I am a Groucho Marxist, not even remotely similar to a Karl Marxist.
While communist Karl left a legacy of death and destruction, comedian Groucho still has millions of adoring fans the world over, 42 years after he passed away in 1977.
The contrast between these two unrelated men with the same last name led Irving Berlin to write,
The world wouldn’t be
In such a snarl
If Marx had been Groucho
Instead of Karl.
No other human ever concocted ideas that produced more mayhem than Karl Marx, and few were as reprehensible in the way they lived their personal lives. Karl was an angry, hate-filled man – quarrelsome, neglectful of his family, lazy and violent. He suffered from hideous carbuncles in part because he almost never bathed. He mooched off others, prompting his mother to say that she wished Karl would “accumulate capital instead of just writing about it.”
But the worst thing about Karl Marx was not his personality or his hygiene. It was the evil web he spun that snared and doomed millions. Wherever Marxist ideology finds root, it grows into monstrous depravity.
Groucho, however, did honor to his family and to society at large. In contrast to the loafer Karl, he worked real jobs, enduring exhausting days for 20 years performing in vaudeville and in small towns.
The Marx brothers team of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo – and sometimes Zeppo – starred in 13 films. With his trademark cigar, greasepaint mustache and eyebrows, chicken-like gait, zany one-liners and clever put-downs, Groucho stole the show. His performances are remembered for pithy wisecracks like these:
“Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
“Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.”
“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”
“He’s honest – but you gotta watch him.”
“Duck Soup,” released in 1933, takes place in the fictional, bankrupt country of Freedonia – “Land of the Spree, and the Home of the Knave.” On becoming its leader, Groucho’s character literally sings what a lot of politicians do but never admit: “The last man nearly ruined this place. He didn’t know what to do with it. If you think this country’s bad off now, just wait ‘til I get through with it.”
In real life, Groucho once got in trouble with airport customs by listing his occupation as “smuggler.”
Groucho quipped that he worked himself up “from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.” Actually, his talent and hard work earned him a very good living. He accumulated the capital that Karl only wrote about and left behind a legacy of some of the most original and hilarious comedy ever performed on the stage or silver screen.
The very persona of Groucho Marx is still imitated by comedians the world over. Almost nobody, however, deliberately imitates Karl outside of Pyongyang, Havana and some benighted corners of tenured academia.
Karl and Groucho. Two men named Marx. Both brought tears to the eyes of millions but for very, very different reasons.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .