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21 Jul 1921 1
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14 Apr 2011 1
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Full Name:
Arthur Julius Marx 1
Birth:
21 Jul 1921 1
Death:
14 Apr 2011 1
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Last Residence: Los Angeles, CA 1
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Arthur Marx, Who Wrote About Groucho, Dies at 89

Arthur Marx , at 11, with Groucho Marx, on the set of “Duck Soup” in 1932.

 

Arthur Marx, who wrote screenplays for film and television and a best-selling book about his father, “Life With Groucho,” died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 89.

Graham Wiltshire/Camera Press London

Arthur Marx in the 1990s. As an adult the son wrote a sharp but affectionate portrait of his father.

His death was confirmed by his son Steve.

As a child Mr. Marx spent several years on the road with Groucho Marxand the rest of the Marx Brothers’ vaudeville act — Chico, Harpo, Gummo and later Zeppo — before enjoying a celebrity-filled youth in Los Angeles as the brothers rose to stardom.

His own show-business career was varied and long, writing Hollywood screenplays and scripts for some of television’s most popular sitcoms.

But his father’s life and career provided Mr. Marx with perhaps his richest source of material. “Life With Groucho,” published in 1954, captivated readers with its sharp but affectionate portrait of Groucho — who peppered the narrative with kibitzing footnotes — and its shrewd account of the show-business milieu in which he thrived. A sequel, “Son of Groucho,” was published in 1972.

Mr. Marx and Robert Fisher, a former writer for Groucho, also wrote the book for a 1970 Broadway musical about the Marx Brothers, “Minnie’s Boys,” with Shelley Winters in the lead role of Minnie Marx, and “Groucho: A Life in Revue,” which was produced Off Broadway in 1986.

Taken together, Arthur Marx’s two books about his father offered a bittersweet picture of life in the Marx home. He described himself as desperate both to escape from his father’s shadow and to please him, an impossible task. The comic genius who kept millions in stitches was, in his private life, miserly and emotionally distant.

“No matter how much he loves you, he’ll rarely stick up for you,” Mr. Marx wrote in “Son of Groucho.” “He’ll make some sort of wisecrack instead to keep from getting involved. It’s a form of cowardice that can be more frustrating than his monetary habits.”

When “Life With Groucho,” which was much sunnier than the sequel, was being serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, Groucho denounced it as “scurrilous” and threatened legal action unless substantial changes were made.

Arthur sent him a phony set of galley proofs with the requested changes but had the book published as written. Groucho never brought the matter up again.

In 1974, Arthur Marx became embroiled in a legal battle to block the appointment of his father’s longtime companion, Erin Fleming, as the conservator of his estate. Lurid court testimony depicted Ms. Fleming as a controlling, abusive caretaker, and a superior court judge eventually appointed Andy Marx, Arthur’s son, to replace her. Groucho died a little more than a month after that, on Aug. 19, 1977.

Arthur Julius Marx was born in Manhattan on July 21, 1921. After his family moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s he gained renown as a tennis player, achieving national ranking while still in high school and playing on the junior Davis Cup team in 1939 with the future stars Jack Kramer, Ted Schroeder and Budge Patty. As a student at the University of Southern California, he competed in national tournaments.

After serving with the Coast Guard in the Philippines during World War II, he returned to Los Angeles and found work as a reader at MGM. He soon turned his hand to screenwriting. He wrote scripts for the 1947 Blondie film “Blondie in the Dough” and several popular short films narrated by Pete Smith.

He later teamed up with Mr. Fisher to write the screenplays for the Bob Hope films “Eight on the Lam,” “A Global Affair,” “I’ll Take Sweden” and “Cancel My Reservation.”

The two went on to write for television sitcoms, including “McHale’s Navy,” “Petticoat Junction, “My Three Sons,” “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Maude.” They wrote 41 episodes of the sitcom “Alice” from 1977 to 1981.

Mr. Marx used his tennis experiences as background for a novel, “The Ordeal of Willie Brown” (1951), about an unsavory tennis bum, and his lighthearted magazine articles about his young family were gathered into a comic memoir, “Not as a Crocodile” (1958). At the time, he was married to Irene Kahn, the daughter of the songwriters Gus and Grace Kahn. (Mr. Marx and Ms. Kahn later divorced.)

In addition to his family memoirs, Mr. Marx wrote several show-business biographies, including “Goldwyn: A Biography of the Man Behind the Myth,” “Red Skelton,” “The Nine Lives of Mickey Rooney” and “The Secret Life of Bob Hope.” His joint biography of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (Especially Himself),” published in 1974, was made into a television movie, “Martin and Lewis,” in 2002.

With Mr. Fisher, he also wrote the comedy “The Impossible Years,” which opened on Broadway in 1965 with Alan King in the starring role of a harried psychiatrist with two teenage daughters. It ran for 670 performances.

