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Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx

Average Rating 3.5
( 5 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2001

    Splendid biography!

    I learned of Stanley Kanfer biography through Dick Cavett's review in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Cavett was Mr. Marx's friend during his later year. His familiarity with Mr. Kanfer's subject only adds credibility to his praise. I was not disappointed. Simply stated, Kanfer's biography of Groucho Marx is superb. His book is one of the best biographies I've every read. It's extraordinarily precise, entertaining, readable and educational. His insights into Marx's personality are splendidly lucid and forthright. He holds no punches, much as he greatly admires Mr. Marx. I found his analyses of the entertainer's personality quick, frank and admirably honest. There are few faults this reader can report. It's clearly obvious that Mr. Kanfer leaned heavily on previous sources, but their precise origins remain unidentified. I wish the author had included more photographs, but I'm grateful for those chosen. There are, without doubt, other ways to see them. Marx's early life receives rather less attention than his later years, but I believe that's a consequence of the available information. Still, this reader remains unsure that Marx's mother Minnie can be blamed almost entirely for his phobias, neuroses and family antagonisms. Mr. Kanfer shares his understanding of the entertainment industry willingly with his readers without vanity or hubris. His remarkably deep knowledge base, obvious background friendships and Hollywood contacts no doubt assisted his writing. The reader gravitates to these points rather than being dragged or battered by them. In fact, I only questioned how the author included so many intimate details of Marx's life without being physically present, yet I never questioned if they were imagined. The book's last section on the battle over Mr. Marx's fortune is reviewed in great detail. Fifty-five pages are devoted to Erin Fleming's influence and legal squabbles. They read rather like the script of a soap opera and are somewhat less satisfying than the prior 383 pages. That being stated, these incidents were still greatly important in Mr. Marx's life, death and legacy. His survivors and Ms. Fleming were left devoid of parts of their sanity and significant financial resources following this protracted battle. This reader was left saddened by the section, yet Mr. Kanfer never shirks from this sordid part of Marx's history. In summary, there is much to praise and little to criticize. Julius (Groucho) Marx receives splendidly honest treatment and analysis as one of America's great comedians. His wit, intelligence, timing, work and devotion to his craft made him incomparable. And thanks to Mr. Kanfer, now I know where to find his star in the galaxy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2000

    First class bio of 'The One and Only'

    This biography of Groucho is actually an excellent history of the Marx Brothers and their entertainment era. The writing is fluid and face-paced, with just the right amount of personal and show biz information to keep things interesting. Groucho comes alive in these pages, perhaps better than in any other book I've read on the subject (and I've read quite a few). You get a real sense not only of what he did and with whom, but why: his position in the family (smack in middle of the brood of five boys), the influence of his amazingly tenacious and ambitious mother, the adversity of his early years in Vaudeville (where, several times, he was fleeced by con men and colleagues) and so on and so forth. Particularly illuminating is the sad last chapter played out after his death in the bitter battle between his children and the Bank of America on side, and Ms. Erin Fleming on the other. I loved the man for his talent and intelligence before I read this bio and I love him even more now. To wit: if you are by any definition a fan of Groucho and all things Marx, you must read this book.

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