I don't remember when I first saw him - whether it was watching reruns of You Bet Your Life on a faded UHF station, or a New Year's Eve showing of Duck Soup, but somehow, as a child, Groucho Marx insinuated himself in my psyche.
It's been 27 years since Groucho passed, but I remember it almost like it was yesterday. After seeing Animal Crackers for the first time, staying up late at night to catch it (in those pre-VCR, pre-Tivo days), I was shocked...and thought it highly unfair that Elvis Presley received more coverage. After all, Presley was just a rock-and-roll singer...Groucho was, well, Groucho. He was an icon, and how can you ignore an icon?
What effect have the Marx Brothers' had on me? The question is, more like, what haven't they done for me? Part of my wit comes straight from Groucho's mouth, and I was lucky to learn from a master. For example: in fifth grade, while waiting in line to use the bathroom, I was goofing around with a pal. My teacher announced loudly, "Gordon, you're a space cadet," to which I responded, "At least I qualify."
In camp, I earned the nickname "Groucho" for an entire day in response to a charge in Kangaroo Court. They got into my blood, into my very DNA...and it's been hard to shake since that time.
They appealed on many levels - a child can appreciate the anarchic humor, the spirit, the overall playfulness of the Marx Brothers. (Especially Harpo - one of the few scenes that will have me rolling with laughter is the "lemonade" scene in Duck Soup). As an adult, the verbal wit, the very anti-establishment sense still rings true, and strikes a critical chord. I must also admit that, once they switched to MGM (and Zeppo left the group), they lost a certain whimsy and spirit. I'll grant you A Night At the Opera and A Day At The Races (both films cool enough to become titles of Queen Album), but as they made their way through the MGM filmmaking machine, they became more scripted, less spirited, less alive than their Paramount films.
But that isn't the point of this entry - it's to mourn the passing of a man who, in these times, we so desperately need. In an age of political correctness, and where humor has become less and less clever, we need a man who will fight for our honor, which is more than we will ever do. (We also need Chico's ability to deal with the less-than-savory, and Harpo's willingness to have other's hold his leg).
There are some who claim that the Marxes are out-of-date, but I disagree: wherever there is a high schooler who gives his teachers a hard time; wherever someone dares to bring the high-and-mighty down to earth; wherever someone tries to make someone else laugh, the Marxes live on.
Rent one of their movies, and let them work their magic.
Groucho, you're missed. Terribly.