R.I.P., Groucho Marx (1890-1977)

FINAL

I have always resented the way that Elvis Presley stole Groucho Marx’s thunder by dying three days ahead of Groucho just for the publicity.

Now, I really do know that Elvis didn’t do it on purpose. And I’m sure Elvis, if he’d had a choice, might have wanted to grace this Earth a little longer. (As for Groucho in his 1977 state, I’m not so sure.)

But it is a fact that after all possible superlatives were used to describe Elvis on the day of his death (Aug. 16, 1977), by the time Groucho kicked off, the press seemed to be fresh out of tributes. TIME magazine — who had allowed The Marx Brothers to grace their cover 45 years previously — gave Groucho’s obit a measly paragraph of text. Woody Allen responded by writing a letter to TIME’s editor asking, “Is it my imagination, or were you guys a little skimpy with the Groucho Marx obituary?”

Frank

But in the end, it all evened out. While Elvis has had hundreds or thousands of people making a living by imitating him, only one person has done justice to Groucho — Frank Ferrante (above), whose flawless impersonation of Groucho graces hundreds of live performances across the nation each year.

And happily, we still have all of the work that Groucho left behind for us to savor. Humorous books for which he took great pride in claiming authorship. His huge body of radio and TV work, much of it revolving around his immortal (in reruns, anyway) quiz show “You Bet Your Life.” And the dry humor and trenchant sarcasm of his movie appearances, with and without his famous brothers (though the best movies include his siblings).

If Groucho’d had a say in it, he probably would have indeed claimed that Elvis was just trying to upstage him in death. And then, most likely, he would have sung this: