AGE WISE

For the benefit of my fellow geezers out there who may not be aware of it, May is OLDER AMERICANS MONTH (not to be confused with NATIONAL SENIOR CENTER MONTH (September) or NATIONAL ACCORDION MONTH (June). Accordionly, May you and I bask in the recognition which is due us for living long enough to pass along our well-earned wisdom to those who don’t want to hear it.

To be sure, there is also a slight  drawback about old age: there’s not much future in it….but otherwise, it’s not a bad time to be alive. At any rate, it beats the alternative — or so they say (as if “they” have experienced said alternative).  On the flip side, there are many timely quotes on the age-old subject of age, so let’s put on our reading glasses and see if we can make heads or tails of some of them:

If  I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. –Anonymous

An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have: the older she gets, the more interested he is in her. –Agatha Christie

Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone. –Jim Fiebig

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. –Susan Ertz

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. –Golda Meir

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. –Chili Davis

You’re only as old as the girl that you feel. –Groucho Marx

Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician. –Anonymous

If you worry, you die. If you don’t worry, you also die. So why worry? –Mike Horn

I was going to use that last quote to close with the song DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY, but on the occasion of the birthday (May 10, 1899) of the never-grows-old Fred Astaire, this song and dance make me happy to change my tune:

 

 

 

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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. 🙂

 

 

 

 

STRAIGHT WOMAN, WITH CHASER

Today marks (or should I say, Marx) the 133rd birthday of my favorite comedic character actress of all time — a woman so well preserved that she doesn’t look a day over 1933, when she appeared as Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, or 1935, as Mrs. Claypool….not to mention 1929 (Mrs. Potter), 1930 (Mrs. Rittenhouse), 1937 (Emily Upjohn), 1939 (Suzanne Dukesberry), or 1941 (Martha Phelps).

Yes, thanks to that most wondrous of preservatives called celluloid, those larger-than-life ladies, played by and fka (forever known as) the wonderful Margaret Dumont, live on in blessed memory in two of the funniest films ever made: DUCK SOUP (1933) and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)….as well as in such other Marx Brothers mayhem as THE COCOANUTS (1929), ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930), A DAY AT THE RACES (1937), AT THE CIRCUS (1939), and THE BIG STORE (1941).

“Who was Margaret Dumont?” asks Roy Blount Jr. in his book HAIL, HAIL EUPHORIA! Presenting THE MARX BROTHERS IN DUCK SOUP, THE GREATEST WAR MOVIE EVER MADE. “From the book Hello, I Must Be Going by Charlotte Chandler, I got the impression that she grew up in Atlanta in the home of her godfather, Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories. Even though a descendant of Harris assured me that this wasn’t true, I want to believe it because I like to imagine B’rer Rabbit and Margaret Dumont doing a scene together.”

“But no. Margaret Dumont was born Daisy Baker in Brooklyn, New York, in 1882. Her father was an Irish seaman, her mother a French vocalist. Daisy became a showgirl. In 1915 she married an heir to a sugar fortune. In 1918 he died. She was presumably not left as well off as Mrs. Teasdale [Groucho’s  straight woman in DUCK SOUP] because she went right back to work.”

Which brings us to the reel Margaret Dumont, the indispensable straight woman/comedic foil to Groucho’s lecherous leerings who (quoting Wikipedia) “played wealthy high-society, posh-voiced widows whom Groucho alternately insulted and romanced for their money.” Never has an actress been more perfectly typecast….as evidenced by these scenes:

HAIL, HAIL EUPHORIA is, of course, a play on HAIL, HAIL FREDONIA, Fredonia’s satirical national anthem in DUCK SOUP, with Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly and Margaret as Mrs. Teasdale:

HAIL, HAIL MARGARET DUMONT! RIP.

 

 

NOBODY’S PERFECT AGAIN

Among my favorite books are biographies or autobiographies of long-admired writers, directors, actors, musicians and vocalists. One of the most interesting and intelligent bios I’ve read is that of director Billy Wilder. Yes, I’m finally done reading NOBODY’S PERFECT, of which I wrote a piece on June 22 and promised to write a review when I finished it. My take? Imperfection was never more worth recommending.

Unlike some biographers, author Charlotte Chandler knew the subject of her book personally and well (for almost 30 years). Her first book, HELLO, I MUST BE GOING, was a best-seller about — who else — Groucho Marx. She has also profiled Mae West, Tennessee Williams and Alfred Hitchcock, among others, is on the board of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and is active in film preservation. So the lady knows — and loves — what she is doing.

