Weird News: Groucho vs. Elvis, Who's More Important?

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But Groucho — that subversive master of the absurd — was aiming much higher when he made his most famous quip.

In the roaring '20s, Groucho was finally a star. The Marx Brothers were the toast of Broadway, with hits like The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. They had struggled for years in obscure theaters and, now, Paramount Pictures had signed them to a fat contract.

It was then that an exclusive country club in Sands Point, N.Y., invited Groucho and his family to join. Of course, that invitation was withdrawn when they found Groucho was Jewish. Club officials explained that Jews weren't allowed in the pool.

"What about my son? He's only half Jewish," Groucho said. "Can he go into the water up to his knees?"

Years later, another ritzy country club offered Groucho membership. That's when he refused to join any club that would include members "like him." Perhaps it was the greatest statement ever made about social climbing.

Marx Not a Communist

Groucho — born 45 years before the King, in 1890 — always knew how to offend anyone worth offending. He perfected the insult. That brash attitude vaulted him from the stage to the screen with his brothers, and then to radio and TV as a solo act, a career spanning six decades.

"I've got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it," Groucho tells his rival in Duck Soup, voted by the American Film Institute as one of the top five comedies of all time.

In it, Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the leader of Fredonia, a mythical country on the verge of war, and his brothers Harpo and Chico play spies.

Can Groucho as the statesman Firefly negotiate a peace plan? "It's too late," he tells a foreign diplomat. "I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield."

It's no wonder that Duck Soup, released in 1933, became a cult classic in the Vietnam era, or that FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover kept close tabs on Groucho, apparently fearing Americans would be corrupted by Marxism.

Interestingly, Groucho's 186-page FBI dossier, released five years ago, revealed that the Communist Party was just one more club that Groucho didn't join. Gee, I wonder why?

Perhaps it didn't help Groucho's reputation at the FBI that he's also credited with this observation: "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms."