Tastes in comedy vary and differ, just like tastes in colors, women, or cars. To me, Groucho Marx has always been the funniest guy ever. As talk show host Dick Cavett astutely observed, Groucho was the "consummate comedian." He looked funny, he talked funny, he walked funny, the content of what he said was funny, he danced funny, even his name was funny.
Like all of us, Groucho loved food and he loved to eat. Groucho always had a great fondness for chocolate. His first experience with chocolate happened when he was five years old. He and his older brother Leonard ("Chico") were traveling with their mother, Minnie, on a boat to visit Germany. Minnie was without her husband, Sam ("Frenchie") on the voyage, and like most single women, she attracted a man.
The man kept pursuing her, but Minnie told him to take a hike. Hoping to get his revenge, the man gave the young boys each a chocolate bar. He told them to go to a party their mother was attending that night. He said their mother wanted them to go to the party naked. Young Groucho and Chico did as the man said, but when they walked into the party naked, Minnie just laughed.
Even in his last days, Groucho craved chocolate, but limited himself to two pieces a day. ("Well, I've had my chocolates," he would say, "Now there's nothing to do but wait for tomorrow.")
Groucho loved sweets and as a young boy, he once ate six cream puff pastries called Charlotte Russes. After he scarfed them down, he threw up. ("I used to do a lot of vomiting in those days.")
As he and his brothers toured the vaudeville circuit with their comedy act, they often stayed at cheap boarding houses. They were forced to eat the sloppy, unpalatable meals these homes often served. At one boarding house, the boys had to endure eating chili, three times a day, for two weeks. At another, on Thanksgiving, they were served fish. Angrily (and hungrily), they made a late-night ice box raid that night, consuming all the remains of the turkey. They left an ominous note in the ice box: "The Black Hand." Groucho developed a lifetime aversion to seafood and later always ate huge turkey meals on Thanksgiving, giant spreads with all the trimmings.
Because of the greasy food served all slopped together in the boarding houses, in his later years Groucho always insisted he be served his food in separate dishes. Each main course, vegetable, salad, potato, whatever, was always served alone, in its own dish. "I'm rich enough to eat my food in separate dishes," he would explain. Groucho hated mixed vegetables, calling them "trick vegetables."
Groucho had a lifelong love of clam chowder. In his youth, his Aunt Hannah would cook up batches of the delectable soup for the Marx family. She would cook it out of the same pot the family used to do their laundry. Groucho claimed the dual-purpose pot enhanced both the wash and the flavor of the chowder. "I wish I could remember what it tasted like," Groucho later recalled wistfully as an octogenarian. In his later years, the Beverly Hills Hotel would break their ironclad "only on Fridays" rule and serve Groucho his beloved clam chowder any day he dropped in there.
Groucho loved bread, especially pumpernickel. He was absolutely crazy about pumpernickel. Chasen's, one of his favorite restaurants, served him his beloved pumpernickel and always kept a private stock of his favorite sweet butter.
He was never a big drinker. ("I only got drunk once in my life and that was in Jamaica drinking those sweet rum drinks.") Groucho was an extremely slow eater, chewing and relishing every bite. He liked to dine with friends, who were often surprised to find that as they had finished their meal, Groucho was still working on a half-a-plate full of food.
He took a walk each day in Beverly Hills, and he liked to stop and treat himself to an ice cream cone. Groucho was always very partial to a strange food combination: he loved to eat ice cream along with saltine crackers. He was crazy about the banana shortcake at Chasen's, but in spite of his sweet tooth, Groucho never let himself grow overweight. If he gained two or three pounds, he would discipline himself and cut back.
He enjoyed dining with his brothers, often being driven from Beverly Hills to Palm Springs to see them (a five-hour drive).
He always kept his icebox stocked full of his favorite goodies from Jurgenson's, his favorite market. Interestingly, Groucho hardly ever entered his kitchen. He liked to leave his cooks alone to prepare his meals.
In his last days, Groucho's health deteriorated severely and he was put on a salt-free, milder food regimen. His diet was bland, and salt-free tomato juice was a staple. For breakfast, he'd have orange juice, soft-boiled eggs, and decaf. "When I was a young man and I went to a restaurant, I used to look first at the prices. Now I'm an old man and I look at how fattening it is," he said.
Towards the end, a dining partner remembered Groucho sadly informing him that "I don't eat pumpernickel anymore." The great Groucho Marx, the funniest man in the world, passed away on August 19, 1977. If the universe is a just one, wherever Groucho is now, there is plenty of chocolate, clam chowder, and pumpernickel, and all the food is served in separate dishes.
(Image manipulation via Speechable)