The mid-1940s was a lull in Groucho Marx's career. His radio show Blue Ribbon Town, sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, had begun in March 1943 and had failed to catch on. Groucho left the program in June 1944, replaced by vocalist Kenny Baker until the show's end two months later. He also reluctantly appeared in two movies with brothers Chico and Harpo Marx, A Night in Casablanca and the lackluster Love Happy.
During a radio appearance with Bob Hope in March 1947, Marx adlibbed most of his performance after being forced to stand by in a waiting room for 40 minutes before going live on the air. John Guedel, the Hope program's producer, formed an idea for a quiz show and approached Marx about the subject.
After initial reluctance by Marx, Guedel was able to convince him to host the program after Marx realized the quiz would be only a backdrop for his contestant interviews and the storm of adlibbing that they would elicit. Guedel also convinced Marx to invest in 50% of the show, in part by saying that he was "untouchable" at adlibbing, but not at following a script.
As Marx and the contestants were adlibbing, he insisted that each show be filmed and edited before release to remove the risque or less interesting material. The show for the studio audience ran longer than the broadcast version.
Contestant teams usually consisted of one male and one female, most selected from the studio audience. Occasionally, famous or otherwise interesting figures were invited to play (e.g., a Korean-American contestant who was a veteran and had been a prisoner of war during the Korean War).
After his signature introduction of "Here he is: the one, the only..." by Fenneman and finished by a thunderous "GROUCHO!" from the audience, Marx would be introduced to the music of "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", his signature song. After which, Groucho would be introduced to the contestants and engage in humorous conversation for a lengthy period of time where Groucho both improvised his responses and employed prepared lines written by the show's writers using preshow interviews.
Some show tension revolved around whether a contestant would say the "secret word", a common word revealed to the audience at the show's outset. If a contestant said the word, a toy duck resembling Groucho with a mustache and eyeglasses, and with a cigar in its bill, descended from the ceiling to bring a $100 bill. A cartoon of a duck with a cigar was also used in the opening title sequence. In one episode, Groucho's brother Harpo came down instead of the duck, and in another a model came down in a birdcage with the money. Marx sometimes slyly directed conversation to encourage the secret word to come up. The duck was also occasionally replaced with a wooden Indian figure.
The radio program was sponsored by Allen Gellman, president of Elgin American, maker of watch cases and compacts, during its first two and a half seasons. Later, seasons of the television show (as well as the radio show, after January 1950) were sponsored by Chrysler, with advertisements for DeSoto automobiles incorporated into the opening credits and the show itself. Each show would end with Groucho sticking his head through a hole in the DeSoto logo and saying, "Friends...go in to see your DeSoto-Plymouth dealer tomorrow. And when you do, tell 'em Groucho sent you." .
The interviews were sometimes so memorable that the contestants became celebrities: "nature boy" health advocate Robert Bootzin; hapless Mexican laborer Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez and his offhandedly comic remarks; a witty housewife named Phyllis Diller; author Ray Bradbury; virtuoso cellist Ennio Bolognini; blues singer and pianist Gladys Bentley; strongmen Jack LaLanne and Paul Anderson; actors John Barbour and Ronnie Schell all appeared as contestants while working on the fringes of the entertainment industry.
Harland Sanders, who talked about his "finger-lickin'" recipe for fried chicken which he parlayed into the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain of restaurants, once appeared as a contestant. A guest purporting to be a wealthy Arabian prince was really writer William Peter Blatty; Groucho saw through the disguise, stating "You're no more a prince than I am because I have an Arabian horse and I know what they look like". Blatty won $10,000 and used the leave of absence the money afforded him to write The Exorcist. No one in the audience knew who contestant Daws Butler was until he began speaking in Huckleberry Hound's voice. He and his partner went on to win the top prize of $10,000. Cajun politician Dudley J. LeBlanc, a Louisiana state senator, demonstrated his winning style at giving campaign speeches in French. General Omar Bradley was teamed with an army private, and Marx goaded the private into telling Bradley everything that was wrong with the army. Professional wrestler Wild Red Berry admitted that the outcomes of matches were determined in advance, but that the injuries were real; he revealed a long list of injuries he had sustained.
Other celebrities, already famous, occasionally teamed with their relatives to win money for charity. Arthur Godfrey's mother Kathryn was a contestant and held her own with Marx. Edgar Bergen and his then 11-year-old daughter Candice teamed up with Marx and his daughter Melinda to win $1,000 for the Girl Scouts of the USA; Fenneman played quizmaster for this segment.
Information from Wikipedia