Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chico Multigraph

At one of my other blogs, Lugubrious Drollery, I discussed a trick photographic technique which was popular around the the turn of the twentieth century: the photo multigraph. Two mirrors were placed at an angle of about 70 degrees, the subject was seated in front of the mirrors, and the photographer was behind the subject. The subject plus four reflections appeared in the photo. A popular theme was to make it look like the subject was playing cards with four clones of himself, as in the photo multigraph below, ca. 1909, of Leonard Marx. This is particularly appropriate given his propensity to gamble. The photo comes from The Marx Brothers Scrapbook.

If you would like more information about the history and technique of photo multigraphs, see the excellent article, "A Multigraph from Montreal," by Irwin Reichstein.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Legend of Zeppo's Name

From Zeppo's obituary in the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review, Dec 1, 1979:
The legend is that Minnie, the matriarch of the Marxes, wanted to keep her boys out of the Army during World War I. She installed the family on a farm near La Grange, Ill., since farming would exempt young men from service. Chico one day passed Herbert and said, "Howdy, Zeke." His brother replied "Howdy, Zeb." He soon became Zeppo forevermore.
Add this to other stories of the origin of Zeppo's name, such as being named after the zeppelin, or after a chimpanzee named Mr. Zippo (see also "Zeppo Marx: FAQ").

By the way, I haven't been able to document a performing chimpanzee named Mr. Zippo, as cited in Harpo's autobiography, but I have discovered that Zippo the Climbing Monkey was a popular toy produced by the toy company owned by Ferdinand Strauss in the early twentieth century. In 1921, Louis Marx (no relation), bought out his former employer, Strauss. The deal included the tooling to make Zippo, which at that time was considered obsolete. Marx sold 8 million Zippos over a two-year period, which helped to propel him toward acquiring great wealth and building one of the greatest toy companies of the twentieth century.

Zippo the Climbing Monkey

So, could it be possible that Herbie Marx acquired his nickname from this acrobatic little simian?

Link to Zeppo's obituary.

Link to "Zeppo Marx: FAQ"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Magnolia


My granddaughter learns the finer points of pool under the watchful eyes of the Marx Brothers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Was Harpo a Mormon?


In a fit of tabloid journalism, I just thought I'd see if the headline of this post would lure curious readers.

Harpo Marx was, of course, Jewish.

But, while casting about in the blogosphere for tidbits of information about the Marx Brothers, I happened upon the blog Famous Dead Mormons, which includes a post about Harpo. The author of FDM, who identifies himself as Nom de Cypher, explains:
Some time in 1842, the prophet Joseph Smith introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a temple ceremony called Baptism for the Dead, followed shortly by a full complement of salvific ordinances by proxy for dead ancestors. But as these things often do, the original purpose of the ordinances seemed to be forgotten by some members of the church and they began trying to ‘redeem’ everyone they could identify. Since this was quite a daunting genealogical task in the days before computers, (and for several years afterward) it seems that some members took a shortcut and performed proxy baptisms and other ordinances for any name they could find, which meant a lot of famous people got baptized. It appears that some time in the early 1990’s there was a fad, or at least a hobby, of finding famous people to baptize. In fact, many times, ordinances were duplicated. This web log is a tribute to that fad.
Mormons, as I understand it, believe they are stuck with their family members throughout eternity, and go to great lengths to insure that happens. They expend a lot of effort in genealogical documentation. For information on Harpo's posthumous baptism, click on this link.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pondering Perelman


Given that this blog is entitled "The Marx Brothers," it behooves the author to mention one or more of the aforesaid siblings in every post. Thus it was with great joy that I found Groucho's name appearing in the book A Writer's Eye: Collected Book Reviews by Eudora Welty, edited by Pearl Amelia McHaney. A passing reference to Groucho gives me an excuse to focus once again on the comic genius S.J. Perelman (see previous posts, S.J. Perelman and S.J. Perelman Revivisected), whose books provided fodder for three of Ms. Welty's reviews.

First, here's how Groucho was mentioned in Welty's review of The Most of S.J. Perelman, which appeared in the New York Times Book Review, October 12, 1958:
Groucho Marx, for whom, of course, Mr. Perelman has done his share of writing, seems imminent here and once appears in person; we get an intimate glimpse of him indulging "his passionate avocation, the collecting and cross-fertilization of various kinds of money."
Ms. Welty gives many other examples of Perelman's devastating humor in this review as well as in her reviews of Westward Ha! Around the World in 80 Cliches and Crazy Like a Fox. From the latter work, she gives these examples:
I may not know much about medicine, but I know what I like.

A Schrafft hostess, well over nine feet tall, with ice mantling her summit, waved me toward a door marked "Credentials."

He caught my arm in a vise-like grip but with a blow I sent him groveling. In ten minutes he was back with a basket of appetizing, fresh-picked grovels. We squeezed them and drank the piquant juice thirstily.

I had gone to the Corn Exchange Bank to exchange some corn.
I could go on and on, padding this post with Perelman lines which Ms. Weldy used to pad her reviews. Why should I bother when you can go read the reviews yourself at Google books?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Marx Brothers Feud?

This brief item appeared in the Dunkirk, NY, Evening Observer, in the syndicated column "Harrison's Hollywood," by Paul Harrison on July 10, 1940.


That's it. No further details are given.

A tantalizing little tidbit, no?

Addendum: Before taking this item as fact, please read comments below.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Harpo Rides an Ostrich

Thanks to Tom at Motion Picture Gems for posting a description of the 1936 cartoon, "Mickey's Polo Team." Harpo makes his first appearance at 1:46.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Groucho Sings on Cavett

Thanks to my brother Dennis for pointing out this clip from the Dick Cavett Show. Groucho sings "Everybody Works But Father" and "Father's Day."



Links to audio:

Studio Version of Father's Day

An Evening With Groucho - Groucho sings both "Everybody Works But Father" and "Father's Day" live at Carnegie Hall on this album.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Groucho's Name Invoked Against Antisemitic Wackos

Among the current crop of hateful nut-jobs, few sink lower than the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka. This group has gained notoriety with their stance that God hates America because God hates homosexuals, and America is "enabling" homosexuality. They have picketed at military funerals, carrying signs with messages like "God Hates Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "America is Doomed." They don't limit their hatred to gays. They also hate Catholics, Swedes, Irish, and Jews.

Recently, they picketed outside the synagogue of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, New York. Steven Waldman, Editor-in-Chief of Beliefnet.com wrote on Sept. 29, 2009:
The rabbi, Andrew Bachman, inspired the crowd by blowing the shofar, "in the name of the God of love." But the crowd especially roared when he added, "And in the name of the God of Groucho Marx, we put our thumb on our nose." He then led the crowd in a sort of modified Bronx cheer (photo below) In response to the God Hates Fags placards, one woman put a sign on her canine reading, "Dog Loves Fags."

Read the whole story at:

The God of Groucho Marx & Westboro Baptist Church (The "God Hates Fags" Gang) by Steve Waldman

Monday, September 28, 2009

Marilyn Monroe and Groucho

A great feature of Google is the Life Magazine photo archive, which has been the source of many pictures on this blog. Now Google and Life have teamed up to offer every issue of Life magazine online. While browsing through issues with Marx Brothers content, I found the April 7, 1952 issue, which featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover. This paragraph about the photo appeared inside the magazine:
Marilyn Monroe had her first brush with fame at the beginning of World War II when she was 16 and working at an aircraft plant. An Army public relations photographer spotted her and, to boost wartime morale, shot her alongside every machine in the factory. These pictures got her work as a model and eventually led to a Marx brothers' film in which her role consisted of walking into a room and out of it. "That's a fine walk," said Groucho. "Now do it again more so." She took the advice and is now among the Hollywood great.
Here is one of the pictures taken by David Conover at the Radioplane factory in Van Nuys, California on June 26, 1945. Nineteen-year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty was then in her first marriage.

The Marx Brothers' film referenced in Life was "Love Happy," released in 1949.

Marilyn and Groucho in publicity still for "Love Happy"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Meeting a Munchkin

It isn't every day that one gets to meet an actor who appeared in a Marx Brothers movie, let alone one who also played a Munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz." Today, I had that privilege.

Chesterton, Indiana holds an annual Wizard of Oz festival which is quite popular. Since it's only about an hour from my home, I was considering going to Chesterton to get some pictures of the festival parade. As I checked out the festival web site and read about the dwindling cadre of celebrities associated with the film who appear at the festival, I was fascinated by the biography of Jerry Maren. He was the member of the Lollipop Guild who presented Dorothy with the lollipop in this clip.


Jerry has had a long and productive career, as is attested by his lengthy imdb.com listing. Besides being a Munchkin, Jerry later appeared in commercials as Buster Brown, Little Oscar (for Oscar Meyer meats), and for McDonald's as the Hamburgler and Mayor McCheese. He also played numerous roles in film and on TV, including an appearance in the famous "Yada Yada" episode of Seinfeld in 1997.

But the role that motivated me to make the trip to Chesterton occurred in the Marx Brothers movie "At the Circus," released in 1939, the same year as "The Wizard of Oz." Jerry played circus performer Professor Atom. I searched my collection for a movie still or poster that might include a picture of Jerry. As an alternative, I did a screen capture of Jerry and Groucho from the DVD of the movie and printed it out. He seemed pleasantly surprised when I presented the picture to him at this afternoon's autograph session. He and his wife Elizabeth were very cordial, and I salute them for accommodating so many fans.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dali Drawing on Display


Detail of Le piano surréaliste, S. Dali, 1937
Click on picture to link to Christie's Auction site for more information

In a previous post, Surrealism or Hello Dali, I explored what seems to me to have been the fairly unrequited adoration that Salvador Dali felt for the Marx Brothers, especially Harpo. Dali wanted to make a Marx Brothers movie, and wrote a screenplay called "Giraffes on Horseback Salads", which was never produced. He also made a number of sketches illustrating his concept for the film.

On June 23, 2009, The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí purchased one of these drawings, Le piano surréaliste, at Christie's Auction in London for $392,996. According to an article in Artdaily.org, this drawing was "previously owned by the Marx Brothers," without further details of its provenance. The drawing is on display at the Casa-Museu Castell Gala Dali in Púbol, Spain for the month of September 2009.

It's a bit of a surreal experience to read the article at Artdaily.org, which is written in English which is bruised if not fractured outright. I have managed to learn a little more about Dali's encounters with Harpo from the article. Dali traveled to the U.S. in in 1936 to participate in the anthological exhibition Fantastic Art Dada and Surrealism, organized the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as for his individual exhibition at Julien Levy’s gallery. Dali wanted to paint Harpo, and it appears he made this known through an intermediary, as indicated in this telegram from Harpo to Dali, dated January 31, 1937:
Dear Salvador Dalí: I have received a telegram from Jo Forrestal saying that you are interested in me as a victim. Fascinated by the idea. The movie I am filming will be finished in six weeks. If you come to the West, I would be happy to be painted by you. I have a counteroffer: Will you pose for me while I pose for you? Happy new year from a great admirer of the Persistence of Memory
Dali hotfooted it out to California, as documented in this photo which appeared in the Los Angeles Examiner in February 1937.

Dali sketching Harpo, seated at the surrealistic harp Dali had previously sent him, possibly for Christmas 1936.

I have also learned that in his 1942 autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvdor Dali, the artist reveals this scene from the screenplay:
And on Fifth Avenue Harpo Marx has just lighted the fuse that projects from the behinds of a flock of expensive giraffes stuffed with dynamite. They run in all directions, sowing panic and obliging everyone to seek refuge pell-mell within the shops. All the fire-alarms of the city have just been turned on, but it is already too late. Boom! Boom! I salute you explosive giraffes of New York and all you fore-runners of the irrational -Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon, and you too, unforgettable Buster Keaton, tragic and delirious like my rotten and mystic donkeys, desert roses of Spain.
Now, that's entertainment to rival the stateroom scene in "A Night at the Opera."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Young Groucho

Today at the web site IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana, I saw a picture of a very young Julius (Groucho) Marx I had forgotten about, until I searched my musty copy of The Groucho Phile (1976), by Groucho and Hector Arce.


Julius appeared as the performer on the cover of the sheet music below, copyrighted in 1906.


The same cover appears on page 16 of The Groucho Phile. After describing getting stranded in Colorado by the promoter Leroy during his first vaudeville tour, Groucho goes on:
Back in New York, I got a job with the Gus Edwards show, Boys and Girls. My picture was on the sheet music for "Farewell Killarney." Edwards, a clever man, thought my present sixteen years weren't callow enough, so he put a picture of me when I was ten or eleven on the sheet music.

Harpo and Children

How great would it have been to grow up in the household of Harpo Marx?

Title: Harpo Marx and three of his children joking around wearing Harpo wigs in Los Angeles, Calif., 1954

Published caption: IS EVERYBODY HARPO?-- Children of Harpo, the silent Marx brother, don wigs and demonstrate that they, too, have happy gift of pantomime. From laugh to riot, we see Alec, Jimmy (who couldn't help peeking), Minnie and Father Harpo himself.

Publication: Los Angeles Times

Publication date: January 13, 1954

From the UCLA Library digital collection, "Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs, 1920-1990"

Friday, September 4, 2009

More Cartoon Marxes

Warner Brothers' "Hollywood Steps Out" (1941) is another animated short which featured caricatures of many actors and other celebrities, such as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.



Two of the Marx Brothers make cameo appearances. Harpo appears at 2:40, giving Greta Garbo a hotfoot, and again at 7:20, bursting Sally Rand's bubble. Groucho shows up in the final scene at 7:32.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Marx Brothers and Disney


In addition to appearing in the Warner Brothers cartoons Wideo Wabbit and Slick Hare, Marx Brothers caricatures appeared in a few Disney cartoons in the 1930s as well. Details can be found at The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts by following these links:

Cartoons featuring the four Marx Brothers including "The Bird Store" and "Mickey's Gala Premiere." The latter title reminds me of the scene in Duck Soup when Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) says to Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), "Notables from every country are gathered here in your honor. This is a gala day for you." Firefly responds, "Well, a gal a day is enough for me. I don't think I could handle any more."

Cartoons featuring Harpo, included "Mickey's Polo Team" and "Who Killed Cock Robin?'

Monday, August 17, 2009

Marx Brothers Home Update

Thanks to Matthew Coniam of The Marx Brothers Council of Britain for reminding us all of the need to pressure the Lord High Muckedy Mucks (LHMM) or New York City to preserve the endangered building at 179 E. 93rd St., which was once home to the Marx family. Here's a video detailing the situation.



Please follow this link for a form letter you can email to the LHMM in charge of the NYC Historic Preservation Commission. Note this is different than the petition you may have signed earlier. If you haven't signed the petition yet, click here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wideo Wabbit

As I pointed out in the previous post about the Warner Brothers cartoon "Slick Hare," Bugs Bunny's character was based, at least to some degree, on Groucho Marx. Occasionally, Bugs resorted to overt impersonation of Groucho, as in the 1956 cartoon, "Wideo Wabbit." Bugs is attempting to avoid appearing as the prey in Elmer Fudd's "Sportsman's Hour" TV show, and dresses up as Groucho. In pursuit of Bugs, Elmer winds up on the set of a show called "You Beat Your Wife"--a parody of Groucho's quiz show, "You Bet Your Life." While the gag might be miscontrued was making light of spousal abuse (indeed, current televised versions of the cartoon have had this scene edited out), I think it was just a clever way to work in an old joke, when Bugs asks Elmer, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

Elmer even gets in on the act, and appears briefly in Groucho disguise, while Bugs impersonates Ed Norton (Art Carney) of "The Honeymooners."

If you want to read more details about this scene, as well as the rest of the cartoon, check out Wideo Wabbit on Wikipedia.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Slick Hare

It is often said that the character Bugs Bunny was based on Groucho Marx. Bugs used the carrot as a prop much like Groucho used his cigar, and Bugs used one of Groucho's lines from Duck Soup: "This means war!"

In the 1947 cartoon "Slick Hare," Bugs disguises himself as Groucho in one scene, in an attempt to avoid being served up as Humphrey Bogart's dinner. The cartoon is set in the Mocrumbo Club, a parody of the Mocambo Club in L.A. Cartoon versions of several stars, including Frank Sinatra, Ray Milland, and Bogart are dining and drinking in the club. When Bogart orders fried rabbit, waiter Elmer Fudd is in a panic, until he finds Bugs snacking on a crate of carrots in the kitchen. When Bugs realizes that Bogart wants him for dinner--not as a guest, but as an entree--he escapes the kitchen, and in the next scene is disguised as Groucho and sitting at a table with Harpo and Chico.

The next time he looks Harpo's way, he sees the real Harpo has been replaced by a cleaver-wielding Elmer Fudd in Harpo disguise. Elmer proceeds to hack away at Bugs' cigar with the cleaver.

For a full synopsis of the cartoon, I refer the interested reader to the Wikipedia entry "Slick Hare".

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Lost Marx Brothers Script?

While trolling the internet for Marx Brothers information, I happened across several references to a play which just completed its premiere run at the 2009 Fringe Festival in Kansas City. The play, "Money Buckets" allegedly is based on a script written for the Marx Brothers while they were at MGM. The web site of the Buran Theater Company, which staged the play, states the following:
The actual source text, "Money Buckets", is the long lost Marx Bros. script. It was written while the brothers were with MGM between 1937 and 1941- but was never produced due to its controversial political overtures (sic). In 2003 artistic director Adam R. Burnett acquired the text from Marx Brothers historian Frederick Allison. In 2005 Burnett co-founded Buran Theatre Company with Alicia Gian and in 2007, after a brief and ultimately painless legal battle, they acquired the rights to perform the script as long as it was not performed in whole....

