January 24, 2016

"Lee Siegel courageously speaks up on behalf of everyone who lacks a sense of humor."

Top rated comment at an NPR interview with Lee Siegel, who has written a biography of Groucho Marx, about whom he says:
The conventional image of Groucho was that he was on the side of the little guy, and he spoke defiantly and insolently to powerful people and wealthy people... But my feeling is that Groucho was out to deflate everybody — that he was a thoroughgoing misanthrope.... His misogyny is relentless and thoroughgoing, and it's very hard to tolerate. His attacks on Margaret Dumont almost always take the form of attacking her status as a woman. And it's very odd that he keeps attacking her, because of course she might be wealthy and she might be somewhat clueless and she might be puffed up with her own virtue — but she's actually fairly kind, and a harmless person who just wants to help out these impostors Groucho is inhabiting. But he keeps insulting her for being a woman. And you don't find the same thing in Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy or W.C. Fields, but with the Marx Brothers, yeah, they took woman hatred to a whole new level. It's difficult to watch.
Is it? Margaret Dumont thought of herself as a great straightwoman. Check out the evidence... if it's not too difficult to watch:

ADDED: Having given this post the "Lee Siegel" tag, I clicked on it, and found 2 old posts that caught my fancy. First was a September 2013 post about a Siegel op-ed "When City Elections Were Fun," remembering the time Norman Mailer ran for office.
Back then, the race for mayor was fueled by the outsize talent that powered New York itself. In contrast, in the current campaign season we have the spectacle of figures whose substance consists of embarrassing character defects, fiery (yawn) rhetoric and patient waiting for a rival’s implosion.... But imagine if the present-day city... were to produce even one candidate with his brio and originality."
Ha ha. What are the chances Siegel is enjoying Donald Trump, who's an outsize New York talent? I like that old post because it gave me an opportunity to show you a photo of me in 1970 sitting under a Mailer-for-Mayor poster. (The first comment says, justifiably, "Althouse looks like a member of the Manson Family in that 1970 photo.")

The second old post is "Adventures in sock puppetry," from 2007. Lee Siegel had gotten into trouble writing under a pseudonym in his own comments section at TNR. I had written about it, and when somebody showed up as "Lee Siegel" in my comments, I assumed it was somebody else appropriating his name and deleted him. "Lee Siegel" emailed asking to be restored and I needed him to prove it really was him.
He's all:
Prove it to you? Are you kidding? You want me to Fedex you my passport? What childishness. Then I guess you can't prove that anyone is who he says he is who writes in to your "blog." Hey, it's me. You just don't want to restore my post. So don't. One more tale from the brave new blogosphere.
I retort:
You've given me the proof that you are not Lee Siegel. Thanks.
Am I wrong?


Sharc said...

Thanks for this skewering, Althouse. I heard this on NPR yesterday and had the exact same thoughts. If only Dean Martin, Oliver Hardy, Bud Abbott, and Dick Smothers had understood how truly victimized they were -- we weren't laughing with them, we were laughing *at* them. The humanity!

Phil 3:14 said...

Are liberals clueless and humorless?

mccullough said...

It must be excruciating going through life like Siegel. I'd rather be a schizophrenic.

traditionalguy said...

It is hard to be a clown. But it does draw attention along with lots of serious ridicule of the serious ones, which is also half the fun. That was the Groucho talent, and yes Trump has mastered it.

rehajm said...

Critique of history using the modern lens of the enlightened liberal is good sport for lefties who can't finish the NYT Crossword Puzzle.

Rusty said...

Blogger Phil 3:14 said...
Are liberals clueless and humorless?

Just read their comments on this blog. That should tell you all you need to know.

Henry said...

I've had a lot of fun watching old Marx brothers movies with my youngest son who has the weirdest sense of humor. I can't say that Groucho's putdowns of Mrs. Teasdale or Mrs. Claypool are at all hard to stomach. Groucho plays such a parody of mercenary fatuousness that it's hard to argue that he's making himself look good at her expense. Here's a wonderful way to frame it from Wikipedia:

Her work in A Day at the Races earned her a Best Supporting Actress Award from the Screen Actors Guild, film critic Cecilia Ager suggesting that a monument be erected in honor of her courage and steadfastness in the face of the Marx Brothers' antics. Groucho once said that many people believed they were married in real life, even though they were not.

