Friday, January 24, 2014

The Latest on Groucho Marx

In case you are unaware, I am a Groucho Marx fan.  Back in 1977, Groucho had the misfortune to die the same week as Elvis Presley.  Thus the covering of Groucho's passing was overshadowed by that fat toilet guy.  I remember reading a paragraph on his death in Time magazine.  The following is Time's milestone:

DIED. Julius Henry ("Groucho") Marx, 86, doyen of American comedy; of pneumonia; in Los Angeles. A wizard of wisecracks and a prince of puns, Groucho began his nearly seven-decade-long career in vaudeville with his zany brothers Harpo, Chico, Gummo and Zeppo. They reached the pinnacle of Broadway in the mid-1920s and went on to hilarious movies, such as Horse Feathers (1932) and A Night at the Opera (1935), that still enjoy a huge cult following and invariably feature Groucho as an appealing rogue capable of fast-talking his way out of any difficulty. On his radio and TV quiz show You Bet Your Life, he was able to deploy all his famous trademarks: the loping gait, arched eyebrows, lecherous leer and emotive cigar. He was, above all, the master of the rapid-fire wisecrack. Examples: While accepting a medal from France, he quipped, "Can it be hocked?" When asked why he was always accompanied by beautiful women, he retorted, "They're very useful at night and frequently during the day." When being wooed by a club, he sniped, "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me for a member." Observed Steve Allen: "You can start laughing at Groucho when you're very young, and never stop."

That was it.  I remember at the time how I was disappointed with Time.  Yet, being one not to hold a grudge, I forgave Time and I still subscribe to their weekly publication.  Because of my subscription, I can access their archives.  This is how I got a copy of Groucho's obit.  I looked up the issue that held the milestones for August 19, 1977 (Time August 29, 1977) to test my memory and sure enough, the issue was crammed full of Elvis and one mere paragraph on Groucho.  I wondered if I was alone in feeling cheated.  I searched the archives in the weeks following for "Letters" to the editor, to see if anyone else would complain, and once again I reiterate "sure enough!"  The following is Letters to the editors from Time's September 19, 1977, issue:

The King of Comedy

Three and one-half pages on Elvis and one paragraph on Groucho [Aug. 29]? Shame on you.
Dennis Staples
Fremont, Ohio

Groucho was the divine king of comedy, and his passing is disheartening to his fans. Your article was far too short to encompass his accomplishments or even to describe the joy he brought to millions. His impact will never be forgotten.
Steven Casper

I can only assume that the Groucho Marx I knew is not the same one whose passing was noted briefly in your Milestones column.
I hope the excuse is not that he chose to die on a weekend. I doubt that TIME would want to suggest that, of all people, Groucho's timing was off.
Dick Cavett
New York City

Is it my imagination, or were you guys a little skimpy with the Groucho Marx obituary?
Woody Allen
New York City

I always liked Dick Cavett and Woody Allen.  I now know why.

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