Perhaps the best thing about this bio is that after reading it, you feel as if you know the real Billy Wilder. For example, he learned early on not to shoot excess footage because the more you gave the studio (Universal) to play with, the more they could recut the picture in ways he disliked. It was his movie, and with careful planning and tight shooting, he did his damnedest to give them no choice.

One also gets a feel for the man in his views of other directors, telling Ms. Chandler: “I admired Preston Sturges. He was a writer who became a director, and he had respect for words. His work was his life. He would have worked free. The last time I saw him was in Paris. He was sitting in an outdoor café. Old friends would stop and have something with him, and they’d pick up the check. It seemed he was hard up. He’d had a great life, but it didn’t end up great. He didn’t know how to write a third act for his own life.”

Another director he admired was Ernst Lubitsch, of whom he speaks in this clip:

Let’s close with a quote from one of Ms. Chandler’s last interviews with him in Dec. 1999: “I don’t like to look back. You could drown in what-ifs, especially if you make it past ninety, which I have. If you’re going to say , ‘What if?’ you might as well save it for something like, ‘What if Hitler had been a girl?’
“At ninety-four, there aren’t many goals to work for except longevity. Maybe trying to make it to a hundred as long as my mind is good, and I look forward to each day.”
“I could never imagine myself being old. An old man was someone who was forty, then fifty, then sixty. When I was a young man in Vienna, if someone had offered me a deal to guarantee I’d make seventy, I’d have grabbed it. Seventy would’ve sounded pretty good to me.”
“At ninety-four, it’s not long enough. It seems short. Too bad. But it has to end sometime.”

For Billy Wilder, it ended March 27, 2002, leaving behind a legacy of 21 Academy Award nominations and five films on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 funniest films, including #1: SOME LIKE IT HOT. I like it any way he made it.

HU/FAMOUS LAST WORDS

I’ve done a post or two in the past on humorous and/or famous epitaphs, but there’s a quote and a song that remind us that famous (and not so famous) last words aren’t always written in stone:

“I’ll show you that it won’t shoot.” –Johnny Ace, R&B singer (died playing with a pistol in 1954)

So this post will pay its respects to the utter-ly unchiseled last words of a sampling of those who have gone before us….and may those who died at the hands of axe murderers and body hackers rest in pieces.

Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. My advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it. –Somerset Maugham

This is no way to live. –Groucho Marx

They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance. –John Sedgwick (Union general just before being killed by Confederate sharpshooter during U. S. Civil War)

If this is dying, I don’t think much of it. –Lytton Strachey

I knew it! I knew it!  Born in a hotel room and, goddamn it, dying in a hotel room. –Eugene O’Neill (died in a Boston hotel at age 65)

Good. A woman who can fart is not dead. –Louise-Marie-Therese de Saint Maurice (upon passing gas as she lay dying)

Am I dying, or is this my birthday? –Lady Astor (awakening on her deathbed to find her family gathered at her bedside)

Why not? After all, it belongs to him. —Charlie Chaplin (to a priest’s “May the Lord have mercy on your soul” while giving the last rites)

Oh God! Here I go. –Max Baer (former heavyweight boxing champion)

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. –Crowfoot

I AM IN CONTROL HERE

March 30 is I AM IN CONTROL DAY. According to holidayinsights.com, the genesis of the day goes back to March 30, 1981, when chaos reigned after President Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt in Washington D.C., and Vice President Bush was out of town. Secretary of State Alexander Haig (in an attempt to calm the nation) famously and injudiciously announced, “As of now, I am in control here” — in a manner which suggested a putsch.

Well, when putsch comes to shove and a situation seems to be spinning out of control, obviously someone needs to get a handle and do something, otherwise you’re just going around in circles:

So, when it comes to control, we may benefit from what these wise guys and gal have to say:

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs — maybe you just don’t understand the situation. -Evan Esar

If I was meant to be controlled, I would’ve come with a remote. -Unknown

Taste cannot be controlled by law. -Thomas Jefferson

If they took all the drugs, nicotine, alcohol and caffeine off the market for six days, they’d have to bring out the tanks to control you. -Dick Gregory

The difference between want and need is self control. -Unknown

Never do something permanently foolish just because you are temporarily upset. -Unknown

Man does not control his own fate. The women in his life do that for him. –Groucho Marx

I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it. -Mae West

1 + 1 = 3 (if you don’t use a condom). -Unknown

What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do. -Aristotle

Sorry to say, I must close for now. Please control yourself.