What is wince-worthy is Harpo's relentless pawing at the showgirls, but luckily the scenes are short and the plot gallops on.

David Begley said...

Can't wait for President Cruz pulling tax dollars from NPR.

cbrower said...

A two-minute fan-made video of chopped-up clips isn't much to offer in the way of evidence. The Marx Brothers' humor is a form of very aggressive, sometimes specifically sexual aggressive. Harpo physically attacks women all the time. Groucho's form of assault is the absurd put-down. Siegel's right that she takes the brunt of his abuse and that her characters are society dames who aren't otherwise deserving of derision. Of course she's a great straightwoman; that doesn't invalidate Siegel's point. She continues to moon over Groucho despite his torrent of cruel (but very funny) abuse. That's part of their comedy. If someone told me that they don't like the fact that the Marx Brothers are always attacking women, I'd roll my eyes, but it wouldn't be because they aren't always attacking women.

Michael K said...

Groucho had one other feature. I have heard was hung like a horse, in the Milton Berle category.

Maybe that affected his treatment of women. Before, after or instead of.

Fran said...

Is the Lee Siegel proof the quotation marks around the word, blog?

Laslo Spatula said...

You have to understand the humor in the context of the times it was placed -- although much of it was forward thinking...

"A Night at the Opera"
When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That's the price she has to pay. That, and sucking my cock.

"A Night at the Opera"
Room service? Send up a larger room. because I'm with a woman who is really fat.

"A Night at the Opera"
Why did I sit with her? Because she reminds me of you, that why I'm here with you, because you remind me of you… your eyes, your throat, your lips, everything about you reminds me of you. But she is a deaf mute, so that's even better.

"Animal Crackers"
Why, you're one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, and that's not saying much for you. And you're a whore.

"Duck Soup"
I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the cows till you come home. In fact, I'd rather fuck a cow then you. You cow.

"Animal Crackers"
What do you say the three of us get married: You girls have everything, you're short and tall, and slim and stout, and blonde and brunette. Which of you does anal?

I am Laslo.

William said...

The Marx brothers were based on ethnic stereotypes. Groucho was supposed to be the frock coated German Herr Professor. Harpo was Irish, (A mute Irishman was the joke.). Chico was the Italian street peddler.......I read this somewhere. Chico looked Italian, but I never recognized the ethnicity in the others. Stereotypes aren't archetypes.

dbp said...

"Prove it to you? Are you kidding? You want me to Fedex you my passport? What childishness. Then I guess you can't prove that anyone is who he says he is who writes in to your "blog." Hey, it's me. You just don't want to restore my post. So don't. One more tale from the brave new blogosphere.I retort:
You've given me the proof that you are not Lee Siegel. Thanks.Am I wrong?"

You were not wrong. Lee Siegel could have easily proven his provenance by taking a selfie in front of a monitor tuned to your blog. Or maybe Lee is just an idiot and/or lazy.

William said...

Here, as I remember it, was Norman Mailer's visionary plan for NYC: he wanted to construct a monorail that circled the city. Once a month he wanted to have a day of quiet. There would be no stores open or public transportation. He toyed with the idea of turning off the electricity as well. He wanted all city services, including the police and fire departments, under the direction of their local communities.......Gloria Steinem worked on his campaign. They had a one night stand. She claimed it was a mercy fuck......Donald Trump claimed he could shoot someone and still get their vote. Mailer did him one better. He could stab his wife and still get the support of one of America's leading feminists. She even threw in a mercy fuck.

Lonetown said...

Did Siegel forget the notorious and hilarious hatred of WC Fields for children? We love to have our pieties mocked, don't we?

Original Mike said...

Never heard of him (Siegel, that is).

Michael K said...

I prefer Fred Siegel.

Gahrie said...

Can't wait for President Cruz pulling tax dollars from NPR.

