A NIGHT AT THE (SOAP) OPERA – Act III

When last we met, leaving our three stowaways on the good ship Lollipoop, Tomasso had cut the beards off of three Russian aviators, and he, Fiorello and Ricardo had assumed their identities….or so you were left to assume. But you don’t have to take my word for it….

Having escaped from the speakers’ platform outside City Hall with plainclothes detective Henderson in pursuit, the stowaways and Driftwort take refuge in a nearby hotel, where they have a flat and retire. In the a.m., they have room service send up their breakfast.

Just when you thought the opening night of the opera season would never arrive, it does….and so does Driftwort, only to learn that he has been fired by Missis Playpool for associating with riffraff (how riffraff got into the act, I’ll never know). Not to be denied, Driftwort (together with Tomasso and Fiorello) goes to Gottliebchen’s office, locks him in a closet, replaces Gottliebchen as Missis Playpool’s escort, and delivers the opening night address, which is the same as the day address, but not as easy to see:

Is there no end to this madness? For the answer to that question, you will have to return for Act IV. Until then….

A NIGHT AT THE (SOAP) OPERA – Act II

SCENE: A ship sailing from Wherever to New Yurt
TIME:   A day or two after Whenever
CAST:   The usual suspects (same characters as Act I)

As the curtain opens on Act II, we find Opus E. Driftwort, Missis Playpool, Hermano Gottliebchen, renowned tenor Rodolpho Alasprairie, and beautiful soprano Rosa Grossa, who has been selected as the leading lady, onboard the good ship Lollipoop (which was pirated from an earlier opera set in the deep South titled BRAT EYES, starring Surly Temper as the leading child). The ship is about to depart for New Yurt, where the famous New Yurt Opera House is believed to be located.

Sadly, tenor Ricardo Macaroni (Allan Jonesboro), who is in love with Rosa (and her with he), is being left behind on the dock, leading to this heart-breaking parting of the ways:

Shortly thereafter, Driftwort enters his cabin and proceeds with the tusk of opening his trunk, only to find it packed with hungry stowaways Fiorello and Tomasso Marxista and Macaroni.

Later, following much more merrymaking, music, and muddled madness, the stowaways are caught and confined to quarters for a change. Fiorello subsequently tires of listening to Tomasso’s kazoo and tosses it out the porthole. Tomasso leaps after it into the ocean, from which a lifeline lifts him into the stateroom of three bearded Russian aviators taking a nap. Tomasso then takes to his scissors, leaving three Russian aviators beardless and three stowaways becoming bearded Russian aviators Chicoski, Harpotski and Baronoff.

Bear with us — we’re off until Act III.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A NIGHT AT THE (SOAP) OPERA

SCENE: Wherever
TIME: Whenever

CAST:

Groucho Marxisto        OPUS E. DRIFTWORT
Chico Marxisto             FIORELLO BLOWHARDO
Harpo Marxisto           TOMASSO PASTO
Margaret Dontmont    MISSIS PLAYPOOL
Sig Rumanboardo       HERMANO GOTLIEBCHEN
Kitty Carlisimo            ROSA GROSSA
Allan Jonesboro          RICARDO MACARONI
Walter Wolf Kink        RODOLPHO ALASPRAIRIE
Roberto O’Connor      POLICE DETECTIVE BANDITO MUSOLINI HENDERSON

ACT 1

Missis Playpool , millionaire dowager and high-society wannabe, has been stood up for dinner at a fancy restaurant by Opus E. Driftwort, gold-digging entrepreneur. After being discovered dining with a gorgeous blond at the next table, Driftwort worms his way out of the situation and sits down with Missis Playpool for a second dinner, during which he professes his undying love for her. Repulsed, he then proposes a plan to get her into society by investing $200,000 (in round figures) in the New Yurt Opera Company.

Hermano Gotliebchen, impresario of the opera, happily accepts Missis Playpool’s money with intent to hire celebrated Italian tenor Rodolpho Alasprairie, who beats his valet, Tomasso Pasto, for trying on one of Rodolpho’s costumes before the opera which Missis Playpool attends, after which she and Gotliebchen agree to sign the tenor to a contract. Got that?

Enter Fiorello Blowhardo, who claims to represent the “greatest tenor in the world” (Ricardo Macaroni, a little-known singer in the chorus). Driftwort, thinking Blowhardo represents Alasprairie, tries to get Blowhardo to sign a contract in which Driftwort gets $990 of the $1,000-a-week contract for the “greatest tenor’s” services….but the contract has too many disagreeable clauses, which they agree to rip out until they’re down to the last clause, which happens to be the sanity clause. Of course, Blowhardo claims there ain’t no Sanity Claus, and that’s the end of Act One.

There will now be a short intermission, during which you are free to check out the commercials, or go to the fridge for a beer, before we resume with Act Two.

