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Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo: A History of the Marx Brothers and a Satire on the Rest of the World (A Touchstone book) Paperback – April, 1983

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Series: A Touchstone book
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Paper) (April 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671470728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671470722
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,833,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By W. Gary Wetstein on November 18, 1997
Format: Hardcover
It's rare for a book on a specific subject to be so extremely well-written that it's worth recommending to people on that basis alone. This is a book which would be entertaining and even hilarious to people who aren't Marx Brothers fanatics. Even the classic anecdotes that Marxophiles have read a thousand times are told with such wit and energy that they feel new. Adamson's work has served to greatly enhance my already fanatical interest. And yes, even the footnotes are funny.
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Format: Paperback
There are two ways to write about comedians. The way which sometimes works is to play straight man and let the funny people be funny. The way which always fails is to try to be funnier than the material. Adamson has the annoying habit of doing this, and it ruins an otherwise well-researched and otherwise decently written book. Tons of pictures, lots of great Marxist dialogues, a great (if slightly obsolete) bibliography.
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Format: Paperback
This book contains more about the making of the Marx Brothers movies than one could ever want to know. It contains many snippets of dialogue which may bring a smile or even an occasional laugh. But it also has an intruding authorial voice which tries to be more funny than the Marx brothers material itself. This authorial voice weakens the work, and makes one feel one is reading a subjective indulgence rather than a more objective interpretation of the Marx brothers.
As a fan of the movies I was much looking forward to reading this work. But it did not prove to be as good as I had hoped.
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Format: Paperback
Adamson does more than just write a biography of the Marx Brothers -- he legitimately thows how their early lives influenced their movies, and then goes full circle to show how the movies influenced their lives. Most of the book is a literary critique of the movies, in which Adamson shows keen insight. A key point that he drives home is that the boys were best when unencumbered by a plot, and that they lost nearly all of their appeal when asked to do a script not specifically written for them. Much attention is given to the other people in their lives, especially Margaret Dumont (who really DIDN'T get the jokes on her, quite often!) and Irving Thalberg
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Format: Paperback
This exhaustively researched, well considered and very funny book is exactly what the Brothers would have said if they hadn't been so busy making the movies that are examined here so thoroughly. Adamson displays a keen sense of humor and a clear-eyed view of the work of these comic greats. If you only want one book on the Marx Brothers, make it this one. You won't be disappointed.
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Format: Paperback
There's a lot of great material in this book; there's no denying that. There are wonderful sections on not only the brothers' movies and vaudeville shows but also the people who worked behind the camera, the screenwriters, and details on the original drafts of some of the movies, showing the changes they went through before they became the final movie versions we know and love today. However, all of those great things can be overwhelmed at times by a number of things, such as Adamson's insistence on trying to be really funny and witty. This was also a problem with Simon Louvish's more recent 'Monkey Business' (although that book had far more of a professional approach to the material apart from the at times annoying writing style). You don't really have to have a funny writing style or constantly make jokes when the people you're writing about are funny enough on their own already. This book could also stand an updated edition; since it was published in 1973, many of the people being talked about (including Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo) were alive and well, and so are referred to in the present tense. Adamson also describes a number of things, events, or remarks as "recent" and "current," and over 30 years later they're obviously no longer that recent or current! However, those are really minor quibbles in comparison to the overwhelming problem with this book, or at least how Adamson chose to present the material.

It's perfectly alright for a writer to occasionally work his or her opinion into a work of nonfiction. However, Adamson does it so often that it just comes across as biased and unprofessional, like he couldn't put aside his own prejudices or views in the interest of writing a balanced neutral account.
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Format: Hardcover
The best of the Marx books by far, it is the book that one of the brothers SHOULD have written. Exhaustively researched and written with wit and style, it is the one book you should own if you are a Marx Bros. fan. Don't miss it, under any circumstances. It's funny enough to be a must-read for anyone, not just Marx fans.
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Format: Paperback
The best thing about this exhaustively researched and jauntily written critical biography is the anecdotes: Groucho once "attended a spritualists' meeting and answered a call for questions to the Great Spirit by standing up and asking, 'What's the capital of North Dakota?'"

Adamson, a college professor, brings an academic's seriousness of purpose and breadth of knowledge to bear on the Marx Brothers' lives and work. He also brings -- and this sets off this volume from most Hollywood hagiography -- an irreverent and entertaining prose style. He is serious but never stuffy.

Although he touches on every stage of their career, Adamson wisely concentrates on the '30s, when the Marx Brothers were at their creative peak. He examines almost scene by scene such movie classics as "The Coconuts," "Animal Crackers," "A Night at the Opera" and "A Day at the Races," demonstrating how and why the comedy team was funny.

Adamson also records their decline, more in the style of a documentary than a Hollywood expose. The book is packed with photographs and movie stills and dozens of excerpts of the madcap dialog that made them famous. And more anecdotes: Groucho "was probably not aware of everything he was saying when a 'You Bet Your Life' contestant stated that she had 13 children and could explain it only by proclaiming, 'I love my husband!' 'I like my cigar too,' said Groucho, 'but I take it out once in a while.'"
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