Sunday, April 26, 2009

Groucho and the Guitar

In 1954, Groucho Marx and his daughter Melinda were featured on Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person" TV show. The format of "Person to Person" consisted of Murrow smoking cigarettes in a studio in New York and interviewing celebrities in their homes through the magic of television. In those days before Sputnik and Telstar, there were no communication satellites, and the signals between New York and Hollywood had to travel on transcontinental cables. During the interview, Groucho picked up a guitar and did a nice job of accompanying himself and seven-and-a-half-year-old Melinda as they sang the Irving Berlin counterpoint song, "You're Just in Love."

This was one of the few recorded guitar performances by Groucho. The others occurred in the movies. In Monkey Business, Groucho strummed a few chords in Thelma Todd's stateroom. How Groucho wound up in her stateroom is another matter altogether. In Horse Feathers, Groucho accompanied himself on guitar as he serenaded the selfsame Thelma Todd with the song "Everyone Says I Love You." As the couple sat in a canoe, Groucho finished the song with the lyics:
Everything that ever grew
The gooose and the gander
And the gosling too
The duck upon the water
When he feels that way too
Says I love you
Except instead of Groucho singing "I love you," a duck which had been following the canoe finished the song with "Quack, quack, quack." To which Groucho responded, "That's a wise quack. You keep your bill out of this. How would you like it if I butted into your affairs and laid an egg?" and tosses his guitar into the lake.

At the conclusion of the scene, Thelma Todd falls in the lake as she and Groucho struggle over the Huxley College football signals she has just taken from his jacket pocket. When she begs him for a lifesaver, Groucho pulls a pack of Lifesaver candies from his pocket and throws her one.

In Go West, Harpo plays harmonica and Groucho provides guitar accompaniment for the song "Ridin the Range," sung by romantic lead John Carroll, Groucho, and Chico. The song included such forgettable lyrics as
Where men are men
And the life is free
And there's nothing breakin
The mo-not-o-ny
Of clippedy clop
Just clippedy clop clop clop clop clop clop
In real life, Groucho was a dedicated student of the guitar and owned two Gibsons. He would drive his family to distraction with his practicing. He once had the opportunity to meet the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia after a concert. Segovia agreed to come to Groucho's house for dinner on the condition that there would be no guitar playing by either party. However, after dinner, Groucho brought out his Gibson guitars and prevailed upon the master to accompany the comedian as he played Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor.” Groucho's performance of this piece had once prompted his wife to say, “Why don’t you go back to playing by ear? You used to be so much better before you knew what you were doing.” Segovia finally said he could play no more because the steel strings of Groucho's guitar hurt his fingers.

For more on Groucho the guitarist, see these articles:

The Surprisingly Serious Tale of Comedian Groucho Marx and His Lifelong Quest to Master Guitar by Jerry McCulley

Groucho Marx the musician? Screen legend, but...? by Stephen Murray

And also check out Everyone Says I Love You performed on YouTube by Fret Killer


  1. He also has a bit of a strum in A Girl In Every Port.
    Didn't realise he was serious about it. I mean, I'm no expert, but he never sounds all that good on it to me...
    BTW, if you know why he likens Harpo to a fig newton, or have any other arcane wisdom on the subject of Animal Crackers, come visit me at You'll regret it almost immediately.

  2. Matthew,

    Thanks for the info about A Girl in Every Port. I haven't seen it for quite a few years, and as I recall, there's little reason to watch it again.


  3. After watching the "Everyone says I love you" song, and figuring out on my own that he was actually playing that guitar, I was thrilled to read the above. The husband and I would like to know what the heck these brother's parents were like. Obviously they were two crazy talented people.

  4. There was a play on BROADWAY a couple of ten years ago called "MINI's BOYS"............lots of stories ....Johnny Carson tells a most interesting one of Harpo...and his hidden "endowments".

  5. There was a play on BROADWAY a couple of ten years ago called "MINI's BOYS"............lots of stories ....Johnny Carson tells a most interesting one of Harpo...and his hidden "endowments".