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