In an economy turned upside down FDR (Groucho Marx) asserts himself by hiring two new men, outsiders to the Washington System, to take over the cabinets of Finance, Minister Fellini (Chico Marx), and Agriculture (a beard for the War cabinet), Minister Bergman (Harpo Marx). But a villainous pair of Eastern European Socialists have plans to dupe the president and his boisterous wife, Eleanor (Margaret Dumont), and steal all of the money from the U.S. Government - buckets of money.
So far, my usual exhaustive research method (typing words into the Google search box) has not turned up any evidence corroborating the existence of the said long lost script, or the existence of a Marx historian named Frederick Allison. If any readers of this blog have more information or have the gumption to try to track down the facts, let me know.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Four of a Kind

Fellow blogger #167 Dad has tagged me with a task to come up with sets of four things that have something in common. This is one of those chain-letter type things that happen on the internet, I think. Normally, I abhor such activities, but since #167 invited me politely and didn't threaten death and destruction on me and my family if I don't participate, I'm doing it. As I understand it, there is no restriction on the number of sets. The only requirements are to come up with original topics and not copy those of the tagger, and to then to tag someone else.

So, below are the lists I came up with, all having to do with the Marx Brothers. I am tagging the following blogs:

Urban Sludgewater
Lolita's Classics

4 Women Who Appeared in Marx Brothers Movies and Later Had Regular Roles in TV Series

Kitty Carlisle - Female romantic lead in "A Night At The Opera." Was a regular panelist on the game show "What's My Line?"

Maureen O'Sullivan - Female romantic lead in "A Day At The Races." Hosted a syndicated TV show, "The Children's Hour," and was a cast member of the soap opera, "All My Children" for a season.

Eve Arden - Played acrobat Peerless Pauline in "At The Circus." Starred in the 50s sitcom, "Our Miss Brooks."

Lucille Ball - Appeared in "Room Service." Starred in the sitcom "I Love Lucy" and later "The Lucy Show."

4 Movies In Which Groucho's Character Proposed to Margaret Dumont's Character

Animal Crackers - Groucho proposes simultaneously to Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Rittenhouse and Margaret Irving as Mrs. Whitehead: Yes, I don't think I've ever seen four more beautiful eyes in my life. Well, three anyway. You know, you two girls have everything. You're tall and short and slim and stout and blonde and brunette, and that's just the kind of a girl I crave. We three would make an ideal couple. Why, you've got beauty, charm, money. You have got money, haven't you? 'Cause if you haven't, we can quit right now.

Duck Soup - Groucho: Why don't we get married, and take a vacation? I'll need a vacation if we're going to get married. Married! I can see you now, in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. But I can't see the stove!

A Day At the Races - Groucho: Emily, I have a little confession to make. I really am a horse doctor, but marry me and I'll never look at any other horse.

The Big Store - Dumont: Oh, I'm afraid after we're married a while a beautiful young girl will come along and you'll forget all about me.
Groucho: Don't be silly. I'll write you twice a week.

4 Abandoned Marx Brothers Projects

Humor Risk - a 1921 silent film featured the Marx Brothers. The film was completed, but never released, and was either lost or destroyed.

Giraffes on Horseback Salads - Salvador Dali wrote the script for this surrealistic film, which was never produced. See earlier post about Dali and the Marx Brothers.

Deputy Seraph - a proposed TV Series featuring Harpo and Chico as angels who periodically came to to earth and occupied the bodies of living humans to help them out. Groucho was to appear intermittently as their supervisor, The Deputy Seraph. A few director's rushes remain from the pilot, but the project never got off the ground.

The New Marx Brothers Show - a cartoon series featuring Harpo, Chico, and Groucho, proposed in the mid60s, but never produced. Not strictly a Marx Brothers project, as Harpo and Chico had died in the early 60s, and it's doubtful Groucho would have participated.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Three-Headed Marx

My eccentric obsessions are not limited to the Marx Brothers. I also have an interest in the 1939 New York World's Fair, among other things. In a previous post, I managed to work in a reference to one of the more bizarre attractions at the 1939 Fair--Morris Gest's Little Miracle Town. This exhibit consisted of a village of scaled-down buildings where a troupe of little people were on display and where they performed onstage.

There is a connection, however oblique, between the Marx Brothers and Little Miracle Town. I first noticed this in the picture below, which shows Morris Gest (left) and some of the performers from Little Miracle Town posing with the Westinghouse robot Elektro the Moto Man (another of my obsessions). Elektro is seated on a motorized cart driven by Frank Buck (in the pith helmet), proprieter of the Jungleland attraction at the fair.

Note in the background in the upper right corner of the picture the heads of Chico, Groucho, and Harpo on a single winged, tuxedo-wearing body.

The puzzling nature of this picture remained unsolved until I saw the picture below in the online archives of Life Magazine.

The facade of Little Miracle Town was covered with this odd mural of flying celebrities holding hands. If you click to enlarge the photo, you'll probably recognize a few of the them, like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, Clark Gable, and many more.

If you look closely, you can see a portion of Harpo's hair (arrow) to the right of the barker in the detail below.


Further evidence can be seen in the film clip from the Prelinger Archives below. Between 10 and 18 seconds, you can see the three-headed Marx just above the heads of the crowd to the far right.

video

By the way, any resemblance between the depiction of the Marxes on this mural and the mythical multi-headed hellhound Cerebrus is purely coincidental, though those who had to work with the Marx Brothers might have thought otherwise.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wouldn't It Be Loverly?


As I pointed out in the previous post, Matthew Coniam of The Marx Brothers Council of Britain bestowed the "One Lovely Blog" award on this blog. One of the conditions of the award is that it be passed on to other blogs. This presents me with a bit of a dilemma. Am I secure enough in my gender identity to bestow upon another blogger an award with a badge composed of a teacup full of pink roses, wrapped with a matching ribbon? Matthew can be forgiven because he received the award, and its requirement to pass it on, from a female blogger. At least he incorporated the masculine touch of riding a tractor into the conditions of the award.

