Miriam Marx Allen, daughter of Groucho Marx who turned his letters into a revealing life story, dies

Miriam Marx Allen, the eldest daughter of Groucho Marx who helped edit his popular quiz show and turned his letters into a story that revealed a side of the famous actor few knew, has died at the age of 90.

For decades, Marx wrote his daughter letters that brimmed with tenderness and were sometimes tinged with nostalgia, a sharp departure from the biting sarcasm and leering sexism that were the quick-witted humorist’s first weapons of choice.

Allen died June 29 in Capistrano Beach in coastal Orange County, according to friend and actor Frank Ferrante.

She collected nearly 200 of her father’s letters in her 1992 memoir, “Love, Groucho: Letters from Groucho Marx to his Daughter Miriam.”

“He bared his soul to me in a way that he never did to anyone else,” Allen told the Times in a 1992 interview.

Dear Schmear:

You are the only one I write to personally. All my other correspondence is dictated. I don’t know what that proves; maybe you can figure it out.

Your loving Padre, that quizmaster and fun loving sex fiend, Groucho.

Allen said she pondered the letter, and dozens of others, for years before divining what he likely meant: She was his confidant.

Allen was born May 19, 1927, in New York City as her father and his brothers were performing the musical “Cocoanuts” on Broadway. They later moved to Los Angeles for the filming of “Monkey Business,” the third Marx Brothers’ movie.

The family household in Beverly Hills was turbulent and unpredictable, Allen later recalled. In her memoir she described her mother Ruth as an alcoholic and her father as a brooding and sometimes difficult man who liked his alone time.

When the couple split, Allen and her older brother chose to stay with their father.

“He loved to be with his children which, at that point, was me,” she said. “He took me to the movies, he took me to baseball games, he took me to prize fights. He spent a lot of time with me.”

Allen received her first letter from her father when she was 10 and vacationing on Santa Catalina Island with friends. Her father said he just wanted her to know how much he missed hearing her “big feet clunking around the house.”

The final letter from her father arrived nearly 30 years later, at a time when Allen was in and out of rehab facilities, trying and failing to stay sober.

Happy birthday!!!

Sorry that I missed it, but you must realize that I have a case of galloping senility and can barely remember my name. If you have another one, let me know in advance.

After nearly graduating from college (she was expelled three months short of graduation for a variety of infractions — all alcohol-related, she said), Allen wrote for Mademoiselle Magazine and was an editor on her father’s long-running comedic quiz show “You Bet Your Life.”

Her marriage to Gordon Allen, whom she met in rehab, ended in divorce. They had no children.

Though her life, the letters followed her, sometimes soft and tender, sometimes flashing with fatherly anger.

The reason you haven’t heard from me is because I have been too damned angry to write. The day I wrote a check for sixteen hundred and some dollars to Menninger’s [a Kansas rehab facility], which I have been doing for six months, I also received word that you were drinking again.…

But by the next letter, his affection would return.

I guess I’m just a fool about nostalgia and about you, too, now that I think of it.

I dreamed of you the other night — all night, in fact. I dreamed I was taking you through the ghetto in New York City and showing you the pushcarts and tenements and delicatessens … some day I really want to show you this.

Marx died in 1977 while Allen was at a recovery house in the San Fernando Valley. She said she remained sober the rest of her life.

Publishing the letters became both an act of confronting the sometimes difficult memories of her past, and revealing her father as far more than a comedian with an acidic brand of humor.

“He was always there for me,” she said in a 1989 interview with the Times. “Moody? Yes. Difficult at times? Yes. But a loving father and one who I knew loved me and that I could depend on.”

Allen is survived by a half sister, Melinda. Her brother, Arthur, died in 2011.

steve.marble@latimes.com

An earlier version of this story said the memoir “Love, Groucho: Letters from Groucho Marx to his Daughter Miriam” was published in 2002. It was published in 1992

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