Thursday, April 15, 2010

Death in L.A.: Erin Fleming, Groucho Companion & Suicide

 
 
 
 
Erin Fleming (13 August 1941 – 15 April 2003) was a Canadian actress who was best known as the companion and caregiver to Groucho Marx in his final years.

 


Biography
Born Marilyn Fleming in New Liskeard, Ontario, Canada. She appeared in minor roles in five films between 1965 and 1976, during which time she became acquainted with Marx and moved into his house.

Her influence on Marx was controversial. Many close to him admitted that she did much to revive his popularity; these efforts included a series of one-man shows, culminating in a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall, and an honorary Academy Award that was presented to him during his lifetime. Others, including Marx's son, Arthur, described her in Svengali-esque terms, accusing her of exploiting an increasingly senile Marx in pursuit of her own stardom.

In the years leading up to Marx's death in 1977, his heirs filed several lawsuits against her. One allegation leveled against Fleming was that she was determined to sell Marx's favorite car, a Cadillac, against his wishes. When Marx protested, it was said, Fleming threatened, "I will slap you from here to Pittsburgh."

The court battles dragged into the early 1980s, but judgments were eventually reached in favor of Arthur Marx, ordering Fleming to repay $472,000 to the Marx estate.

Fleming's mental health deteriorated in the 1990s. She was arrested once in the Los Angeles area on a weapons charge, and spent much of the decade in and out of commitments to various psychiatric facilities. She committed suicide in 2003 by shooting herself.

 
 
 
Filmography

The Legend of Blood Mountain (1965)
Hercules in New York (1970)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)
Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (1975)
McCullough's Mountain (1976)

Television

Adam-12 (1 episode, 1973)

Sources

Stefan Kanfer, Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx (2000)
Miriam Marx Allen, Love, Groucho: Letters from Groucho Marx to his Daughter Miriam (1992)
Arthur Marx, My Life with Groucho (1992) revised from Life With Groucho (1954)
Steve Stoliar, Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House (1996)

 
 

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