Then there's the title. "Lovely" isn't a word often heard in male conversation in the U.S. I think the word is less gender specific in the U.K., where Matthew lives. Just this morning, I heard a commentator at the British Open refer to a hole on the course at Turnbury as "lovely." Other examples that come to mind are the British songs "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" and "Lovely Rita Meter Maid." Well, there is that line in "Lovely Rita":
And the bag across her shoulder
Made her look a little like a military man
But this is later negated by:
Took her home and nearly made it
Sitting on a sofa with a sister or two
I think I would be more comfortable if I could modify the title and badge of the award. I would be happy to give an award with a badge consisting of a foaming stein of beer and a title like "Blog and Suds." How about a "Silent But Deadly" award with an atomic mushroom cloud as a graphic? This would probably be best given as a followup to the "Blog and Suds" award. Perhaps my fellow male bloggers would be more accepting of a "Blog of the Month Foldout Award." I will leave the graphic to the reader's imagination.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'd Like to Thank All the Little People...

Actually, the above picture has nothing to do with the current post. Morris Gest's Little Miracle Town was one of the more peculiar exhibits at the 1939 World's Fair--a town with buildings scaled down for little people, who carried on their daily activities while fairgoers walked around and gawked at them. I just thought I'd throw that in along with the hackneyed phrase that actors are supposed to use in acceptance speeches at award shows, although I'd be shocked if anyone actually did say, "I'd like to thank all the little people who made this possible" at the Oscar ceremony.

This blog has just received its first--and likely only--award, from fellow Marxist Matthew Coniam and his blog, The Marx Brothers Council of Britain, an amazing site with all kinds of arcana relating to the Marx Brothers and their movies.


With great honor comes great responsibility. Matthew gives the award with strings attached. The recipent must:

a) name the person that gave it to them, b) post a photograph of themselves driving a tractor in a pinstripe suit,and c) pass on the award to other deserving sites, letting their authors know that they have been chosen.

OK, I have already named my benefactor. As to the second requirement, all photos of me driving a tractor in a pinstripe suit are out to the cleaners at the moment. I hope that this picture of me as a tot in overalls, riding on a tractor with my father, will suffice.


As to the third condition, I'm thinking about other blogs I may bestow this award upon.

Thanks, Matthew!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Groucho's Customs Form

A story frequently cut and pasted around various websites appears to have some basis in fact. An eyewitness account exists in the book Arthur Marx's Groucho: A Photographic Journey, edited by Groucho impersonator Frank Ferrante, with comments and photography by Groucho's son Arthur, published in 2001. After the Marx Brothers had a run at the Palace Theater in London, they returned to the U.S. on the ship Paris in 1931. Arthur's comments on shipboard pictures from the trip include the following:
When the ship docked, all the passengers went straight through customs--including Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo. But my father, my mother, Ruth, my sister Miriam and I were held up for four hours. They went through all our luggage with a fine tooth comb and made go into separate rooms and take off all our clothes. I think it may have had something to do with the way my father filled out the customs form:

NAME: Julius H. Marx
ADDRESS: 21 Lincoln Road, Great Neck, Long Island
HAIR: Very little
OCCUPATION: Smuggler
PURCHASES: Wouldn't you like to know!
Some internet versions of the episode include the apocryphal detail that Groucho turned to Ruth and said, "What did you do with the opium? Do you still have it on you?" Arthur doesn't mention Groucho asking these questions, so I would take this part of the story with several grains of salt.

How Tall Were the Marx Brothers?

One of the interesting features of the Feedjit widget (see sidebar at right) is that it supplies information about the words people use when they land here via a search engine. One recent visitor searched on the phrase "how tall were the Marx Brothers." Unfortunately, Google led him to the posts for June 2009, one of which includes a reference to the brothers' Uncle Julius, who was "well over four feet." The information the cyber-seeker was after is actually contained in the post "Passports", dated May 5, 2009. Included there are images of the brothers' 1922 passport applications. The heights they gave on the forms were:

Chico: 5' 6"
Groucho: 5' 8"
Zeppo: 5' 9"
Harpo: 5' 6 1/2"

They seem relatively short by today's standards, but as far as I can tell, the average height of an American male in 1920 was around 5'7" or 5'8".

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Harpo's Horn

Fellow Marx enthusiast Matthew Coniam asked about the object in Harpo's hand in the preceding post. Here's a profile view to show the taxi horn. The astute observer might note that the horn is in Harpo's right hand in the previous post and in the left hand here. The previous picture was a TtV view, which results in reversal of left and right in the Kodak Duaflex viewfinder.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why a Duck?

I staged this little tableau with 3 Marx Brothers figurines I bought years ago and a duck from my childhood farm set.

Friday, June 26, 2009

S.J. Perelman Revivisected

S.J. Perelman, 1961. Photo by Carl Mydans. From the Life Magazine Archives.

S.J. Perelman, whom I featured in an earlier post, was a brilliant humorist. His relationship with the Marx Brothers in general, and Groucho in particular, was a stormy one. Groucho was a fan of Perelman's prose, including his first book, Dawn Ginsbergh's Revenge, of which Groucho wrote, "From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day, I intend reading it." Groucho subsequently asked Perelman to work on a radio script for the Marx Brothers. His cowriter was W.B. Johnstone, who had written the Marx Brothers' stage show I'll Say She Is. The writers came up with the idea of the Marx Brothers as stowaways on a luxury oceanliner. Groucho liked the idea so much, he convinced Paramount Pictures to hire Perelman and Johnstone to write the next Marx Brothers movie. When Perelman arrived in Hollywood from New York, producer Herman J. Mankiewicz told Perelman that the Marx Brothers were "mercurial, devious, and ungrateful. I hate to depress you, but you'll rue the day you ever took the assignment. This is an ordeal by fire. Make sure you wear asbestos pants." Mankiewicz' words came true when Perelman read the completed script to the Marx Brothers. After he finished, Groucho said (depending on which version of the story you believe) either, "It stinks," or "I think we need a script."

