For as long as I can remember I have loved the comedian, humorist and writer Groucho Marx [pictured] and his movies, TV shows, and writings.
Groucho would occasionally attend or even hold a Pesach [Passover] Seder but his attitude toward the matter was largely indifferent. For example, when asked to attend one such Seder he said, 'I went to a Seder last year, and it's the same material.' That was Groucho. As Groucho saw it, being an observant Jew meant being a conformist, and that was something Groucho simply couldn't, or rather wouldn't, be.
The truth is Groucho hated institutions of all kinds. For example, the thrice married Groucho, forever the satirist, had this to say about marriage: ‘Marriage is a fine, upstanding institution, but who wants to live in an institution?’ That is what he thought of institutions. As for his three marriages and three divorces, he quipped, 'Take the wives out of marriage and there wouldn't be any divorces ... In union there is alimony.'
Groucho was a realist and cynic---the 'high priest of rationalism' in the words of famed humorist, academic and writer Leo Rosten. ‘I’m the brash, realistic type,’ he once said. 'Whatever it is, I'm against it.' Of that there was no doubt.
I was in Montreal and a priest came up to me, put out his hand, and said, 'I want to thank you for all the joy you've put into this world.' And I shook his hand, and said, 'And I want to thank you for all the joy you've taken out of this world.' He said, 'Could I use that next Sunday in my sermon?' I said, 'Yes you can, but you'll have to pay the William Morris office ten per cent.'
Although not formally religious Groucho did identify very closely with the Jewish people and during his long lifetime he donated generously to a number of Jewish charities and causes. He was also the victim of anti-Semitism. He would often recall the time when a country club manager told him he couldn't use the swimming pool. His reply has made it into countless books of quotations. ‘Since my daughter is only half-Jewish, could she go in up to her knees?’ He would also tell this one:
Occasionally Groucho would undisparagingly use religious language, more so in his later years. For example, in his book The GrouchoPhile, published in 1976, Groucho had this to say about his brother Chico:
For me, a happy experience does not necessarily mean a happy memory. On the contrary, I am sometimes jealous of my past.
If you think about that for a while it kinda makes sense.
The 'secret' of life, said Groucho elsewhere, is to stay happy ... and have fun. As Groucho put it, ‘If you're not having fun, you're doing something wrong.’ So, if you are not having fun, look within to find out what needs changing ... in you. Ditto me. (It was only during Groucho's last hospitalization in mid-1977, having already endured several strokes, a major heart attack, a broken hip, respiratory problems, and various other maladies, that he was heard to say plaintively to his literary collaborator and biographer Hector Arce, 'This is no way to live.')
Groucho once told the veteran showbiz writer and celebrity interviewer Pete Martin that he got the advice about choosing to be happy one day at a time from a 100-year old man who appeared on Groucho’s TV show You Bet Your Life. It’s damn good advice. No matter what happens to us in life, we all have choices. We can always choose how to respond to what happens. As Groucho expressed it:
When we get up in the morning we have two choices. We can either be happy or unhappy. We make our own choice. The more times we choose happiness the longer we’ll live.
The latter actually happened to Groucho in the stockmarket crash of 1929, so he was talking from personal experience.
You know, each of us is in the manufacturing business. We manufacture our own happiness or unhappiness every moment of every day. You determine whether you're happy, and I determine whether I'm happy. It's as simple as that. Not easy, but simple.
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