Karl H.'s Reviews > Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho and His Friends

Hello, I Must Be Going by Charlotte Chandler
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M_50x66
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Sep 26, 10

Read in September, 2010

[Groucho] mispronounced a word once, and he got the laugh on it and he never would pronounce it right. It was an unpleasant word, like paraplegic or paralysis. It's a good example of what he would do when a thing was set. Then, with all his delight in improvising and changing, he'd cling to it, because that laugh meant more to him than he knew. -Robert Pirosh, regarding Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx is the focus of Hello, I Must Be Going and what an interesting person he was. A comic legend beloved and honored by so many, and a deeply flawed human being. Hello, I Must be Going reads remarkably like celebrity gossip, which is interesting in one way, since Groucho Marx was an interesting person, but tedious in another for she lacked the judgment to sum up Groucho or the style to make it interesting the whole way through. Mostly she was a tape recorder. Let me give you a feeling for Chandler's style. Names are dropped with alarming frequency. Zingers are reproduced over and over again. Compliments are given. Groucho goes to about 50 awards ceremonies. Everyone fawns over the "super-celebrity." At one point we get a page describing the gifts Groucho got from all his friends at his birthday party. If you ever get the chance to talk to someone in show business, you may realize after a time that most of their gossip and stories are told in the same way as Chandler handles it. Pirosh provides the best look at Groucho's comic method in this whole book, in my opinion, and its buried in the middle of an interview. Chandler conducts many interviews with Groucho, spends a lot of time around Groucho and certainly never says a bad word about Groucho. She faithfully reproduces the comments of friends who do however- and this is where Hello I Must Be Going's value comes from. You can tell she regarded him as a friend, which clouded her judgment. Her conclusion? Groucho the character was one thing and Groucho the man was the other. In her eyes, he was a chivalrous man who highly valued education, work and intellect beneath his stage persona. I came out with a different conclusion.

Certainly Groucho the character was one thing and Groucho the man was the other, but Groucho the character was covering up the deficiencies of Groucho the man. He could be remarkably mean to people. A lot of his friends attested that people would take things from Groucho that would've earned anyone else a punch in the nose- part of that was because he was so adept at making fools of anyone who dared be offended. Anyone who disagreed with him was a target. There's an interview buried in the back about a friend of Groucho's called Max Gordon. They had been friends for about twenty years when Groucho spoke at TS Eliot's funeral and made jokes. He called Groucho up and said he thought the joke was in poor taste. Groucho said it was expected of him. Max said "You don't have to be on ALL the time" which Groucho got deeply offended about. He never heard from Groucho since. His jokes were good, yes, but like many comedians, they were also a way to repel people from uncovering his real emotions. His chivalry was only skin-deep, because he was quite a womanizer. He valued marriage but thought it only natural that the man should stray. The woman, of course, was not permitted to do such a thing. His wives never felt included in his social circle. He would frequently make them the butt of his jokes. I think that he left any feelings he had about them unexpressed. One of them said that if he had only come home and said "I love you" once in awhile they would still be married. It's true that certainly he valued education and the stable marriage of his brother but only because with his 5th grade education and three wives he never had either. He was deeply envious of what they represented- the ultimate expression of the intellect which he was so insecure about, someone who you could trust with your feelings which he never shared, someone who would unreservedly love you- a person he maybe had but could never keep. That need for love is why the iconoclast Groucho needed both approval from audiences and why he so desperately loved all the awards he got. He thought he was better than his audience, but he needed that laugh- even if he had to get it from an unpleasant word. It meant more to him than he knew.
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