Over the ensuing months, with the input of the brothers and other writers, an acceptable script for Monkey Business was produced. When Monkey Business was released in 1931, Arthur Sheekman received credit for the screenplay. Even though Perelman was uncredited, undoubtedly some of his material remained in the script.

Perelman hated Hollywood, but stayed around long enough to work on the script for Horse Feathers, for which he, along with Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar, did receive screen credit when it was released in 1932.

After he left Hollywood, Perelman resented the fact that much of of his reputation was based on his relatively brief association with the Marx Brothers, of whom he said, "I did two films with them, which in its way is perhaps my greatest distinction in life, because anybody who ever worked on any picture for the Marx Brothers said he would rather be chained to a galley oar and lashed at ten-minute intervals until the blood spurted from his frame than ever work for those sons of bitches again."

The interested reader may want to read a more in-depth and thoroughly engaging profile of S.J. Perelman by Becky Karush at her blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Profile of Groucho and the Marx Brothers

This is one I haven't seen before. It's a nicely-done piece which aired on "CBS Sunday Morning" in 2007 on the 30th anniversary of Groucho's death. I learned a couple new things from Elliott Gould's observations. The final anecdote is quite touching.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Father's Day

Sam "Frenchie" Marx, Father of the Marx Brothers

As Father's Day approaches this Sunday, it seems appropriate to post a link to Groucho singing the song "Father's Day". This is a studio version, complete with male chorus. Groucho also performs the song live on the album "An Evening With Groucho," which is available for download at Archive.org.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

26 Questions for Groucho

Master of Ceremonies Bud Collyer, rear, poses with the panel of the To Tell The Truth quiz show on CBS in 1957. Panelists from left to right are: Polly Bergen, Ralph Bellamy, Kitty Carlisle and Hy Gardner. Kitty Carlisle, whose long career spanned Broadway, opera, television and film, including the Marx Brothers movie "A Night at the Opera," died at age 96 in 2007.

In addition to being a panelist on To Tell the Truth, Hy Gardner (1908-1989) was a Broadway columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, and hosted a TV talk show called Hy Gardner Calling. In 1959, Gardner decided to start a project on older celebrities--specifically, those over age 50. He sent out a cover letter along with a questionaire consisting of 26 questions. The cover letter stated in part, "I'm doing a series which I think could be inspirational to a great many Americans over the age of fifty. I'm polling national figures in an effort to get the answers to some of the problems that confront the average man or woman past the half-century mark."

The original questionaire Gardner sent to Groucho, complete with his typewritten answers, is now being sold on eBay. The seller transcribed the questions and answers in the item description, and I am reproducing it here:
(1) What is your present age? 200 B.C.
(2) What keeps you looking and feeling so young? Each night before going to bed I rub bear grease between my toes
(3) How much sleep do you get out of the average 24 hours? 23
(4) It is good or fitful sleep? I sleep like a trout
(5) Do you require barbiturates or any other sleep inducing liquid or drug? Heroin ... a spoonful every night.
(6) How much sleep do you think you need? 24 hrs
(7) What about daytime naps? I go to bed right after breakfast and stay there until my cook hollars. "Come and get it!"
(8) Any nervousness in connection with an appearance, important meeting, etc? I meet very few people. I live in a cave.
(9) Do you control your temper more now than when you were younger? I have no temper! Every afternoon I throw a fit and that continues until they throw cold water on me.
(10) What do you worry about most? I don't get enough sleep.
(11) How frequently and thoroughly do you get a physical check-up? Every afternoon
(12) Do any exercise? Every Easter I roll an egg on the lawn
(13) Are you impatient with new friends and prefer the old ones? I have no friends. I sleep alone.
(14) Are you on any special diet? Yes. Raw meat and acorns
(15) How much weight have you lost or gained in the past five years? 100 pounds
(16) What do you do for relaxation? I go to sleep
(17) At what age do you think, if it is financially feasible, the average citizen should retire? Eighteen
(18) Are you bitter about anything? Yes. Having to write this for nothing!
(19) Do you use any alcohol? Just whiskey ... and kerosene for my lamps.
(20) Do you resent younger people coming up in your profession or business? Depends on how high they come up.
(21) Have you any objection to taking directions from these younger people? I love it. I'm always getting lost.
(22) Why is a male star even in his late fifties still attractive to young girls? You'll have to get some young girl to answer this one. And if you're successful, get one for me, too.
(23) Does reading the obituary column slow you down? Are you referring to the standing of the Yankees? (Note: The 1959 Yankees ended the season with a 79-75 record, their worst since 1925)
(24) What younger people coming up in your own special category would you consider might someday be the grand old stars of 1975? Ed Wynn, Ethel Barrymore and Donald Crisp. (Note: Ed Wynn was born in 1886, Ethel Barrymore in 1879 and Donald Crisp in 1880; each older than Groucho, who was born in 1890)
(25) Do you watch TV and, if so, what do you enjoy most? Turning it off.
(26) Do you ever expect to retire? I'm going to bed in about five minutes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Marx Brothers and Tobacco - Part II

George Fenneman and Groucho

All the Marx Brothers were smokers--some more than others. While the relationship of the brothers and tobacco may provide fodder for future posts, in this article, I'd like to focus on someone who wasn't a member of the family. George Fenneman had a long association with Groucho as the announcer for Groucho's quiz show "You Bet Your Life." Groucho described him as the perfect straight man. Fenneman was also a spokeman for Chesterfield cigarettes. Back in the fifties, before tobacco advertising was banned from TV, Mr. Fenneman appeared in a commercial which today seems incredibly outlandish. We must remember, however, that this was an era when outlandish claims about the safety and life-enhancing qualities of cigarettes were common.

The video of this commercial can be seen at Milkandcookies.com. A transcription appears below, but you really have to see the video to appreciate Fenneman's earnest and authoritative air.

