwitted comic stooge. (In fact, the Marx Brothers often failed to attract a female audience, an interesting topic covered more fully by Kanfer.) The Marx Brothers' story is now encrusted with numerous myths and dubious anecdotes, and Louvish does a solid job of separating fact from fiction and includes a family tree and a discussion of the FBI's file on the group. Like Kanfer's book, Monkey Business includes generous excerpts of classic Marx Brothers film dialog. Recommended for public library film collections.--Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Prologue: Noxis on the Conoxisp. 1
Act I 'Love Me and the World is Mine'p. 5
1 Our Father's Kugelp. 7
2 The Heart and the Harpp. 16
3 Kidding the Captain: 'Was has Gesachta?'--Uncle Al, the Original Marx Brotherp. 25
4 Horatio Alger and the Tin Can Swingerp. 35
5 'Impersonations of the Yiddisher'--from the Whangdoodle Four to Mrs Schangp. 44
6 The Incubator and the Chicks--from Wayburn's Nightingales to Minnie's Mascotsp. 54
Act II The Road from Nagacdochesp. 63
7 'Ah Poosh, Ah Poosh, Ah Poosh!'p. 65
8 Sex, Life and Vaudevillep. 74
9 Down by Pantagesp. 82
10 'An Elaborate Disorder of Amateur Antics'p. 91
11 The Kaiser, Art Fisher and the Rhode Island Redsp. 98
12 Farewell to the Old Five-and-Dimes...p. 106
Act III The Four Horsemen of the Apoplexyp. 115
13 There Is No Chapter 13 in This Bookp. 117
14 'Washington with a Mustache'p. 118
15 Humor Risksp. 129
16 Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Men--the Four Horsemen Meet the Round Tablep. 141
17 Vive la France! or Opening Sardines with a Swordp. 151
18 From Coolidge to Cocoanuts--'Do You Want to be Wage Slaves?'p. 158
19 The Mystery and Mystique of Daisy Dumont--Staying at a Bum Hotelp. 168
20 Triumph of the Left-Handed Mothsp. 182
Act IV The Magician's Grandsons and the Magical Lensp. 199
Prologue Get the Marbles Out of Your Mouth!p. 201
21 Before Hollywood or 'Why Are You So Concerned with Having Real Backgrounds When One of the Leading Characters Wears an Obviously False Moustache?'p. 204
22 Stowaways in the Forward Hatchp. 220
23 The Pleasure Principle and the Poetic Sealp. 229
24 'Hey, Where's Your Brother?'p. 244
25 This Program is Coming to You from the House of David!--the Short and Snappy Life of Waldorf T. Flywheelp. 253
26 Cracked Ice--Freedonia to Moscow Expressp. 261
27 Make That Three Hard-Boiled Eggs!p. 276
28 Get Your Tutsi-Frutsi Ice Cream!p. 298
29 'Step This Way' or How Long Can These Swans Keep Singing?p. 313
Act V The Vanishing Speciesp. 329
30 Custody of the Moustachep. 331
31 Of Thee I Sing--from 'Dear Mir' to The Almost Last Hurrah...p. 340
32 Solo Dreamsp. 353
33 'Is It Sad Or High-Kicking?p. 365
34 Twilight of the Gags or 'Wife Failed to See Anything Funny in Groucho Jokes'p. 374
35 What Price Pumpernickel?--The Marxist Manifestos or Beyond the Ghostsp. 386
36 Coughing in the Night or Lingering Past the Late Showp. 393
Epilogue: The Legacyp. 413
Acknowledgementsp. 418
The FBI and the Marx Brothersp. 419
Marx/Schoenberg Family Treep. 422
Chronologyp. 424
Filmographyp. 426
Notes on Sourcesp. 435
Select Bibliographyp. 452
Indexp. 456