Duck Soup

An Evening with Groucho

Tom Zimberoff
19 min readMar 10, 2024


©1974–2024 Tom Zimberoff / All Rights Reserved / May Not Be Copied, Altered, or Reproduced in Any Manner

Did I say that my first two portraits were Marx and Lennon? They were! But “Lennon and Marx” just doesn’t sound right, and it takes all the pun out of the game. In truth, John Lennon sat for my first portrait and Groucho Marx for my second. But let me tell you about the first time I saw Groucho — in person, not in the movies or on TV, and before I took up photography.

Protect your bagels; put lox on them. It sounds like something Groucho would say, but it was just a clever admonition from the locals who frequented Nate ’n’ Al’s Delicatessen in Beverly Hills. Three friends and I were finishing our Sunday brunch there before heading to the Fairfax Theater in West Hollywood for a Marx Brothers double feature. Groucho and his siblings’ zany Depression-era humor was enjoying a revival on the silver screen, particularly resonating with my generation that came of age in the 60s and 70s. I was seventeen, had just graduated from Beverly High, and was grateful for my University of Southern California scholarship and the student deferment that came with it, which kept the Vietnam draft from blowing my way.

Nate ’n’ Al’s is an antediluvian eatery still favored by discerning fressers. It was also a prime hangout for Beverly High students. It was my go-to place for corned beef with Swiss on rye, washed down with a can of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray celery…