Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel: The Marx Brothers on Radio


For six months from late 1932 through early 1933, the Marx Brothers had their own radio situation comedy, Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel. (In reality, it was only Groucho and Chico, since anyone at all could make Harpo’s taxi horn honking sounds). Groucho played a shady divorce lawyer; Chico his low-life dirty tricks man.

The shows were made in the window between Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. By all reports it was an arduous grind turning them out, at the rate of one a week. The scripts, by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman, recycled some material from their first four movies, but they also generated some material used in their later ones. Furthermore — this sounds hard to believe but apparently it’s true — for the first few weeks the shows were broadcast from New York, though the Marxes were living in Hollywood. This meant a three day train trip in each direction…they were literally spending all week on trains. Eventually they had a special studio built in L.A. and moved past that craziness.

The show did well by all accounts, but the sponsor pulled out in early 1933 for reasons having more to do with the price of crude (they were underwritten by several oil companies) than the quality of the show. A few recordings exist — enough to tantalize you about what a television sit com for the Marx Brothers might have been like.

To learn about the history of vaudeville including comedy teams like the Marx Brothersconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold, and for more on comedy film history don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc




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