In addition to his sons Steve, of Seattle, and Andy, of Los Angeles, he is survived by his wife, Lois; a stepdaughter, Linda Donovan of Pleasant Hill, Calif.; two sisters, Miriam Allen of San Clemente, Calif., and Melinda Berti of Mendocino, Calif.; four grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren.

Arthur Marx dies at 89; writer son of Groucho

Arthur Marx, a veteran television writer, playwright, celebrity biographer and memoirist who wrote extensively about an often fractious life with his father, comedic legend Groucho Marx, has died. He was 89 and died of natural causes Thursday at his Los Angeles home, said his son, Andy.

Marx was the only son of Groucho, who, with his exaggerated eyebrows, mustache and mastery of the lightning-quick, ad-libbed putdown, was the most prominent member of the Marx Brothers.

"His father was never far from him," said actor Frank Ferrante, who portrayed the iconic comedian in the 1986-87 off-Broadway production of "Groucho: A Life in Revue," written by Marx and Robert Fisher. "Groucho had a long shadow. But Arthur had a career on his own, which was quite impressive."

Following his father's advice, Marx became a writer instead of an actor, producing a novel and several screenplays before concentrating on scripts for such popular television shows as "McHale's Navy" and "My Three Sons" and writing biographies of such classic Hollywood figures as Samuel Goldwyn, Red Skelton, Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney.

Although he carved out his own career, "his favorite topic always seemed to remain his dad," said author Robert S. Bader, a Marx Brothers historian.

In addition to the off-Broadway play, which Marx also directed, he wrote the books "Life With Groucho" (1954); "Son of Groucho (1972), the cover of which has an illustration showing Marx emerging from Groucho's head; and an updated, combined version of the first two volumes called "My Life With Groucho" (1992). He also mentions his father in "Not as a Crocodile" (1958), a collection of stories about his family, and displayed candid photos of him in "Arthur Marx's Groucho: A Photographic Journey"(2003).

His father and uncles inspired a 1970 Broadway play, "Minnie's Boys," also co-written with Fisher.

Marx's books portrayed his father as a man who was stingy with his emotions and who once threatened to sue him. In his father's declining years, Marx became a central figure behind a successful legal battle to wrest back control of Groucho's affairs from his late-in-life companion, Erin Fleming.

Born in New York City on July 21, 1921, Marx was the second of three children of Groucho and his first wife, Ruth Johnson. As a child he often went on the road with his father and uncles Harpo, Chico and Zeppo when they were playing vaudeville. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in the early 1930s.

Marx attended USC for a year before joining the Coast Guard in 1942 and serving in the Philippines during World War II. After the war, he went to work at MGM as a reader. His earliest screenwriting credits include several films in the "Blondie" series, including "Blondie in the Dough" (1947).

He made his debut as a novelist in 1950 with "The Ordeal of Willie Brown," drawn from his experiences as a top-ranked junior tennis player in the 1930s and early 1940s. Groucho "recommended that I tear it up," Marx recalled in a 1986 interview with The Times.

His father hated his next book, "Life With Groucho," even more. Father and son stopped talking and communicated through lawyers.

When the book was accepted for serialization by the Saturday Evening Post, Marx gave his father a set of galleys. Groucho filled it with corrections and handed it back to his son. "I said, 'Thanks, I'll take care of this' and on the way out of the house, I dropped them in the trashcan," Marx recalled in a 2003 interview. He said his father never knew the difference and ended up promoting the book on his popular TV quiz show, "You Bet Your Life."

None of the biographies he wrote were authorized, Marx said, because "celebrities never tell the truth, at least not the whole truth." He wanted the freedom to show some of their warts, as in "The Secret Life of Bob Hope" (1993), in which he alleged that the popular, long-married entertainer had "made love to more beautiful women than Errol Flynn, my Uncle Chico and Bing Crosby combined."

Marx co-wrote with Fisher several Hope movies, including "Eight on the Lam" and "I'll Take Sweden." With Fisher he also wrote the 1965 hit Broadway stage comedy "The Impossible Years," which starred Alan King and was adapted for a 1968 film that starred David Niven.

He began writing for television in 1960 with an episode of "General Electric Theater." He worked steadily in the medium for the next three decades, writing for such top-rated sitcoms as "Petticoat Junction," "Love, American Style" and "Alice."

He said he regretted not being close to his father at the end of Groucho's life, but he believed he had gained the old man's respect.

"My father went to Broadway to see my play 'The Impossible Years,' " he told the Associated Press a dozen years after Groucho's death in 1977. "I had of course told the ticket girl to give him free tickets. The girl started to give him a hard time and he said, 'Don't you know who I am? I'm Arthur Marx's father!' "

His first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his son Andy, Marx is survived by his second wife, Lois; son Steve; a stepdaughter, Linda; two sisters, Miriam and Melinda; and four grandchildren.

Services will be private.

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