 

 

THE SOUND OF SILENTS

You sure you can’t move? –what Harpo Marx “said” to the tied-up hero (Richard Dix) before punching him in the 1925 film TOO MANY KISSES (fortunately, the film survived)

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Italicized above are the only words ever “spoken” (but not heard) on film by the man whose birthday we note today, HARPO MARX. The audience didn’t hear those five words because the film was a “silent” — “talkies” didn’t come on the scene until 1927, two years before the first of thirteen Marx Brothers movies (1929-49). Harpo spoke in none of them.

But why, oh why-o, should I try-o to “bio” Harpo, when here-o you can click on the official thing from his offspring:

https://www.harposplace.com/

Because Harpo associated with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and other wits in the famed Algonquin Round Table repartee, I expected to turn up a number of witty Harpo Marx quotes for this piece. No such luck — I found only one I enjoyed enough to post here (both the “she” referred to in the quote, and who it is addressed to, are unknown):

“She’s a lovely person. She deserves a good husband. Marry her before she finds one.”

One quote being three quotes short of a gallon, I shall return to giving you “the silent treatment” with a quota of four quotes of silence said by forethoughtful others:

“Listen to the sound of silence.” –Paul Simon, American singer, songwriter, and actor

“Silence is golden unless you have kids, then it’s just plain suspicious.” –anonymous

“If nobody ever said anything unless he knew what he was talking about, what a ghastly hush would descend upon the earth!” –A. P. Herbert, English humorist, writer, and politician

“I believe in the discipline of silence and can talk for hours about it.” –George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and critic

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Since I didn’t give Harpo the last word, I’ll let him give his audience the last laugh….and though he doesn’t speak, you’ll hear captivating sounds escape his lips 2:42 into this clip:

Bravo, Harpo!

EPILOGUE: Listen — 90+ years after the “silents” ended*, you can still hear….

*with the exception of two Charlie Chaplin masterpieces in the 1930s, CITY LIGHTS and MODERN TIMES

PARDON MY QUOTES

It is easier to buy books than to read them, and easier to read them than to absorb them. –William Osler

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Now that’s a quote I can relate to — of the near-50 books I bought at that November used book sale I wrote about recently, in 3 weeks I’ve managed to find time to read all of 2 1/2; that’s all of two books (plus half of one) traversed in 21 days, as the crow flies. At that rate, I’ll have bought 50 more books before I’ve read an iota of my quota from the last batch — and I’ve already bought ten more books since then. Nonetheless (actually all the more, both batches combined), rather than completely skip a post as I did December 5, I’ll at least try to save composing-time by posting (aka com-posting) the words of others.

Fittingly, I’ll quote the six Masters of Wit (from my previous post) to whom Groucho Marx dedicated his book GROUCHO AND ME. The last quote below cites another timesaver some people practice, but rarely admit….however, I’ll open with Robert Benchley, who undoubtedly said the following following A Night At The Opera with the Marx Brothers:

Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.
–ROBERT BENCHLEY

I didn’t like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions  — the curtain was up.
— GEORGE S. KAUFMAN

An optimist is a girl who mistakes a bulge for a curve.
–RING LARDNER

Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?
–JAMES THURBER

The fact is that all of us have only one personality, and we wring it out like a dishtowel. You are what you are.
–S. J. PERLEMAN

Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.
–E. B. WHITE

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GROUCHO AND M(US)E

Although it is generally known, I think it’s about time to announce that I was born at a very early age. –Groucho Marx, Chapter I, GROUCHO AND ME

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As long-time readers of my blog know, I’m a big fan of Groucho Marx/The Marx Brothers, so it should come as no surprise that one of the first books I read from my used book sale haul (see previous post) was Groucho’s autobiography, GROUCHO AND ME. And who, you ask, is the ME in that title? (Hint: it’s not me).  It’s none other (says the back cover) than “a comparatively unknown Marx named Julius, who, under the nom de plume of Groucho, enjoyed a sensational career on Broadway and in Hollywood with such comedy classics as Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup [and] A Night at the Opera.”

Julius Groucho Marx (1895-1977) wasn’t just a comedian — he was a wit who appreciated wit in others and “Gratefully Dedicated This Book To These Six Masters Without Whose Wise and Witty Words My Life Would Have Been Even Duller: Robert Benchley / George S. Kaufman / Ring Lardner / S. J. Perelman / James Thurber / E. B. White.”

I already owned several Marx Brothers books (written by others) and had at least a whit of an impression of Groucho’s résumé before sinking my teeth into this book….but there’s nothing like an autobio for getting it straight from the Horse’s mouth (Feathers and all). At least, that’s what I thought until I got to page 11, where Groucho wrote:

“This opus started out as an autobiography, but before I was aware of it, I realized it would be nothing of the kind. It is almost impossible to write a truthful autobiography. Maybe Proust, Gide and a few others did it, but most autobiographies take good care to conceal the author from the public.”

Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. This is a different kettle of soup. You pay coal hard cash for an autobiography, and what do you get? A bit of Cash back, another day older and deeper in debt.

Well, two can play that game. This opus began as a book review of GROUCHO AND ME, but Groucho’s bait-and-switch gives me no choice but to turn it into a GROUCHO AND me thing (sorry, readers, no refunds) by invoking the Sanity Clause in my contract….

