Don’t Marry a Marx Brother! (1935) 🇺🇸
Audiences have hysterics, while wives become hysterical!
by Nanette Kutner
This is a story about some crazy people. In other words, the Marx Brothers, who treat everybody with equal and impartial disrespect. Whether he be executive, co-worker or relative, each is in line for a practical joke at one time or another.
The Marxes are natural comedians. They never quit. That same erratic brand of tomfoolery which has successfully, year after year, sent audiences into delighted hysterics, is applied around the house. So, at home, they can be a trial.
Recently, Ruth, Groucho’s wife, gave an elaborate dinner party. Among the guests were two whom Groucho had never met.
Prior to their arrival, Ruth warned him concerning his behavior. “I want to make a nice impression. They’re very important people,” admonished Mrs. Groucho Marx.
She really should have known better. Such a remark addressed to any of the Marx clan, will, with unfailing certainty, defeat its purpose. Dignity to them is like raw human flesh to hungry cannibals. They devour it whole.
Unaware of an impending bomb, Mrs. Groucho dressed for the party. And she put on an outfit, which, from Hollywood reports, was considered the latest fashion — lounging-dinner pajamas. Except for their wide trousered legs they resembled an evening gown — silver cloth and satin with a low-cut back.
After spinning about for her husband’s approval, and admonishing him to “Please hurry up and dress; they’ll all be here any minute!”, she left him to greet the company.
An half hour later, Groucho made his appearance. At the moment Ruth was in the pantry, supervising the cocktails. She heard sudden and loud laughter. No one needed to tell her. A Marx was up to his tricks.
She ran into the living-room. There she saw Groucho confronting their guests, attired in a short smoking jacket, and the blue-and-white striped trousers of his sleeping pajamas.
“Hello,” he blandly called. “If you can wear your pajamas, I guess I can wear mine!”
For the remainder of that evening, he did so. Episodes of like dizziness are no uncommon events. When they motored to Agua Caliente, Ruth, who loves to dance, and claims Groucho would be good at it, if he only tried, asked him to take her dancing. With an unusual display of willingness for one who habitually loathes such a pastime, Groucho consented.
But once seated on the edge of the dance floor, he refused to budge from the table. Fox-trot after fox-trot was played and he stubbornly stuck to his chair. However, when the orchestra struck up a tango, Groucho, who had never, in his life, danced one, jumped to his feet as he shouted, “Ah, that’s what I’ve been waiting for!” and whirled an astonished mate about the room.
None of the other guests tangoed. To his joy, no one else rose. This rare opportunity for exhibitionism could not be overlooked, not by a Marx brother. Holding Ruth at arm’s length, Groucho stared soulfully into her eyes as he performed a burlesque version of the dance. Mortified, she begged him to quit and quietly return to their table. His answer was a devilish grin. So, uncomfortably conscious of spectators convulsed by his antics, Ruth Marx was obliged to finish the number. She is convinced that it was the longest tango ever played.
Groucho fails to simplify the servant problem. Once, when their trunks arrived from the Coast, and a new maid, not knowing how much to tip, asked him what she should give the expressman, he airily suggested she give him the piano.
He answers the telephone himself, but disguises his voice, pretending to be a colored maid, and not a bright one. After discovering the caller’s identity, Groucho, according to his mood, does one of three things: either he swears Mr. Marx fled the city, or he solemnly assures a shocked party that Mr. Marx just passed away; on occasion he becomes extremely polite, promises to fetch Mr. Marx, pauses, takes a deep breath, and then continues in his own voice. Servants do not like this. It gets them nervous. The business of success makes it impossible for the Marxes to live in one locality. Actors out of work can loaf by the year on Forty-seventh Street, but box-office names must travel wherever their efforts send them. When the Marx Brothers had established themselves on Broadway, Groucho bought a house in Great Neck. No sooner did he settle his family there than Hollywood called. They leased the Great Neck residence and departed for California, where Groucho invested in another home. Then radio demands meant New York again, and now A Night at the Opera has swept them back to California.
In this picture the Marxes did something never attempted by Hollywood comedians. Before filming the production they took it on the road as a legitimate show. “Because,” says Groucho, “no matter what we may think is funny, we can’t really tell until we try it out. We let the audience decide upon our gags.”
Supporting the Marxes in “A Night at the Opera” are those three Broadway singers, Alan Jones, Kitty Carlisle and Walter King. And, of course, Margaret Dumont, the perennial butt of their screen jokes. For the past nine years she has patiently stood for their on and off-stage humor. Groucho loves to pull chairs from under leading ladies. So Margaret Dumont can sympathize with the Marx friends and relatives.
Prior to the Great Neck days, the Marxes terrified their Broadway colleagues. It was a complicated job. One of them would date an unsuspecting friend. This being the prohibition era, another brother suggested visiting a speakeasy, and all drove down deserted streets to a warehouse near the East River. If the victim timidly inquired whether they knew where they were going, the Marxes quieted his fears. Arriving at the warehouse, they knocked at a door, flung open by a shirtless gentleman resembling Mr. Eugene O’Neill’s “Hairy Ape.” Matters were made more enticing by his right arm which brandished a thick club. As soon as he gruffly ushered them into a small ante-chamber, the lights went out, giving the Marxes opportunity to run into an adjoining room, where, from a transom, they could watch what happened.
