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Monday, August 27, 2007

“Your letter received and promptly burned. I prefer not to have strangers prying into my mail.”

posted by on August 27 at 15:10 PM

That was Groucho Marx’s first response to a query about publishing his letters.

Now there’s a new edition you can preview on Amazon. (And then, if you’re a cad like me, buy at Powell’s.)


I went straight for the correspondence between Groucho and the poet, Anglophile, and anti-Semite T.S. Eliot.

The pair had swapped correspondence and photos. T.S.’s letter are tight and square, Groucho’s funny: “Dear T.S.: Your photograph arrived in good shape… I had no idea you were so handsome. Why you have not been offered the lead in some sexy movies I can only attribute to the stupidity of the casting directors.

Now it’s 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Marx are in London, and have been invited to dine with the Eliots. Groucho’s letter about the evening begins:

The poet met us at the door with Mrs. Eliot, a good-looking, middle-aged blonde whose eyes seemed to fill with adoration every time she looked at her husband… Your correspondent arrived at the Eliots’ fully prepared for a literary evening. During the week I read Murder in the Cathedral twice; The Waste Land three times, and just in case of a conversational bottleneck, I brushed up on King Lear. Well, sir, cocktails were served and there was a momentary lull—the kind that is more or less inevitable when strangers meet for the first time. So, apropos of practically nothing (and “not with a bang but a whimper”) I tossed in a quotation from The Waste Land. That, I thought, will show him I’ve read a thing or two besides my press notices from vaudeville.

Eliot smiled faintly—as though to say he was thoroughly familiar with his poems and didn’t need me to recite them. I took a whack at King Lear. I said the king was an incredibly foolish old man, which God knows he was; and that if he’d been my father I would have run away from home at the age of eight—instead of waiting until I was ten.

That, too failed to bowl over the poet. He seemed more interested in discussing Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera. He quoted a joke—one of mine—that I had long since forgotten. Now it was my turn to smile faintly. I was not going to let anyone—not even the British poet from St. Louis—spoil my Literary Evening…

It goes on. It’s pretty great.

I also found jpegs of a letter from Groucho to T.S. (1963—dinner mustn’t have been too bad), with hand emendations.

See pages one, two, and three.

(It’s great how much Groucho needles the Christian, academic, pseudo-fascist about sex. It’s hard for me to imagine what they actually liked about each other.)

RSS icon Comments


Christians are all anti-semities. I never liked Elliot's hack poetry. Compared to the Psalms he's dust.

Posted by Issur | August 27, 2007 3:24 PM

@1 - Ok - thanks for that, Mr. Issur.

Anyways - Brendan, thanks, that was an interesting letter to read. Any idea what Groucho's stamp says at the end of his letter? At first I thought is was Embassy of Fredonia or something, but its not.

Marx discusses how new writers had brough sex and the lavatory into the open. Is this true with regards to the lavatory? Or was that tried and quietly discarded cuz no one likes reading about you taking a shit? I'm not up enough on modern literature to know for sure, so I thought I through the question to the ether of slog.

Posted by Jude Fawley | August 27, 2007 3:39 PM

I meant throw, not through. P.S. I wonder who will compile my internet postings into a book in 50 years?

Posted by Jude Fawley | August 27, 2007 3:40 PM

Eliot peaked in his twenties. His later poems (including most of "The Wasteland") are unreadable, his criticism mostly ridiculous. But most of all, Eliot's primary motivation in life, his desire to be English, always escaped him. HE WAS BORN AND RAISED IN SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI.

Actual English people were perpetually amused at his mostly unsuccessful attempts to ape upper-class Englishisms, like the bowler hat and the rolled umbrella. He was constantly asking people about the correct way to do such and such, and never getting it quite right. What he was never able to fully grasp is that social climbing of that sort is the one thing that no Englishman of any stripe can ever tolerate.

Oh, and he wrote "Cats".

Posted by Fnarf | August 27, 2007 4:22 PM


I'm pretty sure the stamp says "Library of Congress."

Posted by keshmeshi | August 27, 2007 4:48 PM

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