MARXFEST MEMORIES, ALREADY!

The Party of the First Part: The Marxfest Committee cuts the ribbon on Marxfest at the site of the Algonquin Round Table
The Party of the First Part: The Marxfest Committee cuts the ribbon on Marxfest at the site of the Algonquin Round Table

Marxfest Memories?!” you ask, “How can you have made any? You’re only on day six!”

But much can happen in six days. By the sixth day of Creation, God had already made everything, the rest was so much vacation. Fortunately we have much more left to us in the remaining four weeks of Marxfest, but we did front-load some humdingers, and I wanted to share some of what’s happened thus far.

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On Friday I gave my talk on the early days of the Marxes to a full house at Coney Island USA as part of the Congress of Unusual People. I’ll be posting the full text of my talk here on Travalanche later this week.

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As part of the program, Sarah Moskowitz sang songs from the early career of the Marx Brothers, including “Somebody’s Sweetheart I Want to Be”, “Darling Nellie Gray”, and “Peasie Weasie”. Here she is joined by her musical partner Sami and her adorable little daughter.

The Committee and Cavett
The Committee and Cavett

Sunday was a night I to be remembered. At the Marx Brothers on Television program, Marx Brothers historian Rob Bader presented rare clips from his upcoming Shout Factory DVD. It’s not out until August, so consider this early buzz; we’re certain to revisit the topic. Much memorable stuff. Groucho and Jackie Gleason doing a version of the Gallagher and Shean song in 1967. A section of Chico’s sit com College Bowl (once thought completely lost). A very early (“pre-duck”) episode of You Bet Your Life in which Groucho KILLS. Lots of weird commercials and variety show bits starring Harpo. A Chico and Harpo piano duo from the Colgate Comedy Hour from 1952.

Then the Man of the Hour, Mr. Dick Cavett strode on stage and told many great stories about Groucho, whom he had written some jokes for as a young Tonight Show writer, and later presented several times on his program (and knew personally offscreen as well). The most moving film clip of the night was of Cavett and Groucho singing Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Titwillow” from The Mikado (Groucho had starred in a tv version in 1960). Groucho on the Cavett Show was a loose cannon, his Marxian anarchy combining with the possible onset of senility for some truly great television. “What is he going to do?” you constantly wonder, and he does stretch the envelope mighty far, often walking over to the audience, or beginning long rambling stories just when it is time for Dick to cut to a commercial. Mr. Cavett denied it, but it’s there on film, you can see it in his eyes: he was terrified.

At any rate, I was thrilled to meet Mr. Cavett, and he even remembered me from last week’s Halli Casser-Jayne Show. And now I have shaken the hand that shook Groucho’s. I will never wash it again.

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Then yesterday, a rare privilege. Anyone who’s read books about the Marx Brothers knows the story of Groucho’s first audition. I told the story myself in my Friday talk. How Groucho saw an ad in the New York World, then ran 60 blocks downtown to take part in an audition on a roof and thus was cast in the Leroy Trio. Rob Bader thought he’d try to find the exact spot. Discounting a bad address Groucho gave once in an interview Bader looked through old issues of the World until he could find the ad. The process took many years. Decades in fact. He eventually did find the ad in 2008 and learned the address. Yesterday he brought us to it….and it turns out to be on top of Rolf’s Restaurant at the corner of 22nd and 3rd! More (much more) on this, as well as some shocking revelations about the fate of Gene Leroy will be in Bader’s forthcoming book. Meantime, Rolf’s is likely to become a holy shrine for Marx fanatics. Maybe it doesn’t look like much to you. To me, it looks like the launchpad to the moon.

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