After 30 of the “THE TIME I ALMOST…” blogs, I am moving on. “Hello Room service? Send up a larger room."
The Cocoanuts was a big Broadway hit for the Marx Brothers in 1925 and it became their first feature-length film in 1929. I have been impersonating Groucho for almost 30 years and up until the first time I did it I must confess that I had little interest in Groucho or any other of the Marx Brothers. I was a Danny Kaye, Dick Van Dyke kind of guy. But life throws you some interesting curve balls sometimes. “Life is a whim of several billion cells to be you for a while”.
A party planner/caterer we worked with in the 80’s was producing an Old-Hollywood themed party and he convinced all of the entertainers he usually worked with into dressing up as old Hollywood stars. He literally had to talk me into performing as Groucho at this party.
“Whatever it is, I'm against it.”
That night something magical happened. Even though I was only passingly familiar with Groucho’s style and humor, I was somehow possessed by his spirit, and I began doing and saying things that I would never have done or said as Bo. I was bold, witty, ridiculous, and unstoppable. Needless to say Groucho became part of my personal character “stable” from that day on. Impersonating him got to be so much fun that we even created a musical comedy band called Groucho & the Coconuts. (Sorry Marx Brothers fans, but we changed the spelling to a more modern one.) “Time wounds all heels.”
We performed the show that Gretchen and I wrote, “The Coconuts Comedy Hour” around town and even headlined at the Addison “Out of the Loop Festival”. It was a hoot, and there were some amazing performers in the cast. John Rainone brought his considerable musical and comedic acumen to “Chico” on the piano and vocals. Dr. Winston Stone, a man known whose talents are known by everyone in the North Texas music scene, was our clarinet, sax, and harp playing Harpo. The quartet was rounded out by the hilarious and multi-talented Gretchen Walz Gerard, who played Lulu, Groucho’s romantic foil. She also sang and manned (womaned?) the flute, radio sound effects, and percussion. We were a lovely bunch of Coconuts.
Nowadays there are far fewer “Old Hollywood” themed parties. “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” I am performing Groucho almost exclusively for senior living centers now. But these audiences still LOVE him. They have an affection for this character that goes far beyond nostalgia. He was the comic voice of their time. He was mayhem in a dove-tail coat, and I believe his comedy will go on bringing smiles to audiences for quite some time. “I intend to live forever, or die trying.”
The art of comedy has certainly changed from the days the wacky Marx Brothers held sway on Broadway and in film. So, I will close with one more Groucho quote (all the quotes in italics above are his too) that I think sums it all up rather nicely. “Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”