Groucho Marx Made It a Point to Literally Dance on Hitler’s Grave

Somebody had to do it
Groucho Marx Made It a Point to Literally Dance on Hitler’s Grave

A number of comedies made during World War II opted to overtly lampoon Hitler. Charlie Chaplin directed The Great Dictator, Looney Tunes turned Hitler into a doomed cartoon animal in 1942’s The Ducktators and The Three Stooges starred in the button-pushing You Nazty Spy! prior to the U.S. joining the war.

The Marx Brothers, on the other hand, didn’t reference Hitler specifically. Although it’s hard not to read the 1933 anti-war satire Duck Soup, produced just 10 months after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, as a commentary on current events. As funny as the movie might be, the Marxes were understandably disturbed by Hitler’s rise to power, even suspending filming of Duck Soup twice “to hear Der Fuhrer rant.” Harpo was particularly distressed by how little his friends seemed to be concerned about what was happening in Germany. 

Groucho did include a derogatory reference to Hitler in an alternate performance of the song “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” and his book about income tax, “Many Happy Returns,” featured an illustrated cover depicting Groucho pummeling the dictator’s head with a sledgehammer. But Groucho really stuck it to Hitler years after the war. Unfortunately, the moment wasn’t captured on film.

According to Robert Dwan, the producer of Groucho’s hit game show You Bet Your Life, in the summer of 1958, Groucho traveled to Europe with the sole purpose of taking his 12-year-old daughter to see his late mother’s hometown of Dornum, Germany. To his credit, Groucho invited Dwan and his daughter to join them. 

They visited Dornum, where there were no records pertaining to the Marx family. His mother Minnie wasn’t listed in the birth registry. Even the grave of Groucho’s great grandmother, which he had visited as a child, was seemingly gone. In fact, there were no Jewish names to be found in the graveyard at all. As Dwan recounted, it was as though Groucho’s family “had never existed.”

When they reached West Berlin, Groucho hired a limousine to take them into East Berlin. The trip proved to be “surprisingly easy.” The Berlin Wall wasn’t built until three years later, and they merely had to pass through a checkpoint. The driver’s “only instruction” was to drive Groucho and company to “the bunker where Hitler was said to have died, and where they said, he was still buried.”

Upon arriving at the bombed out bunker, they found “no guards” and “no marker” just a 20 foot high pile of rubble. Next, as Dwan described it, “Groucho climbed to the top, alone, stood for a moment, and then danced his eccentric, frenetic Charleston.” 

Yeah, he literally danced on Hitler’s grave. Since there’s no footage of this, here’s Groucho dancing in Horse Feathers. Just try to imagine it taking place on top of the ruins of Hitler’s bunker. 

Dwan noted that Groucho’s dance was “not a casual gesture” and “went on” for “maybe a minute or more.” When he was done, the legendary comedian descended from the rubble, got in the car, and the group “drove back to West Berlin.” 

Be sure to ask Groucho’s ghost about this incident the next time you visit the Laugh Factory. 

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