Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: Here He Is (By Himself!)

I was a Groucho Marx fan even before I knew much about the famous Marx Brothers as a group. That's attributable mainly to the 1970s syndicated reruns of You Bet Your Life (or, as it was retitled, The Best of Groucho), where I first appreciated the sardonic humor of the cigar-smoking Marx. So I was intrigued by the premise of Matthew Coniam's book, That's Me, Groucho! The Solo Career of Groucho Marx (McFarland, $35). As the subtitle suggests, Coniam's book gives us a new slant on Groucho's work by spotlighting the wide range of projects -- not all of them in the realm of comedy -- that he did without his illustrious brothers.

Those projects include You Bet Your Life, of course, but also a surprisingly varied lot of others: a television performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado, the stage play Time for Elizabeth (which Groucho co-wrote, with Norman Krasna)and films such as Copacabana (opposite Carmen Miranda, no less), and the groovy 1960s curiosity Skidoo, for director Otto Preminger. Often dismissed in a few sentences when other authors have written about Groucho's career, they receive full attention here, and the results are surprisingly illuminating. Also discussed is Groucho's authorship of books and magazine articles.

There have already been a lot of books about Groucho and his brothers, and I've read most of them. Take it from me: what Coniam offers here is not just a reshuffling of previously published material. He's done quite a bit of original research to inform his text, and has insightful comments to make about the career Groucho built for himself apart from his brothers. There's interesting commentary on the infamous Erin Fleming, and the live performances she managed for Marx near the end of his life.

This is Coniam's second book on matters Marxian for McFarland. I haven't read his first one -- but I think I will, now.

(No disclaimer needed today -- bought my own copy).

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