How to Build a Secret Weapon

In honor of Groucho Marx’s birthday we have posted an excerpt from the recent book, Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales, written by Groucho Marx and edited by Robert S. Bader. Please enjoy!

“How to Build a Secret Weapon” was written as Groucho again made writing his second career. In the spring of 1943, Groucho returned to a starring role in radio after an extended layoff. He was the host and star of Pabst Blue Ribbon Town on CBS from March 27, 1943, until June 17, 1944. He was replaced on the show by Danny Kaye when his contract wasn’t renewed, apparently because he had insulted the sponsor. (Legend has it that Groucho got an elder member of the Pabst family drunk on a competitor’s beer.)

It has recently come to these shifty old eyes that the U.S. Army has announced the Bazooka as an official weapon in World War II. That pleases me moderately because the inventor of this lethal instrument is my friend Bob Burns.* It seems that this Bazooka shoots rockets at enemy soldiers, and if that doesn’t do the trick, it plays a few choruses of the “Arkansas Traveler” for the coup de grâce—that’s French for those who care for French.

Now, I’m not one to belittle such a great achievement. But truth compels me to announce that Bob Burns’s Bazooka is already obsolete! It’s as out of date as a porterhouse steak. You hear it from my own lips—I who have invented the Super-Bazooka. This amazing new weapon operates on exactly the opposite principle from the old one. Briefly, where Bob Burns’s Bazooka shoots rockets at Nazis, my Super-Bazooka will shoot Nazis at Bob Burns. This doesn’t have much to do with winning the war, but it seems like a good idea in general.

But then, the Super-Bazooka is merely one among countless other inventions of mine. For example, Marx’s Military Dice. These cubes are equipped with cleats on each face and are especially adapted for use in rocky terrain. Pull up a bayonet and sit down and I’ll tell you the whole gripping story of my rise to obscurity as a secret-weapon genius.

In 1937, by popular demand, I decided to retire from public life and seek what had always been my true goal—Contentment. “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine . . . ” that’s how Omar Khayyam put it. As far as I’m concerned you can switch the wine for a bottle of beer (you know what kind!). And while you’re about it you can switch the bread for a fat blonde.

Ah, Contentment!

But soon the bugles of war aroused me from my lethargy. In rapid succession, I was rejected by the Army, the Navy, Marines, Wacs and Waves. I even tried to enlist in the Spars as a Sparring partner, but they said I was too feminine.

In desperation I offered myself to the Wags. However, at the induction test, I proved gun-shy and also bit a technical sergeant as he was examining my dewlaps.

For weeks I was utterly crestfallen, but one day I looked myself straight in the eye—not an easy trick with bifocals. “Am I a man or a mouse?” I demanded. (Readers are invited to send in their votes. All ballots marked Rat will be discarded unless there is cheese attached.) Anyway, I boarded a train and after three days on the road I arrived in Washington and went straight to the War Department.

“Lafayette, I am here!” I announced. They threw me out. I then buttonholed Secretary Stimson or General Marshall—I forget which one it was, but whoever it was, he told me that they were pretty well filled up at present. “Who are you anyway?” he asked.
“Who am I?” I parried. “Why, I’m America’s greatest inventor. God, sir, have you never heard of Marx’s Dropped Living Rooms for Fallen Arches?” “Why, naturally!” he cried. “And the fact is, Mr. Marx, we have an opening for an inventor.” The opening proved to be a window on the twelfth floor. In less time than it takes to tell, I was dusting off my pants on the sidewalk.

Let me skip the next three months and also the next three paragraphs. Let us take up the story again as I enter my private laboratory one dark evening in March. The reason it’s dark is that I neglected to pay my light bills during those three months we skipped. I am now gainfully employed as a secret-weapon designer on a piecework basis—$22.50 per dozen secret weapons—10 per cent off to wholesalers. This particular night I have been assigned to an especially difficult problem: how to fit three lieutenants and a light Howitzer into an upper berth. Howitzer like to try that?

