Groucho Marx is arguably the most famous, iconic comedian of all-time. It's funny to think that for all the great films and stage appearances he made throughout his career both in the Marx Brothers act and solo later in his life, Groucho Marx actually seemed to prefer this modestly-produced TV series above all others in which he was involved. Groucho Marx was the emcee and star of this filmed quiz show, which had begun on radio in 1947. Although it was ostensibly a game show, the series' most important asset was the humor injected by Groucho into the interviews he did with the contestants. Contestants were picked primarily based on the potential they had to be foils for Groucho's barbs, which they seemed to love. At the start of each show the audience was informed of the night's secret word. If any of the contestants happened to say it while they were on the air, they won an extra $100. When they said the word a dilapidated stuffed duck would drop from the ceiling with the $100 attached. YBYL became a huge television hit show, and as big a part of his legacy as the amazing movies he made with his brothers in the earlier part of his career.
You Bet Your Life ran on television from October 5, 1950 - June 29, 1961 (423 episodes), one of the longest running shows in the history of television. (There were also 105 episodes that aired exclusively on radio.)The program was renamed The Groucho Show during its last season and has been seen in syndication as The Best Of Groucho for the last 40 years.
With 18 shows that remained unseen since their original broadcasts in the 1950s, You Bet Your Life: The Lost Episodes
offers another welcome example of the way DVDs are preserving our precious television heritage. Of course, this long-running game show (1950-61) was barely a game show at all. Instead, it was a perfect showcase for the wit and whimsy of Groucho Marx (1890-1977), who clearly relished the third major chapter (after stage and movies) of his illustrious career. With his mischievously elevated eyebrows and ever-present cigar, the great comedian was right at home with average and above-average civilians, recruited from the studio audience in offbeat pairs to answer quiz questions and win typically modest sums of cash. "Say the secret word and split a hundred dollars," said Groucho as each contest commenced, and a mangy stuffed duck named Julius (Groucho's real name) would drop from the rafters to reveal the secret word.
While there was a modicum of preparation before these shows were filmed, most of Groucho's one-liners and snappy comebacks are impressively off-the-cuff, hilariously demonstrating the mastery of humor that Groucho--still vital in his well-heeled sixties--had honed over decades of live performance. His frequently nervous contestants are equally amusing, sometimes giving as well as they got from their rapier-witted host. They are also occasionally exceptional: professional baseball umpires; super-athlete Bob Matthias; a decorated Korean War hero; a Mr. And Miss Universe; a celebrated mystery writer; TV comedian Ernie Kovacs; British "hipster" comic Lord Buckley; and even Gary Cooper's mother appear as contestants. With a revealing glimpse of '50s popular culture, these well-produced DVDs also include a wealth of You Bet Your Life artifacts: the "stag reels" showcase Groucho's deft handling of "mature humor" edited from the original broadcasts; a behind-the-scenes film reveals the show's inner workings and primary staff; and ads for Plymouth/DeSoto dealers (the show's sole sponsor) are quaintly charming by latter-day standards. Best of all, Groucho's original radio audition is included, along with a priceless 10-minute radio clip featuring Groucho and Bob Hope--a comedy gem that led to Groucho's long-term employment on television. For Marx Brothers and Groucho fans, this is a treasure trove of smile-inducing nostalgia. --Jeff Shannon