As I started to say before me was so rudely interrupted, you will have to be satisfied with some suitable quotes from Groucho’s book, which left me in stitches:

My Pop was a tailor, and sometimes he made as much as $18 a week. But he was no ordinary tailor. His record as the most inept tailor that Yorkville ever produced has never been approached. This could even include parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. The notion that Pop was a tailor was an opinion held only by him. To his customers he was known as “Misfit Sam.”

They say that every man has a book in him. This is about as accurate as most generalizations. Take, for example, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man you-know-what.” Most wealthy people I know like to sleep late, and will fire the help if they are disturbed before three in the afternoon. You don’t see Marilyn Monroe getting up at six in the morning. The truth is, I don’t see Marilyn getting up at any hour, more’s the pity.

Recognition didn’t come overnight in the old days. We bounced around for many years before we made it. We played towns I would refuse to be buried in today, even if the funeral were free and they tossed in a tombstone.

After we hit the big time on Broadway, naturally our lives changed. Each member of the family reacted differently. Chico stopped going to poolrooms and started to patronize the more prosperous race tracks. After he got through with them, they were even more prosperous. Zeppo bought a forty-foot cruiser and tore up Long Island Sound as though to the manner born. Harpo, a shy and silent fellow, was taken up by the Algonquin crowd, at that time probably the most famous and brilliant conversational group in America. The quips flew thick, fast and deadly, and God help you if you were a dullard!

I am not sure how I got to be a comedian or a comic. As a lad, I don’t remember knocking anyone over with my wit. I’m a pretty wary fellow, and have neither the desire nor the equipment to know what makes one man funny to another man. My guess is that there aren’t a hundred top-flight professional comedians, male and female, in the whole world. But because we are laughed at, I don’t think people really understand how essential we are to their sanity. If it weren’t for the brief respite we give the world with our foolishness, the world would see mass suicide in numbers that compare with the death rate of the lemmings.

And so ( just between Groucho and us) it seems that there is a Sanity Clause after all. 🙂

 

 

 

 

WAR AND WONDER BOY

At the risk of making this a too-lengthy piece (lengthy peace, I’ll leave to miracle workers) I am going to blend a very disparate “double feature” into a two-for-the-price-of-one post….for today is not only Memorial Day, when America honors those killed in military service, but it’s the birthday of a man who literally changed the long-term ‘picture’ of the Marx Brothers after their riotous anti-war film, the anarchic classic, DUCK SOUP (1933).

But first, for those who are interested and may be unfamiliar with the 100+ years history of war movies, I highly recommend taking time to check out this link for context: http://www.filmsite.org/warfilms.html (DUCK SOUP is listed under “Black Comedies”)

I don’t necessarily agree with a blogger who wrote, “As we all know, every good war film is [an] anti-war film” — though I think any war picture which doesn’t contain at least an element of “war is madness” (as in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, below) is, at best, simplistic patriotism (e.g. John Wayne’s GREEN BERETS; I’d add Cagney’s YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, but it’s a rousing glorification of a man’s patriotism, not a war film).

Back to that birthday man (Irving Thalberg), the film producer known as “The Boy Wonder” for becoming head of production at MGM at age 26 and turning it into the most successful studio in Hollywood during his reign (1925 until his death in 1936). Quoting Wikipedia, “He had the ability to combine quality with commercial success, and [to bring] his artistic aspirations in line with the demands of audiences.” Within this framework, we can appreciate this passage from ROGER EBERT’s great book, THE GREAT MOVIES:

The Marx Brothers created a body of work in which individual films are like slices from the whole, but Duck Soup is probably the best. It represents a turning point in their movie work; it was their last film for Paramount. When it was a box office disappointment, they moved over to MGM, where production chief Irving Thalberg ordered their plots to find room for conventional romantic couples.
A Night at the Opera (1935), their first MGM film, contains some of their best work, yes, but [also] sappy interludes involving Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones. In Duck Soup, there are no sequences I can skip; the movie is funny from beginning to end.

This may not be one of the funniest sequences in DUCK SOUP, but it certainly makes for a glorious celebration of war as madness:

  

As even the longest war must eventually come to an end, so too must this Memorial Day piece (de résistance). Even so, it ain’t over till the DUCK SOUP fat lady sings: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xnec7z_freedonia-at-war-part-3-from-duck-soup-1933_shortfilms

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P.S. The state of Ohio imprints the words ARMED FORCES on driver’s licenses whose bearer is/was a member. The last time I went in to renew my license, the BMV clerk took a look and thanked me for my service, which took me by surprise because my service is ancient history and I’d never been, or expected to be, thanked. I was a 1960 draftee who served during the so-called Cold War, not a volunteer in the Civil War (or whatever hot war my hoary appearance makes me look like I served in). But I realize that a bullet or bomb doesn’t care if you’re a draftee or volunteer when it takes you out, so to those who died in the service of this country and its professed ideals (and who had no choice as to whether or not the war they were in was worthy of their sacrifice), I thank youYou are the ones fate chose to earn this day.