otrperk.com :: transcripts


An Evening With Groucho 2A

I had a great friend in England. His name was T.S. Eliot. The Poet. Now, there are people out here that might not know that he was a famous English poet. As a matter of fact he was born in St. Louis and moved to England. He wrote me a letter, and he said "I'd like a picture of you with a cigar on it." You know, one of these. So I sent him a picture of me, and he returned it. He said "I want a picture of you smoking the cigar." So I sent him one smoking a cigar, and we got very well acquainted. And I had read up on T.S. Eliot. 'Murder In The Cathedral' and a few things like that, and I thought I'd impress him. And all he wanted to talk about was the Marx Brothers. That's what happens when you come from St. Louis. Well, he was a wonderful man, he was a great friend of mine, but eventually he died. They had a great memorial, and mrs. Eliot had asked me to go on the stage and say a few words about her late husband. So I went in at around four o'clock in the afternoon, and the stage door was locked so I went through the front of the theater, and I walked down the aisle. It was stitchy in darkness in there and I couldn't see anything. I don't see too well anyhow. Is there anybody out front? At any rate I finally felt my way down to the front row, and I sat down. And I'm now sitting on - I can't think of his name - it'll come to me in a couple of hours. Did I sing 'Oh, How That Woman Could Cook'? No, it was true, I was sitting...sitting on Kenneth Tynan's lap. It was dark. So he says "Take the next seat." So I took the next seat, and I'm now sitting on Laurence Olivier's lap. He says "What are you doing here, Groucho?" I said "Well, I thought.. you know I was invited by Mrs. Eliot to come over here. I thought I'd take a look at the theater." He says "Why don't you get up on the stage, and show us what you're gonna do?" I said "Well, I don't plan on doing anything here." And other than that, with all the actors you've got here. You had all the Shakespearean actors in England, and I was an old vaudeville ham. So he says "Well get up and say something, you've gotta do something for Mrs. Eliot." So I went up on the stage, and this came to me, while I was standing on the stage, with Olivier down front and Kenneth Tynan. It's a tough audience for an old vaudeville actor. It was a story about a man, who was condemned to be hanged, and the priest had said to him "Have you any last words to say, before we spring the trap?". And the man says "Yes", he says, "I don't think this damn thing is safe." I did a bond tour during the Second World War. It was Hope and Crosby and Cagney - most of the big stars. Desi Arnaz. Yeah, he was on it. We were raising money, and we played Boston and Philadelphia and most of the big cities. And we got to Minneapolis. There wasn't any big theater to play there, so we did our show in a railroad station. Then I told the audience, that I knew a girl in Minneapolis. She was also known in St. Paul, she used to come over to visit me. She was know as the Tail Of Two Cities. I didn't sell any more bonds, but eh...they didn't allow me to appear anymore. There were times when I used to wear a mustache, and there were times when I didn't. I got tired of wearing it, and I would take it off, because if I didn't have a mustache on, people didn't bother me in the street. Then one night I went to the Wintergarden, and Houdini were appearing there, and I was sans mustache. That means 'without'. Gotta watch yourself at the Wintergarden. Anyway, I'm sitting in the second row, and Houdini is now doing a trick. He would take some needles and put them in his mouth, and a spool of thread, and then he would thread the needles. So he asked for a volunteer out of the audience, and who do you think went up on the stage. And he opened his mouth wide. "I wanna prove that there is no trickery to this trick. What do you see in there?" And I said "Pyorrhea!" and left the stage. You know Berlin wrote our first real Broadway play. It was "Cocoanuts". And George Kaufman hated music. Even when he wrote a Pulitzer Prize play with Morrie Ryskind, he didn't like songs, because they got in the way of the jokes. So, this got Berlin angry, and he went home that night, and he wrote a new song. He said "You didn't like the song in Cocoanuts, I wrote a new song for you." And he played it for Kaufman, and Kaufman said "It stinks!", and this is it. Sing it, you fool! Let's hear it. Da, da, dah, da. Not for just a day. Not for just a year. Not for just a week, (or something) But always. Berlin and I were very friendly, and Harry Ruby and I surprised him. We sang one of his songs, which he hated. It was a song from the First World War, and the song went like this: Down below, (rat-a-ta-da-ta-da) down below (wow-u-wow-u-wow-u) Sat the Devil talking to his son, who wanted to go Up above, up above. He said 'It's too slow for me down here', and so, The Devil said 'Listen lad, Listen to your dear old dad'. 'You stay down here where you belong. The folks above you, they don't know right from wrong. To please their kings they've all gone off to war, But not a one of them knows what they're fighting for. Way up above they say, that I'm a devil and I'm bad, But the kings up there are bigger devils than your dad. They're breaking the hearts of mothers, They're making butchers out of brothers. You'll find more hell up there, Than there is down here below. We were sitting at a table, and Ruby was at the piano and Berlin called me over. He says "If you ever have an urge to sing that song again, if you'll get in touch with me, I'll give you a hundred dollars not to sing it." But I still sing it, because I think it has four wonderful lines in there. And that it applies today just as much as it did forty years ago. They're breaking... Have you got a key, you're not using? They're breaking the hearts of mothers, They're making butchers out of brothers. You'll find more hell up there, Than there is down here below. I knew a fellow named Otto Kahn, who was a very rich man, and he gave a lot of money to the Metropolitan Opera House at one time. And his close friend was Marshall P. Wilder, who was a hunchback. And they were walking down Fifth Avenue, and they came to a synagogue, and Kahn turned to Wilder and he said "Marshall, you know I used to be a Jew." Marshall said "Really? I used to be a hunchback." Now we get to W.C. Fields. He was a friend of mine. He was a great drunk, and if they had had marijuana in those days, I'm sure he'd have been using it. He lived in San Fernando Valley, and he always carried a bee-bee gun. And he sat in the bushes and when the tourists would go past, he would shoot at them. One day he allowed me in his house, and he had a ladder there, and it led up to an attic, and in this attic he had 50000 dollars worth of whisky. Un-opened cases of whisky. And I said to him "Bill, what have you got that booze there for? We haven't had prohibition in twenty-five years." He said "It may come back." Fields was doing a picture, many years ago, with a kid named Baby Leroy, and in those days you had to have a nurse on the set. This was one of the rules in the movie industry. So the nurse had to go to the bathroom. Even nurses do that occasionally, and Fields said "Look, I'll take care of the kid, you just got to the bathroom." And when she had gone, he took a bottle of booze out of his back pocket, and he got Baby Leroy dead drunk. They had to close the show for...the movie for three days, until he'd sobered up. There used to be a girl actress in Hollywood. She was an actress, a very pretty one, too, and she always wore an anklet, and had it around here, and on this anklet it said "Heaven's above". She did quite some business with that anklet. You want me to leave the stage? Hamlisch: I think we'll both go, yeah. Then I'll go off.