Books: The Secret Word Is Grouch

A biography of Groucho Marx reveals his sour side

Don't turn to Stefan Kanfer's Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx (Knopf; 465 pages; $30) if you're looking for laughs. Kanfer, a former TIME critic, deserves no censure for failing to amuse with his large, serious and occasionally logy biography. For one thing, no writer could possibly explain what made Groucho Marx so funny. The printed page cannot show what he could do with a quick leap of his eyebrows, much less with his preposterous body, its upper half canted illogically forward from those scurrying legs. His voice? Let's not even try.

But the other, more imposing force...

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