Julius Henry (Groucho) Marx, the American comedian, writer, stage, film, radio, and television star, passed away 40 years ago. So, this farewell is not to him. It is a fond farewell to my 30 years performing as a Groucho impersonator.
It all started when a corporate party planner/caterer I was doing gigs for, called about a Hollywood themed party he was putting together. He said all of the talent and wait staff needed to be dressed as an old-time Hollywood star. I told him that I had done some Groucho-Grams in New York City years before, for extra income, and he thought Groucho sounded like a great idea. I was not prepared for what happened next.
The moment I donned the signature grease-paint mustache and eyebrows, and the over-sized dove-tailed coat, I felt a transformation occur. A soon as I started moving through the crowd at the party, I felt less like I was impersonating Groucho, and more like Groucho had inhabited me. I soon began behaving in ways that I would never have done as Bo Gerard – Magician. I was glib, irreverent, bold, and marvelously ridiculous. The amazing spirit of Groucho had taken hold of me, and I (and the audience) was at its mercy. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. I knew I had to do it again.
The next opportunity presented it self a few months later, when another agent asked me to put together a “This is Your Life” show for a 92-year-old birthday party at a synagogue in Dallas. I thought Groucho would be the perfect host, and I recruited the musical and acting talents of John Rainone, Doug Jackson and Winston Stone to portray Chico, Harpo and Zeppo, respectively. We created a Marx Brothers House band, and the show was a big hit. So much so, that I stared offering “Minnie’s Boys” as an option to the many agents I worked with.
I also started doing a lot more work as Groucho across the country, as the MC of a traveling look/sing-a-like show band called The Cavalcade of Stars. Thanks to the late, great Dave Tapley, we performed everywhere from Las Vegas to New York, to Orlando to Santa Barbara, and everywhere in between.
Meanwhile, back home, “Minnie’s Boys’ had morphed into “The Coconuts”, and with a few personnel changes, we were performing at parties and festivals. But when my amazing and talented wife, Gretchen, joined the show as Lulu, we finally had the perfect cast for our irreverent musical, magical show. A stand-out moment was when we headlined at Addison’s “Out of The Loop Festival”.
But, all things must pass. Hollywood themed parties are a thing of the past, and modern corporate audiences actually have trouble distinguishing between Groucho and Chaplin. So, with a sad heart, I must now put away my black grease and dove-tailed coat, and say goodbye to my comedy spirit guide. It was a fun ride my friend. I'll miss you more than I can say.