Groucho Marx was the third-born of the five Marx Brothers but far and away the best known. When I was growing up, I thought he was the funniest man in the world, and I’m not sure I’ve come across anyone since then who has made me laugh more. (The one possible exception is Robin Williams.) Groucho was on both radio and TV in You Bet Your Life, a game show that ran on television from 1950 to 1961. The show was largely unscripted and showed Groucho at his witty best. But my admiration for him may not have been hurt by the fact that my father bore a more than passing resemblance to him.
Groucho’s wit was based on his matchless ability to turn any question or any statement into a string of non sequiturs. So any author who would dare to capture him between the covers of a book would certainly need a far above average facility with the English language. Clearly, Ron Goulart has that. In Groucho Marx, Private Eye, he reproduces Groucho’s seemingly inimitable patter on the page with letter-perfect skill. Fortunately, Goulart wrote six Groucho Marx detective novels between 1998 and 2005. So far, I’ve read only the first two, but I’m looking forward to more.
Groucho Marx, Private Eye (Groucho Marx Mysteries #2) by Ron Goulart (1999) 263 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Here’s Groucho in Goulart’s rendering:
“‘Would you be Groucho Marx?'” someone asks him on the street.
“‘Not if I had any choice,’ he answered, stopping. ‘But by now the name is on all the towels and silverware and it’s just too much trouble to change it.'”
Groucho Marx, Private Eye is on the air
In Groucho Marx, Private Eye, the scriptwriter for the comedian’s radio program, Frank Denby, provides Goulart’s own voice as the narrator. Together, Frank and Groucho have already solved one celebrated murder case. Now, in 1938, they soon find themselves investigating another one. Groucho is on the air in a radio show called (Surprise!) Groucho Marx, Private Eye. The eponymous star is private detective J. Hawkshaw Transom. Frank writes the scripts.
Unfortunately, the show’s ratings are declining, and the sponsor has forced Groucho to accept a popular child actor as his on-air daughter. The girl’s mother has been framed for the murder of a former boyfriend, a prominent Hollywood plastic surgeon. Life with the kid will be impossible unless they can keep her mother out of prison. To prove the woman’s innocence, Frank and Groucho will soon be tangling with mobsters, a crooked cop, venal studio executives, and a pudding manufacturer who wants to replace Frank with a clueless ad executive. It’s all gloriously complicated, but of course Frank and Groucho will triumph in the end.
By the way, if you’re a movie buff, you’ll find a special bonus in this book. Goulart has worked many of the era’s biggest film stars into the story. They add to the fun.
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