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What made Groucho Marx a great writer


Groucho was a prolific writer with “a genuine intellect,” according to Cavett, despite not finishing public school. His proudest achievement was having a book of his letters published at the Library of Congress.


- [Dick] He was a genuine writer, a genuine intellect.

He was such a literate man, such a well read man.

His grammar, his language was artful and perfect.

- If I'd have gone to college, I'd have been a writer much faster in my life and probably a much better one, because I wasn't sure of grammar, or English, or anything else.

- You're better educated than a lot of college people, you know that?

- I'm not sure of that, no. - I think you, 'cause you've read all your life and you've made a big point.

- Yes I have read a lot. - Of educating yourself.

- I was one of the first contributors to 'The New Yorker' magazine, under my name, which is Julius Henry Marx.

I was much prouder of that than I was in any play I've ever been in, or in Vaudeville, or in movies, or in any place else.

I always wanted to be a writer.

- [Dick] Yeah. I hate to think of you being solely a writer though, because then Captain Spaulding would've been played by Lloyd Nolan or something, it wouldn't be the same. (audience laughs) - [Dick] Groucho pretty much avoided the legendary Algonquin Round Table of witty people.

It didn't appeal to him somehow.

I can sort of remember his saying they often came with prepared lines, and he said, 'It was sort of like opening an oyster and finding a cultured pearl.'

You're very highly regarded among the literati.

It's not that you write well for an actor, but that you write well for anybody. - I wrote for an actor a few weeks ago, but he didn't come on.

(audience laughs) Well, I am, I guess what you'd call a self-made man, which is a sad description of a man.

You know, I didn't finish public school.

- [Dick] One of Groucho's greatest honors was when the Library of Congress asked for his collected letters.

That meant everything to him.

- Do you know that I have a book in the Congressional Library in Washington?

Did you know that?

- Well. - It's a book of letters that I wrote. - Yeah, your book of letters.

- Letters, that were, you're included in the letters, and Fred Allen, and Thurber, and T.S. Eliot, and Benchley, and practically every notable in America.

- I didn't actually get into the book but I have letters from you. - But.

- I just missed the book. - I have letters from you which are much better than mine.

- Mm. (audience laughs) - I may do another book on your letters.

- Oh. (audience laughs) I wish you'd told me. - But I was flattered, I was on one of the night shows, I don't wanna mention the name of the show, it was the Johnny Carson Show.

(audience laughs) I had mentioned that I had written a book with all these notable people in, and the next day I got a letter from the head of the Congressional Library in Washington, and they asked me if they could have the original letters, which I sent to 'em.

And if any time you're in Washington, you go to the Congressional Library, and you can read my book there.

And it's 2 cents a day, by the way.

(audience laughs) This is true.

I'm probably the only actor in the last 40, 50 years, that had a book in the Congressional Library, and well, I'm very proud of that.

And they say, you know what they say?

Self praise is no praise.

Well, let's forget this and get onto something dirty or obscene.

(audience laughs) (jazz music)


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