Today is Sir Arthur Sullivan’s birthday. I’ve already gone into raptures on this blog about G & S. They’re my favorite purveyors of musical theatre: you can read an earlier piece I wrote about them here.
Because we are in the middle of Marxfest, I thought it would be good to do a Marxian tie-in. There are actually several, but this one is the most obvious. Groucho was a major Gilbert and Sullivan fan throughout his adulthood. In 1960 he got to realize a life long ambition by playing Ko-Ko in a television production of The Mikado on The Bell Telephone Hour.
We can’t pretend he was the best Ko-Ko who ever walked the earth, but he was definitely the only one in those eyeglass frames. (And not incidentally, the only one to perform the role in front of millions of people). Nor can we pretend that The Mikado is the most progressive piece in the theatre in the world. Probably the only way to do it nowadays is with some judicious deconstruction. But you can’t pretend the spectacle is uninteresting:
From time to time Groucho liked to trot out his favorites from the canon. We just saw a great clip of him singing “Titwillow” with Dick Cavett a few nights ago in the Marxes on Television program. Check it out!
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And 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 amazon.com etc etc etc
Groucho was still reasonably spry at the time. It’s the last time he did bits of his Captain Spaulding dance.