The Essential Groucho

I've finally gotten around to reading The Essential Groucho: Writings by, for, and about Groucho Marx, Stefan Kanfer 1990 book of fine grouchovian material that contains at least five guaranteed laughs on every page.

The book opens with a series of classic sketches from the radio plays, plays and films, lightly introduced with context about each release, but focusing mainly on the transcendant moments of pure Groucho -- the Tootsie Frootsie Ice-a-Cream, the address to the college administrators, the war council of Freedonia.

Then into the best of Groucho's correspondence, including the notorious and outrageous letter to Warner Brothers about "A Night in Casablanca" (including the ensuing volleys with the increasingly puzzled studio lawyers) and the warm and collegial letters between Groucho and TS Eliot (who was willing to make an exception to his anti-Semitism in Groucho's case).

The next section, Freelancing, is filled with newspaper editorials and articles written by (and sometimes about) Groucho, and it's here that I found myself reading a lot of material that I'd never seen before, placed in context by Kanfer's snappy little intros.

The book closes with a selection of howlers from You Bet Your Life (To a meteorologist: "Any little squalls running around at home with their barometers dropping?") -- starting with one-liners, then short excerpts, then long, sustained comic bits where Groucho seemed to catch fire.

I'm a huge Groucho fan, and I've been collecting books, video and audio of his performances since I was a teenager. He was a true blade when it came to verbal swordfighting, and The Essential Groucho is a fantastic little anthology of some truly impressive material, whether you're a Groucho novice or an old hand. The Essential Groucho: Writings by, for, and about Groucho Marx


  1. “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

  2. My favorite Groucho one-liner was one from “you bet your life” that was ultimately kept off the air by the censors of the time.

    Woman in audience explaining why she has nine children: “Because I love my husband!”
    Groucho: “And I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while!”

  3. And there’s the (possibly apocryphal) story that, in the 1950s on a tour that took him to Berlin, he climbed on the rubble of the Führersbunker and did a little dance….so he could say he’d done the Charleston on Hitler’s grave.

  4. @ #5 – I don’t laugh out loud at much I read these days, but I almost woke my wife after reading that one.

  5. GM: Not that I care, but where is your husband?
    MD: Why, he’s dead.
    GM: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.
    MD: I was with him til the very end.
    GM: No wonder he passed away.
    MD: I held him in my arms, and kissed him.
    GM: Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.

    Duck Soup @2:40

  6. I would (have) love(d) to see Groucho Marx and Jon Stewart in an “argument”. OK Marx is 10X funnier, no doubt — but Stewart is a GREAT verbal battler. He’s be a great straight man foil to Groucho.

    Stewart has verbally wrestled with a lot of the right wing word machines and done better than most of them at their own game. It would be great to hear him ‘battle’ someone his worthy better, and for pleasure.

  7. Your proposition may be good,
    But let’s have one thing understood,
    Whatever it is, I’m against it.
    And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it,
    I’m against it.

    Enough said.

  8. Oh my, this got added to my library queue about ten seconds after I saw the title. I’m really in the need of some good laughs and Groucho has always been a favorite of mine.

  9. I’ve read every one of Groucho’s books and most of the other books about Groucho. Is this primarily a collection of previously-published material?

    Favorite Groucho P.S.
    “Did you ever notice that Peter O’Toole is a great double-phallic name?”

    Favorite Groucho quote:
    “The money’s not important so long as I can get it.”

  10. Since I haven’t seen this one yet, I can with a clear conscience state that the best book I’ve read on the Marxes is Joe Adamson’s Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo. (I may have Harpo and Chico backwards, but who doesn’t?) Like his Tex Avery book, reading the book is like viewing the great work of the artists he talks about. It sounds like this would be a great supplement to that one. And I need a new copy of Adamson’s book, because I’ve read mine into three pieces.

  11. Groucho Marx is one of my favorite people in the history of humanity. He was undeniable a genius, and he never said something not worth repeating.

    For some reason, this is probably my favorite quote of his:
    “Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”

  12. “Hello, I must be going!
    I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going.
    I’m glad I came, but just the same I must be going.” — Animal Crackers

    I love Groucho… but I do have to admit that it was a mistake to buy the album “The Original Voice Tracks from Their Greatest Movies”. Yes, it has some bits from the movies but it has horrible narration in between (no fault of the narrator Gary Owens).

    And now that we’re into the full swing of the consumption season (Halloween being over):

    “You can’t fool me, there’s no such-a thing as a Sanity Clause” — A Night At The Opera

  13. “I’ll stay a week or two
    I’ll stay the summer through
    But now I’m telling you
    I must be going.”

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