Someone remind me why we need NPR again? If I want to listen to pretentious, clueless liberals I can watch MSNBC.

Fernandinande said...

if it's not too difficult to watch

Crappy music made it too difficult to listen to.

AJ Lynch said...

Lee Siegel is the ass who bragged that he was never going to pay back his student loans? Ad got a big backlash when he said it.

Laslo Spatula said...

Michael K said...
I prefer Fred Siegel.

I prefer Don Siegel, just for directing "Dirty Harry".

I am Laslo.

Wilbur said...

I always believed that Dumont was oblivious to most of the jokes. She gamely did her lines with verve and fervor as needed.

Crazy Jane said...

There are at least several Lee Siegels in this country. I went to college with one. Several years ago, an old classmate read something by Althouse's Lee Siegel and, distressed, wrote to ask, "Is this OUR Lee Siegel?" I was able to reassure him that, no, our Lee Siegel was still a good guy.

Althouse's Lee Siegel can be annoying at times.


Guildofcannonballs said...

"Am I wrong?"

I would be surprised if Segal wrote that gibberish, but you are wrong to suggest "the proof" you needed was given, in the sense it gives vision in the mind to specter of authoritarianism in your thinking such that "the proof" is more than a mere concept one might use to further engage an issue in stimulation of provoking stronger arguments for the proposition opposite, potentially described here as something appropriating: x and y gave me great reason to consider this response much more than a mere preponderance of evidence would give, indeed even more than such evidence I would consider beyond any reasonable doubt would elicit toward the writer not being Segal, and yet, what exculpatory P R O O F am I missing that Pushkin would not it is Segal?

We know time changes people, everyone knows that, which is why Dylan is a joke of an artist, but what else might have been the surroundings that could have resulted in Segal actually being the author, despite our initial reasoning being sound it is in fact not him?

Drugs? Lack of sleep? Heartache from romantic love forlorn? Death of one beloved, or two? Stubbed toe? Fly? Alien interference? Ethel Kennedy medical treatments? Cult membership? Trolling for the Kafka comment made and referenced (if indeed this; well, well done Sir)?

Roughcoat said...

Hah. Good post, Althouse.

Laslo Spatula said...

Roscoe Marx, the forgotten black Marx Brother:

"Last evening was a fine Night at that Opera shit. Now make me breakfast, bitch."

"Duck Soup? How about you suck on my cock and I'll come Black Nut Chowder all over your white tits."

"A Day at the Races? Women, they DO like their horses. And women, they REALLY like my black horse-cock."

"Animal Crackers? I got enough problems with White Crackers."

"Room Service, me and my Special Lady need a bottle of your finest champagne. She needs to be drunk on that shit before I put my cock up her ass and fuck up your sheets."

"Monkey Business? You best not be calling me a Monkey, motherfucker, I'll beat your white ass."

I am Laslo.

wildswan said...

"what else might have been the surroundings that could have resulted in Segal actually being the author"

Re Siegal as author: You haven't spent enough time considering the Future of the Past. In this artisanal world a false Siegal identity is just a false Siegal identification for identification and identity are the same in software or virtual terms. And identification - well, if the main server goes down, did I commit the crime? did he make the comment? Or not make the comment? It is the same - the way onto the blog and the way off of the blog are one and the same. Siegal is the sock puppet (the Same) and the Other - for there is no Other only more of the Same. He's only a pawn in a digital game.

Ann Althouse said...

The incredibly dumb thing about that Siegel thing if it was really Siegel is that he seems outraged that I would think HE is lying. But from my perspective the question is whether someone who is not Siegel is lying. Real Lee Siegel shouldn't be offended that I am suspicious of THAT guy. Indeed, he should thank me for protecting the real Lee Siegel.

Which is why I thanked him for proving he's fake Siegel.

If it really were Siegel, he should then have understood the logic, valued my perspicuity, and make big friends with me. The nitwit!

Triangle Man said...

Groucho was the original Larry David. I'll never read the book, but I am curious whether Siegel supports his notion that Groucho was a misanthrope with any evidence other than Siegel's own supposition derived from watching films. Did Groucho write a letter that indicated his act reflected an inner desire to tear down others?