I worked into the wee small hours, drinking Scotch and a certain brand of beer. Beads of perspiration started on my forehead and trickled down my face to my neck, forming a rather unbecoming bead necklace. I knew I was getting close but I attributed this to the Scotch. The first 15 attempts brought nothing at all. The sixteenth produced a formula by which high-octane gasoline could be manufactured from old shoelaces. I tossed it aside with an impatient frown. My seventeenth attempt was also a failure. But finally—finally on the eighteenth try, I captured the magic formula! Mad with excitement I flung up my hands. One hit the ceiling and the other landed in a wastebasket. I could scarcely believe my great good luck. Rushing out of my laboratory, I ran through the house in a frenzy of joy.

“Eureka!” I shouted. “Eureka!” Eureka is my wife. She came tripping down the stairs in her nightdress and almost broke her fool neck. After she regained consciousness, I whispered the secret to her.

Here it is in a nutshell, the famous Marx Upper Berth Theory:
—— ——— —— — ———  ———— ——— ——— ——
———— ——— ——— ——

I’m sorry, the censor from the War Department has just arrived. (Here, keep your fingers out of that humidor, Hawknose!) However, I’ll try to give you an idea of some of my other recent secret weapons, in spite of him:
No. 387KL44Y—A double-pistoned —————for ——and —————which facilitates ————in emergencies such as ———but on the other hand ———.

No. 58396X2D—A turbine-driven ———————for the pur- pose of ——————and in the same operation to ——regardless of ———.

Well, what’s the use of going on further? I’m sure this gives you a pretty fair idea of my work. It also gives you a pretty fair idea of the censor.

My greatest invention of all, though—my chef d’oeuvre—if you don’t mind a little restaurant French—is as follows:
1 jigger of ———
——of brandy
———of lemon
Dash of ————
Ice well and ———
Serve with ——in tall glass

I call it the Marxotov Cocktail, and my plan is to lob it over into enemy trenches in individual thermos bottles. If this secret weapon affects Nazis the way it affects my friends, all our boys will have to do is march over their prostrate bodies.

I’ve only known one person who was strong enough to down a Marxotov Cocktail without batting an eye: it was the champion steamfitter of Los Angeles County, a Miss Diana Tiffin. It’s interesting to see women emerging as the tough sex after all these centuries. It sounds incredible, but I know a man who recently married a furniture mover.

On second thought, that isn’t so incredible. All women are furniture movers. A friend of mine married the most violent furniture mover I ever saw. Once I visited their home and on the third day became so confused I sat down in a potted begonia and put my feet up on the French maid.

After demonstrating the Marxotov Cocktail to a Secret Military Commission, I was deluged with honors from the government: I received the Order of the Purple Heart, the Order of Distinguished Service, and an order from the Collector of Internal Revenue to pay up my income tax or else.

Shortly after this, I received a commission to solve the vital question that is uppermost in every American’s mind today, briefly: When the war is won, what shall we do with that dirty so-and-so in Berlin by the name of Adolph ———?

(Aw, shucks, I thought that censor had dozed off. I’m sure everyone else has. And why can’t I mention ———— anyway? Oh, well, censors are all a little queer. I’ll just call ———————something else—for instance, Willard M. Schickelgruber.

I’ll tell you what we’ll do with Willard M. Schickelgruber. We’ll say, “Now, look here, Willard M. Schickelgruber, we’re going to let you go back to your old job. For the next 50 years you’re going to paper the new Pentagon Building in Washington. You can start on the first floor and paper it with paper from “Mein Kampf” and old German communiques. When those run out you can paper it with paid-off United States War Bonds. And then, Willard M. Louse, if you get through with the first floor before 50 years have elapsed, you can start the second floor!”

How’s that for a peace plan? My motto is “Buy a Bond and Keep Willard M. Hitler Hanging!” (Let’s see you censor that, Hawknose!)

This Week
November 7, 1943

Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales

Groucho Marx was a comic genius who starred on stage and in film, radio, and television. But he was also a gifted writer – the author of a play, two screenplays, seven books, and over 100 articles and essays. This newly expanded collection presents the best of Groucho’s short comic pieces, written over a period of more than fifty years between 1919 and 1973 for the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and other newspapers and magazines.

What This Country Needs

The following is an essay by Groucho Marx, as it appears in Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales, edited by Robert S. Bader (Applause Books).

I want to say at the outset that I am not a candidate for anything. The Marx for-Vice-President boom never had my support, nor did it ever get very far. It was launched by an obscure Californian who was politically inexperienced and, incidentally, very drunk.

