February 8, 2007

Groucho and the medium.

If you have TimesSelect, you can read Dick Cavett's blog, which has a long post today about ghost stories. Here's an anecdote:
Groucho [Marx] could always go unrecognized in public, thanks to the painted-on mustache he wore onstage. This allowed him to, as he put it “go anywhere and mingle with the common man in all his dreariness.” Back then, there was a prominent trance medium holding forth, and her devoted disciples (sometimes spelled s-u-c-k-e-r-s) solemnly offered to take the man born Julius Marx with them to a séance. Always intellectually curious, Groucho was glad to be asked along — though he told me he was “vaguely insulted” when his new friends solemnly cautioned him to show the proper reverence. “I’m not a clown 24 hours,” he said. “I can also be serious.”

The séance was held in the darkened parlor of some wealthy believer’s apartment. Groucho reported a heavy air of sanctity about the place, “and not entirely from the incense.” Lights were low and the faithful conversed in hushed tones. The medium began to chant unintelligibly, and then to emit a strange humming sound (I can’t help seeing her as Margaret Dumont), eventually achieving her trance state. “I am in touch, I am in touch with the Other Side,” she intoned. “Does anyone have a question?”

Groucho arose and asked, “What is the capital of North Dakota?”

He recalled being chased for several blocks, but escaped injury.


Eli Blake said...

Well, obviously she should have invited Harpo.

Ron said...

During the meet-and-greet on You Bet Your Life, a woman contestant shocked the audience by saying that she had 10 children. Playing to the audience, Groucho asked her how she can she afford it in this day and age, to which she replyed, "But Groucho I love my husband!"

and Groucho immediately fired back, "Well, I love my cigar but at least I take it out of my mouth once in awhile!"

Nothing but trouble, that Julius...

PeterP said...

Groucho arose and asked, “What is the capital of North Dakota?”


Tibore said...

Actually, the version I heard had the medium going on and "answering" questions for some time while Groucho just sat there building up indignation. Then, when the medium said "I just have time... for... just... one more... ques... tion... " that's when Groucho dropped the line.

"What's the capital of North Dakota?"

I always loved that little bit of irreverence from him. Such a wonderful deflation of such a superstitious group, too.


"A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five." - Groucho Marx

Bleepless said...

Groucho once was having lunch in an upscale restaurant with S. J. Perelman. Totally unrelated to anything, Groucho got up, threw down his napkin and shouted, "What? The pig a dirty animal? Why, the pig is the cleanest animal there is! Except for my father, of course." Then he resumed eating.

SippicanCottage said...

groucho was a lot of fun. I have a collection of his letters. They make interesting reading.

He tells the story of being rejected by a country club because he was jewish. He asked: "My son is half Jewish. Can he go in the pool up to his waist?"

Zach said...

Harpo's autobiography is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. He was another guy who could mingle in perfect obscurity by taking off the wig. Seeing him in the movies, you'd never guess he was one of the most famous conversationalists of the Algonquin Round Table.

MrBuddwing said...

Alas, the I-love-my-cigar-but-at-least-I-take-it-out-of-my-mouth-once-in-awhile story is in all likelihood apocryphal: