Groucho Marx: Funny? You bet your life he is

Groucho Marx, you bet your life he is funny
Groucho Marx, you bet your life he is funny

Think of bushy eyebrows, a cigar always dangling from the mouth, raised eyes, stooped posture, rotund glasses and a painted on moustache – and you've got Groucho Marx singing aloud Lydia and the Tattooed Lady. How may the world describe him? An American actor, singer, comedian, wise wit, radio host, filmmaker or just a zany figure who is still remembered by millions in the world? Let's find out who this famous personality was, and some of Groucho Marx's best quotes.

Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx

Who was Groucho Marx?

Groucho Marx was a film star, radio and television personality and a man with a solid sense of humor. He grew up in a Jewish family in the 1890s with a mother who was supremely ambitious about her sons going to show business. Grouch Marx and his two brothers were trained in the street side theatrical traditions of the Vaudeville. Over a slew of successful performances, the Marx brothers became big Broadway stars and made their first movie in 1921. Some of their most famous works that the world remembers are Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, Monkey Business and A Night at the Opera.

People started loving Groucho from 1947 onwards when he hosted the 11 year long running television show, You Bet Your Life. Marx's strengths were to ad lib jokes on the contestants and converse with them impromptu to bring down the house. If you thought that the funny phrases Who's buried in Grant's Tomb? and What color is the White House have originated from the English lexicon, you're wrong. They've come from the mind and mouth of none other than Groucho Marx. These phrases were inflicted upon contestants in his show who didn't win anything!

A still from the show You Bet Your Life hosted by Groucho Marx
A still from the show You Bet Your Life hosted by Groucho Marx

Why was Groucho Marx's show You Bet Your Life so popular?

Essentially a quiz show, You Bet Your Life was presented for both radio and broadcast, because of its simple show format. Couples who were called for being interviewed were selected from the studio audience, and were usually selected keeping in mind their interesting backgrounds. Groucho Marx made the show interesting to such an extent that these common people turned into celebrities-of-sorts at that time.

You Bet Your Life's creative concept was based on the contestants saying a secret word. This was a common word which was revealed to the audience before the show. If a contestant said the word, a toy duck resembling the looks of Groucho with a moustache, cigar and eyeglasses would descend from the ceiling with a 100 dollar bill. A cartoon of a duck with a cigar was also used in the opening title sequence. Groucho was famous for manipulating the conversation to probe the contestant into revealing the secret word. Interestingly, Bill Cosby also hosted a version of this show in 1992, which was later cancelled because of low ratings. No one can match Groucho Marx, it seems!

Groucho Marx: Much more than a comedian

Groucho Marx had a personality and a charm of his own. He had witty one line replies to just about every situation. He was much more than a comedian because unlike today's stand up comedians, there was no script for him.

  • Jack Lemmon presented Groucho with an honorary Academy Award in 1974, which was also marked Marx's final public appearance. He also wished that Margaret Dumont, the leading lady in all of the Marx Brothers' films could have been present. He said that he loved her as she never understood any of his jokes.
  • You simply can't leave this hub without knowing about this Groucho-ism. There's now a famous club in London called 'The Groucho', frequented by celebrities. Did you know how it got its name? He always said "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members". The name of the club is a tribute to this famous Groucho-ism that he gave the world.
  • On this television show, once it so happened that he came a across a contestant who had nine children. When Groucho asked him why she had so many children, the replied saying that it was because she loved her husband. And this is what Groucho said "I love my cigar, too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while." In addition to many others, this remains that most oft-quoted Groucho-isms ever.
  • There was something about Groucho and his ladies. He was always approximately 10 years elder to each of the three ladies he married. Whenever they went to a restaurant and any of his wives tried to show off by asking Groucho to tell the staff 'who they are', Groucho always embarrassed her by telling the staff "We're the Smiths" or "We're the Jones!"
  • Groucho was friends with greats like Frank Sinatra, Elton John, George Kaufman, Alice Cooper, Carl Sandberg and T. S Eliot. In 1978, when the original white lettering of HOLLYWOOD atop the hill in LA were being auctioned to raise money for new replacement letters, Alice Cooper bought an "O" in memory of her dear friend Groucho.