Their friend was left alone with a supposedly crazy man, who shouted the police were coming, - and waving the club, ordered him to make believe he was a lot of people. Shaking, the friend obeyed, dancing and singing until the Marxes were sufficiently amused and allowed him to escape.
Afterwards they would tell him the truth. The warehouse belonged to a man they knew, and, for his efforts, they paid the dramatic caretaker a salary which went towards sending his son through college I
At a party given by Sam Harris, Groucho left the room and surreptitiously covered his fingers with burnt cork. Returning, he suggested an “original’’ game called, “Pinchy-Winchy.” “We all sit in a circle on the floor. And saying ‘Pinchy-Winchy,’ I pinch the cheeks of the man next to me. He, in turn, pinches the cheeks of the person next to him, and so on. Then we go to someone else’s house, pick up more people, and do it again!” explained Groucho.
Of course, the man seated near Groucho unknowingly came away with a black face. When the group migrated to another house his face became’ blacker. And he could not understand why the rest kept laughing at what seemed to him a dull game.
During their first Hollywood sojourn, the Groucho Marxes planned a harmless evening at the movies, and they left, in their home, a guest, Arthur Sheekman, who was writing material for Groucho’s radio programs.
Hardly had they gone when “the telephone rang and a man, saying he represented “The Southern California Water Supply Company,” informed Mr. Sheekman that, by morning, all water would be shut off, and suggested he fill the tubs. When Ruth and Groucho returned, Mr. Sheekman had gallantly filled every available vessel.
It was not until late the following day that they, along with other residents of the section, discovered this alarm had been one of Zeppo Marx’s, ideas.
The average in-law problems are nothing compared to the daily entanglements facing Ruth Marx. The brothers take turns telephoning her, and in falsetto tones, successfully imitate a despised lady cousin.
And while “The Cocoanuts” was running on Broadway, brother-in-law Chico put over one of his jokes. Ruth had sent a friend of hers, a dignified lady, backstage. Chico kindly offered to see that the visitor received a good orchestra seat. Writing something on the back of her card, and telling her to present it to the manager, he bowed graciously. The lady, never glancing at Chico’s penciled scrawl, handed the card to the manager, who, upon reading it, furiously ordered her out of the theatre. It was months before she would speak to Ruth. Up to date, Chico has refused to reveal the contents of his message.
Harpo, whose silence has proved so golden, is the brother with but one trick. He performs it in his usual thorough fashion. He finds it difficult to remember names. Being a bachelor he has a series of lady friends, but whether the current sweetheart is American or foreign born, actress, writer or heiress, to Harpo, she is Miss Benson. And wherever he takes her, she is known as Miss Benson. This involves matters. Ruth, inviting him and his current girl-friend to a party, is obliged to introduce the guests to a Miss Benson, although, in that very month, she may have had them meet half a dozen ladies bearing the same name.
No doubt the Marxes inherit their gift for nonsense. Al Shean of that famous team “Gallagher and Shean,” is an uncle. Their father too, was noted for his repartee.
I remember talking to the elder Marx, and commenting on the smartness of his attire. He winked in appreciation as he said, “Why shouldn’t I look stylish! I have on Harpo’s hat, Groucho’s coat, Chico’s gloves, and I’m carrying Zeppo’s cane!”
Zeppo, who has given up the screen to turn his talents to being an author-and-actor agent, was the first Marx to meet Ruth. He invited her to watch their act. At the stage door she was introduced to Groucho, who carried a guitar plus numerous packages. Upon meeting Ruth, his initial words were, “I think I’ll get married so I can have someone to carry my packages.”
Ten weeks later they were married.
Groucho bought an automobile and they took a motor-trip honeymoon, driving from the west to keep a vaudeville engagement in the east. He neglected to inform his bride of one drawback. Until that moment he had never driven a car.
For awhile the jaunt went smoothly, but, reaching the mountains, Ruth held her breath as the auto, with uncontrollable speed scooted downhill. Her groom, not knowing what to do, had slipped the gears into neutral!
The car had no license plates. Groucho declared they would buy them when they reached New York. Enroute they were arrested and fined.
Groucho remained firm. “We’ll get them in New York. We’ve been pinched once. It can’t happen again.”
But it did. The place was Canton, Ohio. Ruth waited outside while Groucho was hauled into the station house. She waited and waited, only to discover that the authorities had thrown her groom in jail.
Groucho loves to amuse his children. Just before bedtime he tells Miriam, the youngest, such mirth-provoking stories that, afterwards, Ruth has difficulty persuading her to sleep.
And when the Marxes were engaged for a chain broadcast Groucho wanted to try out the material at home. It was to this scheme that Ruth put a stop. Her argument was sound. “We couldn’t listen to the same program all week, and on Sunday nights, too!”
But she must have smiled when she said that, for summing it up, she admits that the jokes and laughter of a husband and in-laws, although occasionally exasperating, are preferable to the troubles of the average complaining relative.
Source: Modern Screen, January 1936