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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NOW, THAT'S FUNNY: Part II


 Chico, Allan Jones, and Groucho in
A Night at the Opera.

I think I subconsciously created this article category specifically for Groucho Marx. The man was brimming with humor in his film and stage work, and it comes as no surprise that it overflowed into his private life as well. Here are a few of his personal goofs:

Groucho could definitely be a smart-aleck. He was the first to point out and mock the absurdity in the every day occurrence or individual. He especially got a hoot out of taking the elite, higher-ups, or the haughty down a peg or two-- hence his onscreen shenanigans, wherein he humiliates and damn near destroys the entire universe of the Upper Class. No one was safe from his witty barbs, not even the paranormal... Grouch' once attended a Madam Zaza fortune reading in Chicago. The audience was, of course, flabbergasted and stupefied by the entrancing realms of the supernatural and the uncanny abilities of Zaza, who could see above the accepted nature of reality. Groucho was not so impressed. Deciding to have a little fun, he merely pretended to play along. Zaza finally came out of a meditative stupor, during which she supposedly communed with the dead, and declared that she could answer any question asked of her. Groucho volunteered first. His question: What's the capital of North Dakota? Zaza's silence definitely diminished her omniscient reputation, and her bodyguards kicked Groucho out!

Groucho was unpredictable to say the least. Friends were used to his jokes and sporadic burstings into song or dance. Whatever he said or did, he was Groucho, so the unexpected was accepted. Hence the following occurrence: Groucho and his pal Sidney Sheldon had plans for dinner one night. Grouch' called Sid to ask how he should dress. Sid replied, "Dress nicely." When he arrived at Groucho's, Grouch' answered the door wearing his wife Eden's clothes! Sid got a big laugh out of it. Unfortunately, Groucho forgot he had another appointment coming over. Suddenly, Bill Dozier and a couple of executives appeared at his door, ringing the bell. Not to be flustered, Groucho answered the door, skirt and all, and invited his other pals in. They sat around and talked shop with no one even batting an eyelash at his outrageous fashion. After their meeting was over, they shook hands and parted ways. No one ever mentioned the strange phenomenon of his cross-dressing. It was odd and absurd... And therefore perfectly normal. Groucho changed into more masculine attire, and he and Sid went to dinner, as if nothing had happened. (Groucho in drag left with Clark Gable in the Merrie-Melodies cartoon "Hollywood Steps Out" of 1942).

However, Groucho wasn't always the man with the last laugh. There seemed to be one thing that unsettled him... Terrified him, even: Boris Karloff! For the man who seemed impenetrable to almost any dagger or mode of attack, physical or mental, Groucho's fear of the king of horror is perhaps the most absurd thing about him. In his younger days when Groucho was still in vaudeville, he used to block his window with the bureau because of his fear of Karloff and his ghastly cinematic creations. He was afraid that he would wake, spooked from a dream, and jump out his own window. He also started taking sleeping pills, because he was too scared to sleep! Ironically, Groucho would meet the representation of his fears years later, and was surprised to find, as many were, that Boris was a shy and kindly gentleman (seen Boris more in character, right). Though this certainly curbed his fear of Karloff, it did not deter his continued aversion to Frankenstein's monster.

 Though this photo of the Monster was used for a great deal of  
publicity posters, it was not the final representation created
by the make-up wizards. You can tell by the knobs in the forehead,
which are absent in the film.

Another ghoul worth mentioning is Boris's contemporary and constant partner in on-screen crime, Bela Lugosi. Bela (left) was known for hypnotizing his prey, drinking the blood of beautiful women, and sending chills down the spines of theater-goers around the world. However, in his later life, his career was horrific for different reasons. While Boris was able to ride the wave of his B-movie horror career with grace and style, Bela was not so fortunate. His roles in films became sillier and sillier, and his disdain for them only increased his personal problems. Nonetheless, his movies with the notorious Ed Wood remain some of the best of the worst in film history, lasting primarily because of his performances in them. A lesser known film he took part in was The East Side Kids' Ghosts on the Loose. The East Side Kids series revolved around a hard-knock group of young boys who were always causing trouble but were at heart good guys. Think of a pubescent "Our Gang" crew from Brooklyn and you'll get the idea. Bela played the villain in the aforementioned film, in which the boys stumble upon what appears to be a haunted house, which they're trying to prep for their newlywed friends, (one of whom is a young Ava Gardner). The movie was far from a critical success, which is why it is rarely remembered, but during its time it caused quite a stir. Kids were lining up to see it. Why? Because when Bela Lugosi sneezes at one point in the film, his "Ah-choo!" sounds  more like "Ah-shit!" It was quite le scandale!

 Ernie "Sunshine" Morrison's dusting will soon
produce Bela's sneeze heard 'round the world!


Since I seem to have hopped on some sort of spook-themed rant, I'll continue with a ditty about Jean Arthur, (looking lovely and upbeat, right). Jean was always eccentric to say the least; her shyness severely impaired her social skills. But never would her oddness reveal itself so much as in her later life, when she simply stopped caring. Whether being arrested for trespassing (in attempts to help a neglected dog) or cussing out cops, the girl who avoided headlines all her life was still making them in her middle to late age. Jean loved appreciation for her work, but loathed attention in any way, shape, or form. She often wished she could just walk around with a bag on her head, which is perhaps why while she was performing in the 1967 play "The Freaking Out of Stephanie Blake," she started a trend of wearing a motley assortment of Halloween masks as she was leaving rehearsal. Passersby didn't know what the think, which the smart-ass in her probably got a kick out of. The general consensus was that the dame was a bit kooky... And that is probably an accurate assessment. That's why we love her though.


And a last bit of trivia: Ever wonder where the Academy Award got it's nickname, "Oscar???" The source is heavily contested, and with many different theories, it is hard to tell who in fact should be credited with the honor. However, the most hilarious root comes from none other than Academy Award Winning actress, Bette Davis. It is rumored that when Bette won for her performance in Dangerous (left with Franchot Tone)-- which many considered a belated apology on behalf of the Academy for snubbing her Of Human Bondage performance in '34-- Bette inadvertently coined the trophy's moniker. While eying the shiny contours of the well-built, golden man, Bette flipped it over and said, "That looks like my husband's ass," or something to that effect. As she was married to her high school sweetheart, musician Harmon Oscar Nelson at the time, his middle name stuck. True or false? I dunno, but it makes a good story. Leave it to Bette to be a part of a yarn like that. (Recent research suggests that this was one of Bette's tall tales. Reference to the Academy Award as the "Oscar" was made in a newspaper article a couple of years prior to Bette's win for Dangerous).

 Bette and Jack Warner enjoy their victory.

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