By Carol Frank
When Eric and Rady Bruell purchased their home in 1959 on Lincoln Road in Thomaston, they were well aware that the famous and zany Groucho Marx had made it his home in 1926 and had lived there for five years.
But they probably didn’t realize at the time that they would all be inspired by the shenanigans of those famous brothers.
The Great Neck Historical Society awarded Rady Bruell a Heritage Recognition Plaque because of the home’s unique history.
Bruell says that even though they moved into the house many years after Groucho had moved away, she occasionally received mail for him and faithfully forwarded it to him. She also fondly remembers her husband, who she says was rather reserved, and her children scampering through the open design of the house, laughing hysterically and reminding her of the antics of the Marx brothers. Naturally, the children saw all of the Marx Brother movies and knew all the punch lines by heart.
A highlight of this part of the story was the day that Groucho showed up unannounced with his agent and a small entourage. Unfortunately, Bruell was out of town at the time, but her father who was visiting, gleefully showed Groucho around the house. The comedian was greeted with a gracious, well-appointed house that had been altered since his time there, but where large, framed Marx Brothers posters in all the kids’ rooms were proudly displayed.
The home at 21 Lincoln Road was built in 1923 in Great Neck Villa, a colony in the hills southeast of the railroad station developed by the Shields Brothers. Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx moved into the house in June 1926 and remained there until 1931, when he relocated to Hollywood. That year the Village of Thomaston was incorporated, and before his departure Julius Henry Marx signed the register of residents. The purchase price of the house was $27,000.
At the time, Groucho was 36 years old and married to his first wife, Ruth, whom he divorced in 1942. He later had two more wives. Their son Arthur was almost six; their daughter Miriam was born the following May when they first lived there. At the time, Groucho was appearing in The Cocoanuts with Chico (Leonard Marx), Harpo (Arthur Marx) and Zeppo (Herbert Manfred Marx) at the Lyric Theater. It had opened the previous December and ran for 275 performances, a full season on Broadway, as well as two years on the road. The Marx Brothers had another big hit in 1928 with Animal Crackers.
Groucho’s parents, Sam and Minnie Marx, lived at 34 Jayson Avenue from 1929 to 1931 and his brother Chico was at 11 Myrtle Drive in the Great Neck Estates section. In summer 1930 Harpo rented a house in Great Neck. (The fifth Marx brother was Gummo [Milton] Marx).
Neighborhood children would park themselves in front of the house on Jayson Avenue because on Sundays when the Marx brothers visited their parents, they would dash around the house, entering and exiting from windows, jumping and leaping and putting on a show for any kid lucky enough to have shown up.
Groucho had lived in large cities before moving to Great Neck, so suburban life was a big change. In an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, published two weeks after Groucho became a homeowner, the comedian was quoted as saying: “I am now a regular resident of Great Neck, 200 by 150 feet of Long Island now belongs to me, body and soul, except for a few slight mortgages and assessments which are not very important until the time comes to pay them.”
He provided details of his new lifestyle: “I am becoming well versed in the four topics of conversation, which are of paramount importance in a small community, i.e., domestic help, golf, bridge, and the trapping of mice. If these were listed in the order of their interest, mice would be leading the suburban league with domestic help as a snappy second.”
He went on to describe his “War Against the Rodents,” which ended in failure to catch any of them. He concluded: “I am seriously thinking of abandoning the whole thing. Plus this, I am getting suspicious. I think the neighbors, knowing I was a city chap, were kidding me. I should have known better; how could a place as fair as Great Neck be infested with mice? The more I think of it, the more I realize how ridiculous it was.”
In his book Arthur Marx’s Groucho: A Photographic Journey,” Groucho’s son recalled his happy days at 21 Lincoln Road: “Our house overlooked hundreds of acres of deep forest rich with birch and oak trees, unpolluted ponds and streams, and all sort of wild flora…there was also an abundance of rabbits, squirrels, frogs, owls, and snakes, everything necessary to make life interesting for a boy.”
Bruell also cherishes the house and grounds where her family made a house enriched with an amazing history, a home filled with love.