Well, it's all over folks. Those first 79 fun-filled years of this century officially ended yesterday: Zeppo Marx, the sole surviving Marx brother, died in Palm Springs, Calif., at age 78.
Consider life without the Marx Brothers. It's almost as bad as Georgetown on a Saturday afternoon during Christmas shopping season; a cop who won't take a bribe; warm Perrier and no ice; the shrink who says he doesn't care if you go and commit suicide.
The Marx Brothers were the moguls of mania, and they transformed the barely bearable into the essence of buffoonery. Once, taking a man's pulse, Groucho announced: "Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped." It's easy to imagine mean old Groucho chiseling that line as an epitaph on poor Zeppo's tombstone. Nothing, not even death, was sacred for the Marx Brothers. And thank goodness.
Thank goodness, too, for Zeppo, who never really cracked a joke on screen. At least not directly. He just took it from Groucho, in more ways than one. a
In "Animal Crackers," Groucho had Zeppo taking dictation to his lawyer, and then ordered him to read it back.
"The Honorable Charles H. Hungadunga."
"Hungadunga," interrupts Groucho. "Accent on the diphthonic, not the penultimate."
"Care of Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga and McCormick . . . "
"You left out a Hungadunga," Groucho interrupts again. "You left out the most important Hungadunga. I tell you what. Leave out the Hungadunga and put in a windshield."
Such was the lot of Zeppo, just like all of us lunks, regularly getting the short end of the stick. If Groucho, Chico and Harpo were the funny guys, Zeppo was the Everyman, the loser who'd come running out of the grocery store only to find the meter maid sticking the parking ticket on his Hungadunga.
Even off screen, Groucho wouldn't leave Zeppo alone.
"He was a character of no importance," Groucho once said. "He was a lousy actor and he got out as soon as he could. Zeppo didn't like acting, and he didn't want to be an actor, but we had to have a fourth brother."
Thank you, Groucho.
"We were always friends," Zeppo said a year ago. He was the tactful one, the guy who made it bit in business as an agent, just as brother Gummo had made it big in business manufacturing raincoats. Nice, normal guys.
"With my brothers as clients," he once said, explaining why they weren't, "I never would have got any work done."
Zeppo, whose real name was Herbert, leaves behind no great legacy. He appeared in the first five Marx Brothers films, ending his screen career in the 1933 "Duck Soup." He finished out his days living in a mobile home, and he used to go golfing and fishing a lot. His two marriages ended in divorce; his second wife then married -- wouldn't you know it -- Frank Sinatra.
Some guys get all the breaks.
And some guys don't get many.
And now we all have to face the '80s without the Marx Brothers to kick the decade around.