Not Adversely Affected by Smoking Chesterfields

A responsible consulting organization reports this study by a competent medical specialist and his staff on the effects of smoking Chesterfields. A group of people smoked only Chesterfields for six months in their normal amount--ten to forty a day. Forty-five percent of the group have smoked Chesterfields from 1 to 30 years, for an average of ten years each. At the beginning and end of the six months period, each smoker was given a thorough examination, including X-rays. The examination covered the sinuses, nose, ears, and throat. After a thorough examination of every member of the group, the medical specialist stated, "It is my opinion that the ears, nose, throat, and accessory organs of all participating subjects examined by me were not adversely affected in the six months period by smoking the cigarettes provided." Remember this report, and buy Chesterfields--regular or king size. Premium quality Chesterfield--much milder.
Wow! Quite a stunning display of BS, isn't it? It is fascinating that the competent medical specialist neglected to examine the hearts and lungs, unless they were considered "accessory organs."

I don't know for sure, but I presume that George Fenneman was a consumer of, as well as a pitchman for, Chesterfields. He died of emphysema at age 77 in 1997.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Marx Brothers and Tobacco - Part I


I believe a couple items in my collection of Marx Brothers memorabilia must be relatively rare. Several years ago I purchased two old Parade Magazines from the 1950s. For those who might not know, Parade Magazine is a national supplement to Sunday newspapers which is still around today. The ones I bought happened to be distributed with the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, Wisconsin. One magazine featured Harpo in a baseball uniform on the cover, and the other, dated Feb. 17, 1952, is shown above. The associated article describes the photo session which resulted in the cover photo. Groucho didn't blow his own smoke rings, so two "smoke ring experts" were brought in. For reasons not entirely clear to me, one smoke ringer blower was, as Groucho said of his Uncle Julius "well over four feet," and the other was six feet tall. Groucho was in fine form during the session, and you can click to enlarge the article below to read his wisecracks.

Click to enlarge

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Harpo Sells Vodka

This is another item from my collection--a 1961 magazine ad for Smirnoff Vodka, featuring Harpo. Harpo wasn't much of a drinker, but I suppose he saw this as an opportunity to publicize his autobiography, not to mention garnering a few bucks from Smirnoff for the endorsement. The fine print under the picture reads, "Harpo Marx, noted comic and musician, authors a new best-seller, 'Harpo Speaks' at book stores."

In his book, Harpo said the only alcohol problem he had was that he didn't much care for the stuff. Early in World War II, Chico gave Harpo a hot tip that liquor would be rationed, prompting Harpo to go to a wholesale distributor and order a cellar full of booze.  He then realized at his rate of consumption of about "three mild social drinks per week," his supply should last "until the year 2419 A.D." He further noted, however, that "it was a commodity I had no trouble getting rid of."


Friday, May 29, 2009

Zeppo and Gambling

Zeppo Marx talking with newsmen after testifying at the grand jury gambling investigation, Terre Haute, IN, August 1958. Photographer: Frank Scherschel

Chico is known as the gambler among the Marx brothers, but Zeppo also did his share of gambling. The difference is that Zeppo was able to pay his debts, while Chico usually was in financial straits. The brothers did what they could to help him out. The last movie featuring the three Marx Brothers was "Love Happy" (1949). It started out as a vehicle for Harpo, then Chico was added to the cast because he needed the money. The producers were having trouble financing the picture. A small role was written in for Groucho, so the movie could be promoted as a Marx Brothers film. Even that wasn't enough, and the producers had to resort to product placement to raise enough cash to finish the picture.

Zeppo's gambling made the news on a couple occasions. In 1958, he was subpoenaed as a witness in a federal grand jury investigation of a nationwide betting syndicate headquartered in, of all places, Terre Haute, Indiana. Zeppo wasn't accused of a crime, but he had placed bets with the syndicate via telephone from Las Vegas or from his home in Palm Springs during the 1957 football season. During his testimony, when asked how he got the syndicate's number, he replied, "You can ask any little girl coming out of a kindergarten in Las Vegas, and she'll tell you how to find a bookie." Ah, the good old days before Vegas became "family friendly!"

Ten years later in 1968, five mobsters were convicted of cheating members of the Friars Club and their guests out of more than $400,00 in a scam carried out in 1962 and 1963. Among those losing money were Zeppo Marx, comedian Phil Silvers, and singer Tony Martin. As reported in Time Magazine, December 13, 1968:
Gin rummy, as played in Hollywood, is not always a gentleman's game. Even so, the games at the Friars' Club over a ten-month period during 1962 and 1963 were something out of the ordinary. Camera Industrialist Theodore Brislcin, for example, lost $220,000, Shoe Millionaire Harry Karl dropped $80,000, and such cool hands as Phil Silvers, Zeppo Marx and Tony Martin lost heavily. An investigation by the FBI followed, and last week five players in the games (two real estate developers, an art collector, an investor and a professional card shark) were found guilty on 49 counts of conspiracy, face sentences of from five to 130 years. Their gimmick: to station a confederate at a ceiling peephole in the Friars' card rooms; the "peeper" would then transmit electronic signals about opponents' hands. But was it necessary? Not really, said Martin. "I'm a pretty poor player anyway. My wife beats me all the time."
Groucho considered Zeppo to be a good player. In the Marx Brothers Scrapbook, which was put together by Richard Anobile from interviews with Groucho and those who knew him, Groucho said, "Zep wants to have the odds in his favor. He is a good gambler and Chico was a bad gambler." Groucho also said Harpo was a good gambler. "He was apparently fearless but was also a very conservative fellow." When asked why he didn't seem to get along with Zeppo, Groucho said, "Because he's always playing cards. That's why his wife walked out on him." When Anobile pointed out to Groucho that Chico also always played cards and Groucho was fond of him, Groucho replied, "But Chico was sort of a rascal and Zeppo isn't. He's just cold-blooded."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Divorce of Zeppo and Barbara

Zeppo and Barbara
On the day of their Las Vegas wedding, Sept. 18, 1959

In an earlier post, Zeppo Marx: FAQ, I indicated that Zeppo and his second wife Barbara, who later married Frank Sinatra, were divorced in 1972 or 1973. This was the best I could do at the time, based on information on the internet. Now, I can state unequivocally that the couple separated in 1972 and divorced in 1973. From the Press-Telegram (Long Beach, California), Wednesday, May 2, 1973:
Zeppo Marx wife wins divorce

Mrs. Zeppo Marx, wife of the youngest of the Marx brothers comedy team, has been granted a dissolution of her marriage to the 72-year-old comedian.