The whole thing was nothing if not spontaneous. I was at an obnoxious little dinner party the other evening, talking about world affairs, when this fellow said suddenly, “Let’s run Groucho Marx for Vice-President.”

Naturally I was touched, but only for five dollars, and that came later. At the moment, I asked why I should be singled out for this honor; why should my friends want me to be Vice-President?

“Because,” snarled my sponsor, “the Vice-President generally keeps his mouth shut. It might be an interesting experience for you.”

Read the rest of this essay over on Art Threat

Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales

Groucho Marx was a comic genius who starred on stage and in film, radio, and television. But he was also a gifted writer – the author of a play, two screenplays, seven books, and over 100 articles and essays. This newly expanded collection presents the best of Groucho’s short comic pieces, written over a period of more than fifty years between 1919 and 1973 for theNew York Times, the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening PostVariety, the Hollywood Reporter, and other newspapers and magazines.

Available from Amazon, B&N, independent bookstores, and Applause Books.

 

Interview with Robert S. Bader, Editor of Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales

Read on for an interview with Robert S. Bader, editor of the book Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales. Bader reveals his wonderful insights on Marx’s Illustrious writing career. Be sure to check out the full interview, as well.

1) How did you become interested in Groucho Marx?

The Marx Brothers were going through a bit of a revival when I was growing up, so in the late 1960s and early 1970s I discovered them on television. I was an inquisitive kid and after seeing a couple of the films I checked out everything I could find on them in the local library and was surprised to learn that Groucho had written several books. So I became interested in him as a writer and a performer almost simultaneously. And his writing was as enjoyable to me as everything else he did from the beginning.

2) What would you like people to know about Groucho’s writing career?

Groucho was mostly self-educated and sought acceptance from writers more than film critics. Writing was very important to him. He wasn’t just a movie star who wrote some books and articles. He was a formidable enough writer to have succeeded at it without his other more successful endeavors…

Keep reading here on Out of the Past.

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Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx An Updated and Expanded Edition

Groucho Marx was a comic genius who starred on stage and in film, radio, and television. But he was also a gifted writer – the author of a play, two screenplays, seven books, and over 100 articles and essays. This newly expanded collection presents the best of Groucho’s short comic pieces, written over a period of more than fifty years between 1919 and 1973 for the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and other newspapers and magazines.

Here is the one and only Groucho on his family, his days in vaudeville, his career, World War II, taxes, and other topics from his love of a good cigar to his chronic insomnia, from “Why Harpo Doesn’t Talk” to “The Truth About Captain Spalding.” The familiar irreverence, wordplay, and a dash of self-deprecation bring Groucho’s wisecracking voice to life in these pages, firmly establishing him as one of the world’s great humorists.

Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales (a title of Groucho’s own choosing) is essential reading for Marx Brothers fans, and a hilarious and nostalgic trip through the twentieth century. Available for purchase here.

Event: Marx Brothers Book Signing and Double Feature

Santa Monica, California

New Years Day 2012, the Aero Theater in Santa Monica (1328 Montana Ave.) will be screening a double feature of Animal Crackers and Horse Feathers at 5pm. However, if you come to the lobby at 4pm, you can get autographs from Robert S. Bader, the editor of Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales AND Bill Marx (the son of Harpo Marx), author of Son of Harpo Speaks! Books on sale by Larry Edmunds Bookshop in the theater lobby.

Groucho Marx was a comic genius who starred on stage and in film, radio, and television. But he was also a gifted writer – the author of a play, two screenplays, seven books, and over 100 articles and essays. This newly expanded collection presents the best of Groucho’s short comic pieces, written over a period of more than fifty years between 1919 and 1973 for theNew York Times, the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening PostVariety, the Hollywood Reporter, and other newspapers and magazines.
Available from Applause Books and booksellers nationwide.

Bill Marx is the last living person to have worked professionally with the three Marx Brothers, his uncles Chico and Groucho and his father, Harpo Marx. Because Chico and Groucho had siblings that had written about them, Bill Marx wanted to complete the Marx Brothers’ literary trifecta by authoring a book about the personal and professional relationships that he had with his father. Available from Applause Books and booksellers nationwide.