Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales

Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales
Selected Writings of Groucho Marx
Updated and Expanded Edition
Edited by Robert S. Bader
Paperback 312 Pages
November 2011

Groucho Marx had a way with words. To me, his famous puns and one-liners are what made him so funny, more so than his funny walk and his black grease mustache and eyebrows. Most of you may not be familiar with Groucho's writings and this collection of short pieces serves as a great introduction.

Editor Robert S. Bader has compiled a varied collection of stories, editorial letters, gag pieces, advertisement copy and articles from Groucho's long writing career (1920s up until Marx's death in the 1970s). Groucho was published in Variety, Reader's Digest, the Hollywood Reporter, Saturday Evening Post, Chicago Tribune, among many other publications.

The book is very well-organized and put together. It contains a foreword from Groucho Marx's friend and interviewer Dick Cavett. Cavett has always been a great admirer of Groucho and his foreword shows his enthusiasm and devotion to Groucho's talent for wit and humor. There are several more pieces in the front matter including a foreword from Groucho himself, an introduction from the Editor as well as a few other pieces. What I learned from reading the front matter was that Groucho Marx, especially after the breakup of the Marx Bros., was passionate about his writing but also had a respect for other authors to realize that gave him some humility. He would joke about his books not becoming bestsellers and would write funny letters to his publisher about the negative critical response that one of his published books received. In the introduction, the editor quotes Groucho who had some interesting observations of the publishing industry and the realistic life of a book after publication. It still holds true today and I wish other authors would realize how fragile the life of a book really is!

The writings are grouped into 6 sections by theme and usually appear within each part chronologically. Bader does a wonderful job providing the reader context and history for each piece. There is a paragraph before each one that describes where the piece was published, the importance of when it was published (in relation to Groucho's theater and film career) and any information you may need about people, events or cultural history that would be relevant to the piece. These small introductions were very useful! Also, some of the pieces are accompanied by an image of how the original work looked in print.

I've always loved Groucho's one-liners and how he would follow one serious sentence with an absolutely ridiculous one. I just love how he twisted language that way. You don't get this as much in his writing but Groucho's wit and humor are still there. My favorite piece were the ones written in reaction to something happening during the time. The one that stood out to me was "What This Country Needs" which was a political gag piece in which Groucho "campaigns" for Vice Presidency. He extols the importance of good 5 cent cigars and plain ham sandwiches. This is my favorite part:

"But the nation does need, for one thing, a good ham sandwich. I refer to the simple, old-fashioned (now obsolete) single-decker ham sandwich which was a national institution until the druggist, with his passion for mixing things, ruined it for us. 
As an experiment, I went into a drugstore yesterday and ordered a ham sandwich. 
'Ham with what?', the clerk asked. 
'Coffee,' I told him.
'I mean,' he said, ' do you want the ham-and-tuna combination, the ham-sardine-and-tomato, or ham-bacon-and-broccoli? And will you have coleslaw or potato salad?'
'Just ham,' I pleaded. 'A plain ham sandwich, without even tomato or lettuce.' 
The young man look bewildered, then went over to the drug counter to consult with the pharmacist who glowered at me suspiciously until I fled. 
That's the sort of thing the country is up against."

I can just visualize Groucho ordering a ham sandwich, being stared down by the pharmacist and server and doing his stooped walk right out of the drug store! Ha. It's a funny joke and it demonstrates how overwhelmed Americans were with choices, as we are even more so today.

If you are a big Marx Bros. fan or just a Groucho Marx enthusiast, pick up this book! I wouldn't recommend it to someone who wasn't totally in love with the Marx brand of humor.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Applause Books for sending me a copy of the book to review!

Stay tuned because tomorrow I will have an interview with the editor Robert S. Bader!


  1. This is a must read for me. Along with Mark Twain and Samuel Goldwyn, I believe Groucho's quotes are my favourite. He definitely had a way with words.

  2. I enjoyed your review, Raquelle -- my fondness for the Marx brothers was increased significantly during the recent marathon on TCM, and Groucho was always my favorite. I have several of his "You Bet Your Life" compilations on DVD -- this book will be a nice addition to my Marx collection!

  3. This book is on my must read list. So glad you enjoyed it. Great review!


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