Superior Court Judge Frank Moore awarded Barbara Marx $1500 a month for 19 years in granting the dissolution Tuesday in Palm Springs. The woman filed for dissolution of the 14-year-old marriage last December after a five-week separation from her husband.

Zeppo, whose real name is Herbert, succeeded brother Gummo as a member of the famed comedy team of Groucho, Harpo, and Chico. He played mainly romantic roles in film and stage shows of the 1920s and early 1930s.

The vaudeville stage and screen star became an actors' agent in 1933. Zeppo was divorced from Marion Marx in 1954.
I wonder if Zeppo had to continue alimony payments after Barbara married Sinatra.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mendel Picasso

The first post of this blog explains, in excruciating detail, the people, places, and events depicted on the skin of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," in the song written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg for the Marx Brothers movie "At the Circus." The one mystery that remains unsolved is the name "Mendel Picasso," as in
Come along and see Buff'lo Bill with his lasso.
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso.
Here is Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon.
Here's Godiva but with her pajamas on.

Let's look at the last name first. It seems safe to assume that this is a reference to the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, shown to the left in 1962. Although he painted in a number of different styles, its unlikely that he was a tattoo artist. As far as I can tell, he never depicted Buffalo Bill in any medium.

And what of the first name? Picasso's given name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. There is no sign of "Mendel" in there.

So where did Mendel Picasso come from? I have consulted no less an authority than Ernie, the son of lyricist Yip Harburg. Ernie didn't know, but said he would put out feelers to see if anyone does know. So far, as we approach the first anniversary of the original publication of my article "Lydia the Tattooed Lady Revealed," no one has come forward with an answer.

Even though the song "Peasy Weasy" was a favorite of Groucho, and the priest Gregor Mendel performed his genetic experiments with pea plants, it seems unlikely that Yip Harburg was thinking of Gregor Mendel when he wrote the lyrics to "Lydia."

Through intensive research (i.e., typing "Mendel" in the Google search box), I have learned that in Yiddish, Mendel is the pet form of the Hebrew name Menahem. So, was Yip somehow implying that Picasso was Jewish? Well...it's not impossible.

Apparently, there is some speculation that Pablo Picasso's maternal grandmother was Jewish. In a speech made by Gary Schwartz at the opening of the exhibit, "The 'Jewish' Rembrandt" at the Jewish Historical Museum on 9/11/2006:
Not long ago I was surprised to read the following sentence about Picasso's grandfather in John Richardson's monumental biography of the artist: "Next to nothing is known about this bizarre gentleman...beyond the fact that he married a plump young woman from the province of Málaga, Inés López Robles, rumoured to be a Maranna (of Jewish descent)" (p. 22). This was thus Picasso's mother's mother. If the rumour about Inés López Robles were true then even the great goy Pablo Picasso was in fact Jewish according to Jewish law.
Rumors about a woman who lived a couple centuries ago aren't much to go on, but then, wars have been launched on less substantial evidence.

In the end (or at the end of the day, as the talking heads on TV are so fond of saying these days), it really doesn't matter. Maybe Yip just threw Mendel Picasso into the song because it sounded funny, or because he knew it would drive people like me crazy through the ages, and that's good enough for me. I am reticent to pursue this topic any further for fear of being classified as that most unamusing of writers--the "humor analyst."

Sing along with me now:

La la laaa
La la la
La la laaa
La la la

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Save The Marx Brothers Home


179 E. 93rd Street, NYC, where the Marx Brothers spent their formative years, is at risk of being torn down by developers. Please sign the petition to save the building.

For more information, see this article at the New York Times.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Marx Sister?


In 1972, 81-year-old Groucho Marx performed at Carnegie Hall. Introduced by Dick Cavett and accompanied by Marvin Hamlisch on piano, Groucho told stories of his life and sang. Out of this show came a two-record album called "An Evening With Groucho," which I still have. It's been a couple decades since I've had a turntable hooked up, so I haven't listened to it for many years. Now, thanks to the internet, transcriptions are available and the recording itself can be downloaded in digital format.

In discussing his family, Groucho said:
Then we had a sister. She wasn't really our sister, she was an adopted sister. The father of that sister had gotten a look at this girl and fled to Canada, and we never saw him again. But the girl stayed with us, and her name was Polly. Polly didn't... She wasn't a bad looking girl, but her rear end stuck a-way out. You could play pinochle on her rear end.
Polly, or Pauline, was the daughter of Groucho's aunt Hannah, who was Minnie Marx's sister. The paternity of Polly is uncertain, but she was probably conceived after the death or disappearance of Hannah's first husband. It is likely that Sam and Minnie Marx adopted Polly, and it appears they fibbed about the date of their marriage to make it look like Polly was was their own legitimate child. The record shows Sam and Minnie were married January 18, 1885, but they moved the date back a year to 1884 in future records, to accommodate the January, 1885 birth of Polly.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Passports

Riding a wave of success on stage, in 1922, the Marx Brothers were about to embark on a tour of England. In preparation for the trip, they had to apply for passports. The images below are taken from their passport applications. The application process required someone to swear to the identity of the applicant. Harry Billings, of Milwaukee, attested on each form that he knew the brothers for five years, and gave his occupation as "Manager," so I assume he was the act's manager.

The application form also required a description of the applicant. From the handwriting, it looks like the boys filled in some of the blanks themselves, and Mr. Billings filled in the others.

We find Harpo describing his nose as "regular," and his chin as "firm." Groucho, always playing for laughs, described his nose as "Jewish," and his mouth as "pretty good."

Click to enlarge any of the images below.

Betty and Chico


Arthur, Ruth, and Groucho


Zeppo


Harpo