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Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of The Marx Brothers Hardcover – June 8, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A serious book hiding behind a goofy title, Monkey Business captures a tremendous amount of detail in its pages, enough to satisfy the most hard-core Marx Brothers aficionado. Author Simon Louvish has a talent for showcasing contrasts, and it's these contrasts--along with a few surprises--that make the brothers such fascinating characters. Among all the scripts, photos, and quotes are some unexpected discoveries, especially the real story of Margaret Dumont. While lamenting the tall tales that have circulated around this actress's life so far, Louvish applauds her image as the ultimate "straight" lady when she was really pulling a lifelong practical joke. And while the one-liners are as entertaining as always, it's refreshing to see glimpses of Groucho's serious side. One chapter begins with an earnest letter to his daughter's boyfriend about the young man's struggles with anti-Semitism, advising him to "comport yourself in such a manner that you will ultimately gain their respect." Of course, he immediately follows up with "Tomorrow we're having tea at the White House. I hope they have pumpernickel": this is Groucho we're talking about, after all. Louvish takes the same one-two narrative punch with the other brothers, interspersing real-life slapstick with tales of gambling debts, relationship difficulties, and professional disappointments and triumphs. Complete with a chronological list of life events and films, a complete reference list, and a thorough index, Monkey Business is the biography serious Marx Brothers fans have been waiting for. --Jill Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Told with tremendous style and sparkle, Louvish's composite portrait of the Marx Brothers offers an indispensable overview of the actors' saga. Decked out with photographs and sprinkled with excerpts from reviews, interviews, memoirs, film dialogue and hitherto unpublished skits and scripts, this biography captures the sheer exuberance of the foursome as they conquered vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood. Louvish gives equal billing to all the brothersAJulius (Groucho), Leonard (Chico), Arthur (Harpo), Herbert (Zeppo), plus Milton (Gummo), who left the act to become a Hollywood agentAand vibrantly re-creates a supporting cast of characters that includes George Kaufman, Irving Berlin, Irving Thalberg, S.J. Perelman and Margaret Dumont. Yet the biographer of W.C. Fields (The Man on the Flying Trapeze) maintains critical detachment in assessing the brothers' onstage/onscreen antics and their often messy private lives. Groucho, for one, comes off as a lot more likable than in Stefan Kanfer's Groucho (Forecasts, Mar. 20). While Louvish fully acknowledges the abusive behavior that drove Groucho's first wife to alcoholism, Julius Marx seems more forgivably human here, and Louvish depicts Groucho's relationship with daughter Miriam as loving and solicitous. His fresh research clears up all manner of myths, embellishments and omissions in previous biographies and in the brothers' autobiographies. In this invigorating reappraisal, the Marx Brothers, more than "Minnie and Sam's boys who never grew up," are timeless satirists of pretension, folly, privilege and snobbery, in the tradition of Cervantes, Rabelais and Mark Twain. The "Four Horsemen of the Apoplexy," they embody an authentic acceptance of life's absurdity as well as a desperate need to leave one's mark. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (June 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312252927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312252922
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #950,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
And I must say that this book of the same title is right up there too. I thought Simon Louvish did an excellent job of digging up the truth on the Marxian tales that have swirled around for many, many years. His research of the ancestral roots of Minnie and Sam "Frenchy" Marx are impeccable.....and Louvish's way of putting the "ages" of the brothers in their proper timeframe is first rate. I think he captured each brother perfectly. I was impressed at his case for giving Chico a hell of lot more credit in steering the brothers to superstardom. Chico was a go-getter, just like his mother Minnie, and I was happy to see Chico portrayed as something more than just the gambling, womanizing, loose cannon type of a guy we all know about (or thought we knew about). That's not to say Chico wasn't like that, it's just good to hear something else about him for a change (I'd kill to have the mathematical mind that guy had!). Harpo is always just the Harpo we all know (just like in "HARPO SPEAKS!") and love. He definitely marched to a beat of a different drummer (Louvish captures that perfectly), Harpo was his own man to say the least. That's a good thing. Groucho, is displayed (like usual) as cantankerous, moody and insulting (well, this IS Groucho we're talking about!). But Louvish gets into the reasons WHY Groucho was that way (let's just say insecurities MIGHT have played a small part in Groucho's disposition).
For me, reading of Zeppo's burden of being so much younger and feeling he was always an afterthought is sad. To be bearing the middle name of his deceased eldest brother, you have to feel some sympathy towards the poor guy. Zep's talents lie elsewhere, as subsequent chapters explain.
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Format: Hardcover
Louvish's comprehensive biography is intelligent, solidly researched (with careful notes, unlike the new Kanfer bio of Groucho), and written with warmth and affection. Where others have accepted mythologies about the lives of the boys, Louvish has dug for facts and unearthed all sorts of tantalizing details and contradictions: he is particularly strong on the family's European roots and their vaudeville career, and he offers the most detailed and lovingly iconoclastic biographical sketch of the implacable and heretofore mysterious Margaret Dumont.
One wishes that his analyses of Marxian comedy were sharper and deeper, and at times the British author seems to have only a slippery grasp of the American pop culture idiom; there are references he just doesn't get. Also, the chatty tone of his writing and his conversational interjections can be distracting.
Overall, though, this is the best Marx book in years--it is trustworthy and enjoyable. Buy it, and tell them AGrouchoMarxist sent you!
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Format: Paperback
I found "Monkey Business" very enjoyable and interesting. I had trouble putting the book down. It reads very quickly and is not dull or academic in the least.
The one drawback I found was that the book is not as focused as Louvish's bio of W. C. Fields, but then here he is following five people as opposed to one.
Still, this was a very good book. I liked the way Louvish challenged some old stories about the Marx Brothers, and I liked the way he made a case for Chico being the chief "behind the scenes" brother in business matters. His assessment of the films seemed quite fair to me, and I found it interesting that the Marxes (or their writers) originally intended "Duck Soup" to be more political, and that they made it after plans to film "Of Thee I Sing" fell through.
Still, this is perhaps not the best "first book to read" on the Marx Brothers. I would nominate Joe Adamson's "Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo" for that.
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Format: Hardcover
An excellent book not only for Louvish's analysis of their films but for showing how their homelife at turn of the century New York influenced their humor. The author highlights the personality differences in each brother: Groucho was penny-pinching, cynical, and yes grouchy; Unlike his cinematic woman-chasing (literally) image, Harpo was happily-married and monogamous; and Chico was an inveterate gambler and womanizer.The author does a good job of highlighting their hilarous off-screen antics; of particular value is his recounting of their cruel but always hilarious practical jokes on the stiff and dignified Margaret Dumont.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Simon Louvish follows up his excellent biography of W. C. Fields with this ground-breaking study of the Marx Brothers. As with the Fields biography, Louvish demythologizes the story of the Marxes and gives us Marx fans a lot more information to digest and enjoy. Fans have tended to accept the early stories of Marx family life as carved in stone; Louvish shows how the real story differs and does it with loving respect rather than the harshness of a debunker. In addition to the Marxes, Louvish also takes a few sidebar trips into the lives of the not so well known supporting players, such as Margaret Dumont, whose life was draped in legend. Well researched and well written. As to the criticism of those who think his writing reflects too much of the Marx style of comedy, I can only reply that no one seemed to mind when Joe Adamson did the same thing in his landmark study on the Marx Brothers films, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo. I think this style of writing goes with the turf, so to speak, and in any case its annoyance factor is negligible compared to the rewards of his research. Highly recommded for any serious as well as casual Marx fan.
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