Groucho-isms that are worth knowing

You could exhaust half your life trying to gather all the anecdotes and quotes that marked Groucho's personality and life. The beauty of his wit is that it ranges from being funny, to just a little sarcastic to serious to mindless yet surprisingly poignant. Marx appeals on innumerable levels to each person in some way or the other. Check out some of Groucho Marx's famous quotes.

  • A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere
  • A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running
  • Behind every successful man is a woman, behind her is his wife
  • In Hollywood, brides keep the bouquets and throw away the groom
  • Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?
  • Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does
  • The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made
  • Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?
  • No one is completely unhappy at the failure of his best friend
  • Die, my dear doctor! That's the last thing I shall do!

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Comments 14 comments

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

"I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it!"

An enjoyable read, thanks, love the quotes. I'm a huge fan of the Marx Bros, especially Groucho. I have their films on dvd and a few books on the brothers too.

Voted Up and Funny.

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Awesome hub...I greatly enjoyed reading this hub....lots of facts and information that I was not aware of...I especially got a kick out of reading about the Groucho and his friendship with Alice Cooper....who would have thought those two would have been friends. I actually just watched my first complete Marx brother movie last week, Duck Soup, and found Groucho's part to be very funny....thanks for writing an awesome hub...voted up voted awesome and voted interesting.

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

It's odd how a lot of people forget the origin of a lot of cliches and famous quotes.

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

Great topic for a hub! Very interesting stuff I didn't know before. And (doing "the eyebrow")... I might have used the marriage quote a time or two myself (Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?") Very funny! Voted "Up" and interesting!

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Great hub! I'm a huge Marx Brothers fan and I think Groucho was the funniest man ever! I wrote a script for a Marx Brothers bio-pic (which I'm still trying to sell) and I spoke to some people who knew him and they say offscreen he was very much like his onscreen persona.

I loved the hub. Groucho was the best. Voted up.


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Husky1970 5 years ago

Okay, I admit that I watched "You Bet Your Life" and experienced the secret word when I was young. My parents were big fans. This hub brings back memories of my parents and days gone by. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane, my friend. Nice hub about an interesting character. Voted up and interesting.

princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago Author


I too have just ordered a few DVDs of some Marx brothers movies and the show, you bet your life, which by the way, inspired me to write this hub. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub and thanks for reading and commenting!


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago Author


You're right. Groucho and Alice Cooper make a funny and odd pair. Many of us use his quotes but know little about the man himself and the amazing trivia surrounding him. That's one of the reasons why I decided to write about this icon. Thanks for your warm feedback!


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago Author

Exactly, Flora. The fact that people still use his quotes reaffirms the fact that Groucho was a legend and that his presence is still strong in all our lives, through his quotes.


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago Author


That quote on marriage is a classic and I'm glad you picked it up. Can you even imagine saying that line to your partner after you've just had a fight. I can predict rolls of laughter. That's Groucho for you!


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago Author


That's really interesting. Do we get too see it on celluloid someday? I bet it'd have been a treat for those people to be around Groucho.


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago Author


That's exactly what Groucho represents - a whole era. Your comment is very touching and I'm happy to know that this hub reminds you of the days gone by. Wow, you made my day. Thanks for the wonderful comment!


stephaniedas profile image

stephaniedas 5 years ago from Miami, US

This was great! You chose a topic that a lot of people can relate to, because Marx's humor is still so widely appreciated all these years later. Two thumbs up, voted way up. Congrats.

princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago Author

Hi Steph

"..Marx's humor is still so widely appreciated all these years later.." isn't that thought magical? Surely all artists crave to be remembered and appreciated for years to come after their own lifetime. Not only is his humor still widely appreciated but I've even noticed a few people using some of his quotes without knowing they originated from the legend himself.

Thanks heaps for your appreciation of this topic! Much appreciated.


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