A Marxian Eureka Moment

If you’re a serious Marx Brothers aficionado, you probably know that Groucho was the first brother to enter show business, at the age of 14. But you don’t know (you may think you do, but you don’t) where his first successful audition, to be hired as a member of a singing vaudeville group called the Leroy Trio, took place.

You don’t know because every book written by or about Groucho has the incorrect info. All agree the audition took place on Third Avenue, but where along that street it occurred, no one seemed to know (though some guessed, incorrectly). Not even Groucho himself in his various books was consistent in describing the location.

But Marx scholar Rob Bader has solved the mystery. Bader, who grew up in NYC (he now lives in Southern California), devoted many years and countless hours to scouring the New York Morning World‘s classifieds via microfiche at the public library, searching for the oft-cited ad that Groucho responded to in 1905.

Finally, Bader found the ad, which was worded very much as Groucho remembered it. The address? 281 Third Avenue, which is assigned to the building on the southeast corner of 22nd Street and Third Avenue.

The building now houses a venerable German restaurant called Rolf’s that’s been in operation since 1968, but in 1905, that space was occupied by a saloon. Gene Leroy, the man who hired Groucho, lived in a third-floor apartment above the bar; the audition took place on a rooftop terrace on that same floor (the building has four floors, but as you’ll see, the roof at the rear of the building is three, not four, stories up.

Here are pictures of the historic spot.

Hats off to Rob Bader for the dedication and hard work that went into solving this mystery! And speaking of hard work, he has a three-disc DVD set entitled The Marx Brothers on Television that is coming out in August and will be a must-have for any Marx Brothers fan. We’ve been lucky enough to see about an hour’s worth of the material, and it’s delightful. (Here’s a tip: If you preorder the boxed set from Shout Factory, you’ll receive a bonus fourth disc, and the set will ship nearly a month before it hits stores. (Bader also has a book, a comprehensive history of the Marxes’ pre-movies theatrical careers, coming in the next year or two. He’s a busy fellow!)

If you’ve read this far without previously having heard the legend of Groucho’s first audition, you are encouraged to read on; there’s more to the story than we shared above.
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