Marxist Essays

September 28, 2017

Ghostwriters in the Sky

Herbert Ashley. Arthur Sheekman. Ken Englund. Norman Krasna. Robert Dwan. Hal Kantor. Leslie Leiber. Richard J. Anobile. Hector Arce. No Pulitzer Prize winners on that list. All good writers, but none of them are household names. Would any of them even be considered well known? The single thing these writers share in common is that they were all credited collaborators on written work with Groucho Marx. Groucho loved writers and he treasured them as friends. He longed to be respected for his written work, and was more pleased by praise for his writing than he was by a good review of his performance in a play or a film. Yet questions about the authorship of Groucho’s written work persist. And to a certain degree, he has himself to blame. But there is no doubt that Groucho was a good writer. The recent publication of Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage has revived interest in Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales, the anthology of Groucho’s writing that I edited. It was first published in 1993 and a revised edition with additional material was published in 2011. I’ve recently received a few e-mails asking whether […]
September 25, 2017

Maxine

Like many other Marx Brothers fans, I first got to know Maxine Marx shortly after her book, Growing Up with Chico, was published. I had seen her deliver a lecture at Queens College in 1977, but my long friendship with her would begin later. My old pal Charlie Kochman took the initiative and called Maxine’s office at Cunningham & Walsh, an advertising agency where she was employed for many years casting television commercials. Charlie made an appointment and went to see her, his copy of Growing Up with Chico in hand. He was given some papers to fill out and finally got to see Maxine, who promptly asked if he had a headshot and a resume. She assumed he was there to audition for a commercial. She yelled at him for wasting her time, but happily signed his book. When the three of us met for lunch a short time later, I picked on Charlie a little for wasting a busy casting agent’s time. Maxine loved it. For the next 25 years Maxine Marx was part of my life. And she never got tired of talking about the Marx Brothers. Sometimes I would be driving her somewhere and she would […]
September 25, 2017

The Marx Brothers: From Vaudeville to Hollywood

This essay was first published in the 2016 Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release, The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (Restored Blu-ray Edition.) It also appears in the 2017 UK edition of the release, The 4 Marx Brothers at Paramount. I. While the Marx Brothers were onstage performing The Cocoanuts at the Lyceum Theatre in Rochester, New York, on October 6, 1927, history was being made 330 miles away in New York City. That evening at Warners’ Theatre in Times Square, the premiere of the Warner Bros. talking motion picture adaptation of the hit Broadway play, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, redefined the movie business overnight. The silent film as an art form essentially died that evening. It was a slow death, as the other studios were not all quick to adapt. But the studios that did embrace sound movies quickly began to look for actors who could speak. The Four Marx Brothers could—and three of them would. Sound films had been in development almost since the invention of motion pictures, and it was apparent by 1925 that it was just a matter of time before one of the many systems finally worked well enough to put the idea over. […]
September 25, 2017

Making The Marx Brothers TV Collection

The idea of creating a collection of Marx Brothers television appearances for home video release predates the dawn of the DVD era by several years. It took more than twenty years to get the collection released, but the numerous issues and delays allowed for much more material to be located and included. The final result has a much broader scope than what was originally planned. Rare and unknown footage of the Marx Brothers came from a variety of sources, and a lot of it was unknown when the project began. Much had been written about the Marx Brothers during the renaissance in their popularity in the 1970s. Some of the well known television shows with the Marx Brothers were frequently mentioned – The Incredible Jewel Robbery on the General Electric Theater, or Groucho’s turn in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado on the Bell Telephone Hour, for example. But it was simply not possible to see any of this material at that time. There had been a heavily edited version of The Incredible Jewel Robbery available for home use on film, but that was an exception, and hardy a substitute for seeing the whole show. I began trying to find unusual […]
September 25, 2017

The Marx Brothers on Television

This essay was first published in the 2014 Shout! Factory DVD release, The Marx Brothers TV Collection. “I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book.” – Groucho Marx, August 1950 By the time the Marx Brothers’ last movie, Love Happy, premiered in 1949, the brothers had been working on stage, screen and radio for nearly fifty years. Television had arrived, but the middle-aged Marx Brothers – Groucho 59, Harpo 61 and Chico 62 – were not poised to take on the new medium – at least not collectively. But the end of their film career was perfectly timed for a collision with the birth of television. When the Marx Brothers first announced their retirement from the screen in 1941, they meant it. Their last M-G-M film, The Big Store was hardly a fitting farewell and did not invoke many memories of their best work at Paramount a decade earlier. By 1942 the brothers had all made other plans – Chico would front an orchestra, Groucho would try his hand at radio while doing some writing, and Harpo would raise a family and work when […]
September 25, 2017

You Bet Your Life: The Lost Episodes

This essay was first published in the 2003 Shout! Factory DVD release, You Bet Your Life: The Lost Episodes. “Here he is . . . the one . . . the only . . . GROUCHO!” Between 1947 and 1961 that phrase began 528 episodes of You Bet Your Life starring Groucho Marx. By any standard the number is astounding. It’s a very rare feat today for a show to reach even 300 episodes. To put it in perspective, there were 270 episodes of Cheers and 251 episodes of M*A*S*H.  Add them up and there are still seven more episodes of You Bet Your Life. The Simpsons (313 episodes in their first fourteen seasons) would need nine more seasons to match Groucho, who, incidentally was seventy years old during the final season of You Bet Your Life. Let’s see what Homer Simpson looks like at seventy. At the start You Bet Your Life did not seem like it would be a long-running hit show. By 1947 Groucho had already been in show business for over forty years and his long career seemed to be reaching its end. The Marx Brothers had retired from the movies, and Groucho was working mostly […]
September 25, 2017

You Bet Your Life: The Best Episodes

This essay was first published in the 2004 Shout! Factory DVD release, You Bet Your Life: The Best Episodes. Thirty years before David Letterman brought the concept of stupid human tricks into the public consciousness a man went on national television, put the valve of an automobile tire inner tube to his lips and blew into it until it exploded. This might have seemed like something out of the ordinary for most television shows but on You Bet Your Life Groucho Marx talked to people like that every week for 14 years. But where did a guest like this come from? He didn’t just happen to be in the studio audience with his inner tube. The truth is that – all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding – You Bet Your Life was quite well planned. As early as 1952, after only two seasons of You Bet Your Life on television, TV Guide ran an article called, Does Groucho Marx Really Ad Lib? It stated that, “Because of the uproarious dialogue and rapid-fire gags, some have the idea that prepared comedy material is used by the star of You Bet Your Life.” Producer John Guedel was interviewed for the article, which […]