Ann Althouse said...

Another way to put that is the NPR commenter is right: He has no sense of humor.

Fernandinande said...

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"She got her looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon."

"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

Triangle Man said...

Am I wrong?

You were not wrong. The narcissism displayed in the response might be consistent with what could be expected from Siegel, but it certainly isn't unique to him.

Carol said...

Crappy music made it too difficult to listen to.

Yes What the hell did that "music" have to do with the subject anyway.

To watch these old comedies, you really have to put modern PC on hold. Old movies in general were very cavalier about women, race, violence, and death. It's fun to go back in time, see how people thought by what they laughed at, and then be glad that it is past. For the most part.

Laslo Spatula said...

"(The first comment says, justifiably, "Althouse looks like a member of the Manson Family in that 1970 photo.")"

Charles Manson: "And when you get to the house, make sure to paint some words on the walls with blood."

Althouse: There are a lot of words in the Oxford English Dictionary, Charles. What words are you thinking of?"

"I'm thinking "Oink", maybe."

"Oink"? What relevance are you hoping for people to attribute to "Oink"?"

Well, because of Pigs, man. The Establishment -- they're all Pigs."

"Then perhaps we should just write "Pigs" instead: it would be more straight-forward, with less chance of being misunderstood. Clarity of purpose is important when making this kind of Statement."

"That's good, Althouse -- I knew you were the smart one. I know! How about "Helter Skelter"? That would be groovy."

You mean "Helter Skelter", like the British English name of a spiralling amusement park slide?"

"No. What the Hell is that? I mean like the Beatles' song."

"No offense, Charles, but this might confuse people. I know you receive messages from the Beatles, but I believe there are Bob Dylan lyrics that would be more appropriate."

"Bob Dylan?"

"Yeah. Maybe something from "All Along the Watchtower", perhaps."

"I thought that was Jimi Hendrix. And Jimi is black. Blacks are the reason for Helter Skelter coming."

"Well then, how about "Ballad of a Thin Man"? You know:

"Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?"

You see, Mr. Jones IS the establishment, and you could be construed to be the "something" that is "happening" which the Establishment "don't know what it is." There are a lot of intellectual layers."

"I kinda like that, Althouse. But it would take a LOT of blood to spell all that out."

"Perhaps Positively 4th Street" then. "You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend" really points out the inherent dishonesty of The Man."

"Still a LOT of Blood, Althouse. And -- frankly -- I don't trust most of my girls to remember more than a word or two."

"But surely they could remember "The times they are a-changin'"?" That would signal that "Helter Skelter" is coming in a way that everyone could comprehend..."

"I can see that. But I still like the "Beatles."

"Do you think that the girls can at least remember to spell it correctly?"

"How could they fuck up two words?"

I am Laslo.

David said...

Scene: New York, 1930's. Swanky party. Marx is introduced to Talulah Bankhead. She is an established movie and daughter of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He is a newcomer, just becoming known. After a few early pleasantries, this dialog:

Marx: "Miss Bankhead, I would like to fuck you."

Bankhead: "All in good time, Mr. Marx. All in good time."

Since this was a good time, at least for people like them, they soon got their wish.

Marx loved women, a lot of them, in his own special way.

Bay Area Guy said...

As a kid, I loved Groucho and his Brothers. The holy trinity of old movies and old tv re-runs was: the Marx Brothers,, The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals.

fivewheels said...

Siegel's argument reminds me of something I read in Spy Magazine eons ago, in reply to a letter to the editors that was similarly obsequious to feminist sensitivities:

"Good job, buddy. Now go try to get laid with this letter."

Yancey Ward said...

On the older post, you were certainly not wrong to think he proved it wasn't that Siegel. The real Siegel should have been pleased that you were going the extra mile to protect his name from an impostor, not be outraged. Of course, based on what I have read of him, I could easily imagine him getting outraged in such a senseless manner.

sydney said...

I thought it was Chico Marx who said and did that with Tallulah

The Cracker Emcee said...

Sunday morning and Laslo is on fire. How do you do that?

