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 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, 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, 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?'