Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Groucho Letters, Letters From and To Groucho Marx, Simon & Schuster (1967)

My father introduced me to the Marx Brothers when I was about ten. This would've been in 1975, long after vaudeville and even after the Brothers' heyday in film. Too young to appreciate their puns, satire and wit, I wouldn't truly take notice until decades later when I'd catch a scene or two on some TV special giving tribute to classic comedies or comedians. Several years later I bought a DVD boxed set of their films which included just about everything but “Animal Crackers” and “Duck Soup.” My favorite film in this collection is still “A Night at the Opera.”

A week ago, while cleaning a house I indirectly inherited from my late grandmother, I was going through some old boxes hidden away in a back closet of the garage and found a number of hardbound books I didn't know about. Among them was the aforementioned book. No introduction, forward, afterward, or backward is provided. Nothing but letters, as the subtitle indicates, from and to this then aging comedian.

But they're a treat. Sometimes cynical but always amusing, Groucho corresponded with dozens of acquaintances, friends, and family both in and out of entertainment and politics. Many of his correspondents, the likes of which include some of my literary heroes – E. B. White, T. S. Eliot, and James Thurber – gave as good as they got. I suspect people had thicker hides back then than most do today. The insults these individuals dish out, some of them women, would be considered fighting words from strangers and perhaps even hostile if addressed to friends in the twenty-first century. This might not sound surprising until you realize some of these correspondents were initially strangers to Groucho. I wanted to include some excerpts, but there are simply too many to choose from. It's a quick read. (I read it over a weekend.) And I laughed out loud several times. Four out of five stars. PG

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