VIP Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977)

In a 1959 interview on BBC TV's Showtime, Chico Marx was asked how his brother Groucho got his name. Referring to the times when marijuana was legal and the Marx Brothers were a Vaudeville act (around 1920), he replied, "We used to wear a little bag around our neck, called a Grouch bag. In this bag we would keep our pennies, some marbles, a couple of pieces of candy, a little marijuana, whatever we could get...(laughter from the audience)... because, you know, we were studying to be musicians (big smile to the crowd). So that's where Groucho got his name." The clip, edited by from the 1993 documentary The Unknown Marx Brothers (Winstar Home Video), can be seen here.

It's possible that Chico, the more fun-loving Marx, was an early indulger, while the more serious Groucho had to be opened up with something stronger first.

Groucho joked about LSD in a letter written on October 12,1965 to Harry Kurnitz, in which he describes his not-so-thrilling home life with his wife. "At 7 we take two straight-backed chairs and face to face, give each other a 8 we take two Seconals, three aspirin and a shot of LSD and fly to slumberland, eagerly looking forward to what thrills the next day has in store for us." In a letter written to Irving Brecher written on December 16, 1940 he wrote, "This is either a day for writing, the early stages of a honeymoon, or fifteen grains of opium. It's raining..."

In 1968 director Otto Preminger cast Groucho as a character named "God" in a movie he was making called Skidoo. In the autobiography Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut, Paul Krassner writes that the film was "proacid propaganda thinly disguised as a comedy adventure." (Preminger had been given LSD by Timothy Leary.)

Krassner recalls: "I was hanging out with friends from the Hog Farm, who were extras in the movie. . . I had dinner with Groucho. He was concerned about the script of Skidoo because it pretty much advocated LSD, which he had never tried, but he was curious. Moreover, he felt a certain responsibility to his young audience not to steer them wrong, so could I possibly get him some pure stuff and would I care to accompany him on a trip? I did not play hard to get. We arranged to ingest those little white tablets one afternoon at the home of an actress in Beverly Hills."

Listening to Bach's Cantata No. 7 Groucho said, "I'm supposed to be Jewish, but I was seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals." After eating some fruit he said, "I never thought eating a nice juicy plum would be the biggest thrill of my life" and after urinating he pronounced the human body miraculous. At one point he got cynical, calling marriage "legal quicksand" and President Lyndon Johnson "that potato-head." Krassner asked him, "What gives you hope?" He thought for a moment and then said, "People." (Later Krassner asked him the same question and he replied, "The world.")

"Everybody has a miniature Laurel and Hardy, one on each shoulder," Groucho mused while on his trip. "Your little Oliver Hardy bawls you out--he says, 'Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into.' And your little Stan Laurel gets all weepy--'Oh, Ollie, I'm sorry, I did the best I could..."

Chuckling about his role in Skidoo where he plays someone named God like a dirty old man, Groucho said, "Do you realize that irreverence and reverence are the same thing?"

"Always?" Krassner asked.

"If they're not, then it's a misuse of your power to make people laugh."

A week later, Groucho told Krassner that the Hog Farmers had turned him onto marijuana on the set of Skidoo."You know, my mother once warned me that LSD would lead to pot," Krassner said."Your mother was right," said Groucho. This video seems to prove it.

The Marx Brothers' hilarious irreverence won their movies a strong following on college campuses during the 1960s and 70s, when pot-smoking students had a similar attitude towards authority. After being named president of Freedonia in Duck Soup (1933), Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly sings,

You're not allowed to smoke
or tell a dirty joke
and whistling is prohibited
If chewing gum is used
The chewer is pursued
And in the hoosegow hidden
Whatever forms of pleasure are exhibited
Report to me and they will be prohibited
It's as I say, so shall it be
This is the land of the free.

There's a funny reference to the "Hungarian rope torture" in the Marx Brothers 1949 film Love Happy (most famous as the film debut of Marilyn Monroe). "For six hours, Harpo sat there smoking rope," narrated Groucho while even Raymond Burr (holding the knife in the photo) seems to be in on the joke. Of course, rope was made from hemp in days of old.

Groucho made a comeback with a show at Carnegie Hall in 1972. At the film festival in Cannes in 1972 he was made Commandeur des Arts et Lettres and in 1974 he received a special Academy Award for the achievements of the Marx Brothers.

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