4/2/15

GROUCHO'S HOME MOVIES


Here's a nifty little find. Somebody (Chico? Zeppo? Gummo? Harpo? Ducko?) shot a little 16mm film of Groucho and his family cavorting in front of their house. The year is 1933 so I imagine this is the house they built that very year at 710 North Hillcrest Drive in the flats of Beverly Hills. Groucho's first wife Ruth exits the house with six year-old daughter Miriam and sends her off to nowhere. Next comes son Arthur (then twelve) who was already a smashing good tennis player who would go on to a short pro-career just a few years from when this was shot. He too is sent off-camera. Finally Julius Marx, the man of the house, exits and performs a little pantomime with the wife, having to do either with a piece of paper or a bill of some kind. He is sans moustache but has a half-smoked cigar in his mouth and seems to walk at about half-slouch. He runs off with his kids, skipping down a very empty Beverly Hills block, with dwarf palm trees lining the street. It's a lovely look at a still undeveloped, uncluttered LA and a rather pretty picture of a family living the good life in the pits of the depression. Sadly, Ruth and Groucho divorced in 1940 after she'd become a full-blown alcoholic (the result, according to Harpo's widow Susan, of Groucho's constant verbal abuse). Arthur became a comedy writer (Bob Hope movies, 'All in the Family' episodes) as well as his father's biographer and author of several scathing inside Hollywood bios, my favorite of which is the Martin&Lewis dual bio "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime--Especially Himself." Miriam is alive and well at 87--she was at a performance of Frank Ferrante's one-man show about Groucho that I attended semi-recently. And I suspect Ruth and Groucho have been reunited in marriage-abuse heaven, where she shares custody of him with the two other wives who left him, exhausted by the task of being the butt of Groucho's domestic humor.

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