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A good deal of this disdainful effrontery Groucho employs in private life, at least in his casual dealings with his fellow men. At a function presided over by Governor Frank Merriam, one of the stuffiest governors the state of California was ever afflicted with, Groucho, summoned to the platform to be presented to His Excellency, dragged two friends up with him. "Governor," he said, in a voice for all to hear, "I want you to shake hands with a couple of degenerates."
There were countless times in his childhood, youth and early manhood when Groucho needed all the effrontery he could muster. Born in a tenement on Manhattan's upper East Side, he was the third son of an Alsatian immigrant tailor a attributes were loving kindness, great charm and a genius for failure. As a boy, Groucho loved reading and dreamed of being a doctor; but the family was always behind with the rent, and his mother, the celebrated Minnie, had him traveling with one of Gus Edwards' kid acts when he was four or five years away from long pants. Zeppo, the youngest, was the only Marx brother who ever reached high school.
THE BROTHERS' act finally attained vaudeville's Mecca, the Palace, but the way there for more than a dozen years was gritty and grisly. Billed variously as "The Four Night ingales" (" 'The Four Vultures' would have been more like it," Groucho says today), "The Six Musical Mascots" (when Minnie and Aunt Hannah joined the troupe), and "Fun in (a warmed-over kid act), they played whistle tank towns on the smallest-time circuits. They perform in sinkhole theaters and fetid saloons, dressed in alleys and rat-infested cellars, slugged it out with rustic hoodlums lying in wait for them at stage doors (Groucho carried a ck and brass knuckles), ate in coffee pots and greasy spoons, suffered baggage seizures by inexorable boardinghouse landladies, were fined incessantly by managers for and horseplay, and now & then literally walked the railroad ties.
Once when a harassed conductor informed Minnie that her half-fare "children" were smoking cigars, chasing girls and playing three-card stud in the coach ahead, she beamed at him and explained, "They grow so fast." After the Marx Brothers had gained fame &fortune from three musical comedies(I'll Say She Is, The Cocoanuts, and Animal Crackers), Groucho lost $240,000 in the crash of 1929. Anybody who could survive survive such a life would always have effrontery to burn.
Groucho's other superb professional asset is his lightning ability to ad-lib jokes. His mind is liks a panful of popcorn kernels with heat underneath: one ad lib panful bursts, and the air is filled with popcorn. You Bet Your Life, his current show, simultaneously tape-recorded for radio and filmed for television, is not exactly a simon-pure ad-lib performance. Contestants are chosen in advance, made to fill out questionnaires about themselves, and coached for an hour and a half before facing Groucho. But Groucho is still a better field shot than any other ad-libber, and shows it by shooting from the hip at these clay pigeons.