Today is the birthday of James Joyce (1882-1941)…which puts me in mind of a little anecdote I came across recently in The Groucho Letters. The correspondence is with New York Post writer Leonard Lyons, who in a 1960 missive relates that he’d been communicating with Thornton Wilder, who was himself something of a Joyce scholar. Lyons quotes Wilder as saying:
“Re: Groucho and Finnegan’s Wake — I have long thought that he was in the book. Weren’t the Marx Brothers once in a skit about Napoleon? I seem to remember them wearing tricornes, etc. Anyway, on pages 8 and 9 there is a visit to the Wellington Museum at Waterloo and I read…’This is the three lipoleum Coyne Grouching down in the living detch.'”
Lyons goes on to write to Groucho,”…The three lipoleum Coyne must be a reference to the Napoleon-type hats. And Grouching makes you a verb. On the authority of Thornton Wilder, the foremost Joyce scholar of the world, you can be assured that you are in Finnegan’s Wake.”
To which Groucho quips, “…Let Joyce be unconfined! ”
Groucho goes on to wonder if Joyce or someone he knew could have seen I’ll Say She Is, the show in which he and his brothers had worn the distinctive headgear.
There’s more to the exchange, but hey, this is about books. Get off this blog and go read some! Three are alluded to in this post (including Gimme a Thrill: The Story of I’ll Say She). These ought to keep you busy for a while! Especially Finnegan’s Wake! Come to think of it, Joyce could have written quite a vehicle for the Marx Brothers if everyone had just kept an open mind!