Saint Croix said...

That clip is hilarious. Thanks, Althouse!

The Cracker Emcee said...

Oh, and Siegel is a drab idiot. Going solely by the clip, Groucho is actually quite sweet to her. In my experience, overly-serious women (with even a modicum of self-awareness) love this kind of banter as long as it isn't malicious. And overly serious men just hoover it up when it's delivered by a charming woman.

furious_a said...

Someone remind me why we need NPR again?

No NPR, no "Schweddy Balls".

J Lee said...

I'm only surprised Siegel didn't claim Groucho was also anti-Latino because he insulted Raquel Torres right off the bat in "Duck Soup".

The Cracker Emcee said...

I've always sort of assumed that Meade and Althouse have a Groucho/Dumont kind of relationship.

rcocean said...

funny clip. One thing I never liked about Groucho is he bad mouthed MD after her death. He said "She [MD] never understood the jokes and thought the whole thing was serious"

Which is absurd. She was a well known straight women on Broadway before she met the Marx brothers.

BTW, I have marx brothers on DVD but I skip almost all the non-Groucho scenes. Harpo and Chico are about as funny as a tooth ache.

rcocean said...

The problem with NPR is they have all these drippy, middlebrow, east coast liberal types. Most of them seem to be over 50.

Its like listening to the NYT editorial page.

Charlie said...

What's a Lee Siegel?

coupe said...

Why would anyone write a book about Groucho Marx in the 21st century?


larry labeck said...

Florence King. With Charity Toward None: a Fond Look at Misanthropy.

traditionalguy said...

Say the Secret Word and win $100.

Trump's secret word is Great. That always worked on his Slovenian Models.If they said Great Sex they won. But their rings cost him a lot more than that.

n.n said...

Male chauvinists respond to a mother complex. While female chauvinists respond to a father complex. Then there is the governing matriarchy, which solicits a variable response from boys, and a growing rebellion (e.g. sacrificial rites) by girls.

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chickelit said...

The first comment says, justifiably, 'Althouse looks like a member of the Manson Family in that 1970 photo.'

Not to go all archival on you (again) but erstwhile commenter reader_iam made the same observation about the same photo years earlier. Maybe there's an even earlier reference.

rightguy2 said...

The PC crowd could do to comedy what they have done to college: take all the fun out it.

And I an reflexively suspicious of people with no sense of humor. It frecuently indicates rigid thought processes. Jihadis have no sense of humor.

Quaestor said...

Anybody who tunes into NPR on a Sunday has got it coming -- in spades. NPR is a death sentence to the forebrain administered by a slow drip of wall-to-wall fatuous self-indulence, especially on Sundays.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The problem with NPR is they have all these drippy, middlebrow, east coast liberal types. Most of them seem to be over 50.

Its like listening to the NYT editorial page.

I have read that NPR is concerned because its audience is aging. Apparently, young people just don't understand the appeal of listening to word games or Garrison Keillor's singing. Nor are they desperate to solve "puzzlers" and hear speculation on what could be causing a 97 Malibu to make odd noises when you attempt to start it.

Imagine that!

Saint Croix said...

1. A Day at the Races
2. A Night at the Opera
3. Room Service
4. Duck Soup
5. At the Circus

Not a big fan of Animal Crackers or Monkey Business or Horse Feathers. But their best work is sublime art. And so damn funny!

It's really kind of obscene that they never won Best Picture. The disregard that Hollywood has for comedy! It's like their disregard for Hitchcock, or their disregard for anything fun. I feel that Hollywood must be a pretentious place (probably why there are so many leftists there). Pretentious people do not laugh much, they are too busy pretending.

fivewheels said...

Also: Not sure if the commenter meant it this way, but it's not wrong: Siegel is speaking up on behalf of the feminists who typically complain about this kind of thing, aka people with no sense of humor.

Gahrie said...

No NPR, no "Schweddy Balls".

That's the best reason anyone has come up with yet, and I have been asking for years.

Sammy Finkelman said...

The simplest way for Lee Siegel" to verify who he is to give you a professional or organizational or business or a listed telephone number.

