I’ll Say She Is

illsaysheis-comingsoonAfter years of success in Vaudeville, The Marx Brothers were sought after by just about every Vaudeville house in the country. Performing ten shows a week for 48 weeks a year, they tried out every routine and perfected their style. E.F. Albee was paying them $2,000 a week. Seems like a lot of money back in those days, but Groucho thought they deserved more. When Albee refused, he played a joke on him. He set his office on fire. Some joke. This cost the brothers their careers in show biz. Groucho was married with a son and out of work. Chico was the shmoozer of the group. Always losing in poker games to the right people. He found a guy in Philadelphia who had a theater and was looking to put on a show.

They threw together a mish-mosh of all their routines and called it “I’ll Say She Is”. It turned out to be a smash in Philly. Later it moved to New York and led the path for The Marx Brothers to become the toast of Broadway in the late 20’s.

To this day, this remains one of my favorite Marx Brothers routines. Hard to believe it’s almost 90 years old.


Gallagher & Shean

Gallagher%20and%20SheanVaudevillean comedians Ed Gallagher and Al Shean were going nowhere in the early 1900’s, until they teamed up. Al Shean was the brother of Minnie Marx. Gallagher & Shean were hugely successful by 1912, and even appeared in movies later on, singing their famous song.

It was Al Shean who wrote The Marx Brothers early Vaudeville routines. One was called “Home Again”, which took place in a school room, with Groucho playing the professor. He played the character in a strict German accent. His students were The other brothers, including Gummo.

The routine was a big hit for The Marx Bros. during their vaudeville tours. They would do about 10 shows a week for 48 weeks a year. they toured the vaudeville circuit for close to ten years before going to Broadway, and later films.

Parts of “Home Again” appeared in the Marx Bros. movie “Horse Feathers”.

Gallagher & Shean:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XxcVEedhMc&feature=share&list=PL6B684C96BF5A6DCA

Horse Feathers scene featured a combination of routines they did in the vaudeville shows  “Home Again” and “Fun In Hi Skule” http://youtu.be/OjS7LxDYad8

Julius Henry Marx

Young Groucho and Harpo Marx with a DogOctober 2, 1890 was the arrival of Julius Henry Marx. He was the third son of Minnie and Samuel Marx. His older brothers were Leonard (later known as Chico) and Adolph (later known as Harpo).

(pic. left is Julius and brother Adolph)

They grew up in a tennament building on East 93rd Street in Manhattan. It was a very poor section of New York City. Minnie had roots in show business. Her brother in-law was semi famous as Al Shean of the Vaudevilian comedy team Gallagher and Shean. Samuel, nicknamed Frenchy, was their father. He was a tailor, but not a good tailor. He had many one-time customers.

Later, The Marx’s had two more sons. Milton (later Gummo) and Herbert (later Zeppo). They were so poor the five boys all slept in the same bed. As Groucho puts it, “Did you ever have to share a bed with four boys who were at the age when they were dreaming about girls? You had to go to bed wearing a raincoat”

The boys went to school, but dropped out early. Julius made it the furthest, going all the way to the 6th grade. He wanted to be a doctor. It was not to be.

Although they were poor, Minnie splurged on Lenny, getting him piano lessons at an early age. This was only the beginning of the sibling rivalry between Julius and his brother.

and the story continues…

Groucho is King

margaret dumont 1Every kid wants to make their parents happy, until they reach about the age of 14, then the roles reverse. However, when I was at the ripe age of about 8 years old, I have a vivid memory of my mother sitting me down in front of the television set. She told me to “watch this”. Of course, like any kid, you do what your parents tell you. Now this was back in the days when there was probably three or four channels. Kids programming consisted of shows like The Big Circus, Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo.

None of these shows were on that moment my mother gave me an order. It was The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup. Kind of an odd choice for an 8 year old. I am sure I was as clueless as Margaret Dumont when it came to Groucho’s sexual inuendo, but it didn’t matter. I was infatuated with the shennanigans of Harpo. He was a clown, only much funnier.

I cite this moment as the day I became a stand-up comedian, in my mind. It took me some 25 years later to actually try it, but this early memory was the foundation of my love for comedy. It was the first day of school. I became a student, studying for the rest of my life.

As I go through life, I always go back to Duck Soup, and the Marx Brothers. No matter how much comedy has evolved, there is always a hint of Groucho, Chico and Harpo in everything I see and hear that is considered funny.

Now at 8, Harpo was the draw, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized the genius of Groucho Marx. Not only because I finally understood what he was saying, but his timing, his improvisational skills and his character encompassed all things that are great about the craft of joke telling. He was a master.

Julius, the man, did not feel up to par with his musically talented brothers. Chico’s piano playing was legendary. Harpo’s physical comedy unsurpassed. I still don’t know how he did half the things he did. But it was Groucho that brought the art of stand-up comedy to the forefront. He was the insult comic, the one liner comedian, and the perfect straightman to his brothers when needed.

I have been a fan of The Marx Brothers since I was 8 years old, a lover of Groucho since my teens, and to this day, I laugh at everything I have seen hundreds of times.

This blog will be my tribute to my hero of comedy.

Hail Groucho !!!