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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 14. July 21, 1971

the real marx

page break

the real marx

Drawing of Marx

Waiter: A little lentil soup today? Soup of the day?

Maybe a little fish...

Waiter: Lentil soup. No mercury.

That's your story. How do you know there's no mercury?

Waiter: No...

They lie, they just lie about it, they're good at it. If your don't believe so, look at those prices. This menu is as permanent as the pyramids, (peering at it across the table;) You know, unless you can see well it's advisable not to come in here at all. I can't see a goddam thing.

Waiter: We've got all kinds of hamburgers.

I know a fellow who always eats pancakes stuffed with crabmeat.

Waiter: That's the madras, that's very good also.

Nunnally Johnson.

Waiter: Oh, yeah. He was here two days ago.

He was huh? The sonofabitch, he never asked me... I'm going to have the steak tartare. It's the most expensive thing I see on there.

Waiter: Would you like everything in it? Anchovy?

Well, put something in it. And I'd like some salad.

Waiter: (leaving) Ok, Thank you.

(calling after him) You will be back?

Did you write most of Animal Crackers?

No, we had Kaufman and Ryskind. I added stuff to it, but every first class comedian is supposed to be able to do that. Otherwise you're just a schlump, you're not a comedian (to an interviewer) Are you a girl?

Am I a girl?

Yeah, a girl.

No. I'm not a girl.

I though it was about time we settled that.

Are you talking about my hair?

No, it was the moustache. Will you pass the pumpernickel, please?

I get the impression, Groucho that you don't approve of long hair and beards.

I'm indifferent to it, I don't really care. If a young man wants to wear a beard and a moustache.. Why do you wear it? Is it a revolt against the establishment?

No not exactly. I like the way it looks. Also, it's less trouble to shave in the morning.

Do you think the average girl prefers a man with a beard?

The girls that I know do.

Are they all degenerates?

In your day, Harpo had longer hair

No, he wore a wig.

But still, that was the appearance he gave to the public.

But he had no beard, no moustache.

You have a moustache. You have a famous moustache.

Yeah, I had.

I've always been curious about what you said to T.S. Eliot and what T.S. Eliot said to you, when you had dinner together.

Well, we spent a long evening talking. I don't remember...

About literature? About movies?

He wanted to talk about the movies, and I wanted to talk about his writing. And that's the way the evening went.

Have you managed to hold onto enough money so you don't have to worry?

Yeah. As a rule. I don't answer any question as personal as that.

Well, I figured if you didn't want to answer it you just wouldn't answer it.

Suppose I asked you how much money you had?

In my pocket right now?


Well, I'll tell you.

But I'm not interested.

That's why we're interviewing you and you're not interviewing us.

Well, so far all I've had is two slices of pumpernickel.

We're doing our best.

Why can't they make funny movies anymore? What did you have that they don't have?

Well, to begin with we had talent. Then we had very good writers. And we spent a year on each picture. Elliot Gould has just made four pictures in five months. How can they be any good? Especially since it's just two people in bed fucking. It takes more than that.

Still, even the films that are supposed to be funny - like Catch 22 - don't make you laugh. When I see a Marx Brothers movie I come out with my sides hurting a little bit, and the muscles in my face all tired from laughing.

You should take a doctor with you.

It doesn't really reach the point of pain, usually.

But don't you know them so well by this time that there's no more laughs left in them?

Absolutely false. I must know nearly every shot in them and I still roar with laughter The sequence at the end of Duck Soup, where with every cut you go through a whole set of costume changes

You mean in the war?

Yeah. I know it's coming every time I see the film, and I still love it.

Half the time I didn't know which side I was fighting on.

That's what was nice about it.

The kids are very smart. They've caught all these things. That's why I get so goddamn much fan mail. And I'm not crazy about that, because Harpo and Chico are gone, and I'm the only one left who can write. They couldn't write when they were living.

Waiter: One hamburger, (he presents it.)

That's all you brought, one hamburger? For three people.

Waiter; That's it. You'll have to share it.

No wonder the Chicanos are in trouble. I always thought that was a town in the mideast. You know, I have a two o'clock appointment with my doctor. If I get there at 2.15 I'll still be alive.

Many people who look at your films now see elements of surrealism and dada in them.

It's kind of an LSD effect I guess.

That wasn't exactly what I meant. I wondered whether, in 1935, the names of Cocteau or Jarry would have meant anything to you?

At that time, all I was reading was the New York Journal, with editorials by William Randolph Hearst.

So you say you weren't influenced by the classic surrealists.

I had never heard of them in those days. I was too busy making a living in vaudeville.

Of you whole life in show business, was that your favourite time, when you were in vaudeville?

I ate in cheap restaurants, lived in bum hotels, boarding houses...

And yet there's an atmosphere of half-glamour half nostalgia for vaudeville.

Au contraire. I was crazy about earning money and living well.


As soon as I found out it was better than being poor.

Then you weren't at all interested in art?

Not at all. Not in the pictures nor on the stage. I think I was a natural comedian, and I enjoyed doing that.

Did you ever think when you were doing it, even privately, that it was art?

I thought I had a good racket going. No, I never thought of it as art. I don't think the word art, which happens to be my son's name, has ever come up in my thoughts or my conversation. I didn't think there was any art involved. We were trying to be funny, and we were getting very good money for it.

Well, now that there's a vast body of literature dedicated to the proposition that at least the movies were art, have you changed you mind?

No, I still feel the same way. I think we were very lucky that, with a limited amount of talent, we fooled the public successfully for many years.

Why do you say 'fooled them'? The pictures were truly funny.

I didn't think so I wouldn't go. Oh, I like some of them I'll never forget; I think the best picture we made was Night at the Opera. We previewed it in San Francisco, and in those days they used to give the customers cards on which they would wrote what they thought of the picture. And one card we got just said, 'Youse guys are fulla shit.' Now do you expect me to have any respect for that, and call it art?

You may have to end up accepting the opinion of the critics, that whether you intended them to be art or not, they came out that way.

It was just luck. I didn't know that the youngsters were going to take these pictures up, and that we would become kind of movie gods to these kids. I was over at somebody's house the other night, and there were three girls there. Two of them were 16 and one was 18. And I looked in the other room where they were, and they were playing some Beatles records, and imitating me walking up and down the room! I think it was... like the kids are wearing beards and smoking stuff that they shouldn't smoke... I think our pictures were a protest, although we weren't aware of it, of the current situation.

I'm not quite clear on how you could have made pictures that were protests against the establishment without knowing it.

I was very dumb. I'm not too bright now, either.

Well, what did you think you were doing?

Making jokes.

But the jokes had to come from somewhere.

Oh, I knew my way around a joke. It's like a guy who builds a cement wall, he knows how to do it. I never had any writers, except in the movies. And then I had the best; Kaufman and Ryskind.

How about the scene where you and Harpo are on opposite sides of an empty mirror frame, and Harpo is pretending to be your reflection?

That was stolen from a classic German act that Leo McCarey had had in the back of his mind for years.

It was McCarey's idea?


Night at the Opera.


Who did the staging? For instance the stateroom scene in Night at the Opera?

Sam Wood was the director, but Tahlberg was actually the boss. Sam Wood would shoot a scene, we'd look at it the next morning in the projection room, and Thalberg would say, 'I don't like it, let's shoot it over again today.' He had the kind of money and control that he could say that.

As the scene developed, who were the ideas coming from?

All of us. Christ, we had been together for twenty years. Harpo was trying to fall asleep in his room, and Chico was holding him up. You couldn't write that scene. That scene just had to be done mechanically, that's all... if you don't mind, I have to go boys.

It's twenty after two.