Some place he on he masthead or at least a listing in the telephone book.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

When you watch "You Bet Your Life," which is a far better representation of the real Groucho than Rufus T. Firefly is, it's pretty clear that he really liked people. Of course he insults them endlessly and it usually goes over their heads--that's his shtick. But the digs are always couched in kindness.

Quaestor said...

Not only is Lee Siegel missing a sense of humor, he's also missing a considerable chunk of cognitive ability. Of course Groucho is a misanthrope -- that's the character, that's why he's called Groucho. The Marx brothers were a kind of commedia dell'arte troupe, with each brother playing a kind of stock type. Whether he's called Hugo Z. Hackenbush, Otis B. Driftwood, or Rufus T. Firefly, Groucho is only Groucho doing the same character and the same schtick.

The worst thing that can be said of Julius "Groucho" Marx the man is that in claiming Margaret Dumont didn't understand his antics he actually revealed his own underestimation of his indispensable "straight man".

William said...

Am I getting old or is Margaret Dumont kind of attractive? I don't mean hot but definitely within the realm of doable in an age appropriapte kind of way.

John A said...

"Margaret Dumont thought of herself as a great straightwoman"
Oh? I think it was Groucho who said so, and that she may have seldom understood the humor (Victorian upbringing?) but as a great trouper said her lines and acted as directed.

W.C. Fields, after his stage (vaudeville) experience, had a dislike of children in the business - they were a hard act to follow, and harder if in your own act. Thus his statement in one film: accused of not liking children he loudly protests that he loves children - then adds under his breath "preferably, parboiled."

Some of his lines still resonate, I do occasionally quote such as "I suspect there is a Ubangi in the fuel supply..." (Not exact, but close, when 'politically-correct' humor needed or is to be parodied)

Jeff Gee said...

Am I getting old or is Margaret Dumont kind of attractive? I don't mean hot but definitely within the realm of doable in an age appropriapte kind of way.

I've had similar thoughts about Elsa Lanchester. Growing up I thought, super hot in Bride of Frankenstein, and then BAM! Gargoyle city. But if you can get past the horrible hair styles they saddled her with in the forties and fifties, she remained quite fetching into the early sixties.

Yeah, we're really old.

rightguy2 said...

Lee Siegal is an obvious weezil: a pussified, preachy PC-zealot, who probably hasn't had an original idea in his entire life. But he also has very poor character (defaulting on his student loans even he probably has the means to pay them off- and then bragging about it in print!), and, his inability to honestly defend criticisms of his screeds (he should have responded using his real name in that TNR blog imbroglio), demonstrates he's a cowardly chickenshit on top of all that.


JAORE said...

John A, it was an Ethiopian.

Time magazine recorded Groucho's passing only with something like, Groucho Marx, famous Jewish comedian dies xx/xx/xxxx.

It was the same week that Elvis died. One of the only times Groucho was guilty of the sin of bad timing.

Quaestor said...

It was also W.C. Fields and not Groucho.

"It appears an Ethiopian has raided the fuel supply!" a line from My Little Chickadee

Laslo Spatula said...

I write a piece about Althouse trying to sway Charlie Manson to Bob Dylan rather than the Beatles, and it doesn't even get a sniff from the Professor.

Althouse IS Margaret Dumont.

ALTHOUSE is Margaret Dumont.

Althouse is MARGARET Dumont.


Trying to figure the Emphasis.

I am Laslo.

averagejoe said...

Remember when the 3 Stooges joined the Women Hater's Club? That was pure, in-your-face anti-feminism right there. Groucho couldn't touch Moe's ass when it came to misogyny. Or Larry! Remember the time he trapped his cheating fiancee's head in a vise and spanked her fanny with a bellows? Domestic violence- nyuk-nyuk-nyuk... How many broads took a Stooge pie right in the face? Plenty! So Groucho teased the lady about her figure- O the humanity! Call me when he shoves her onto a bear-trap that clamps on her derriere!

Char Char Binks said...

Do you mean Our Gang AKA The Little Rascals and the He-Man Woman-Haters Club?