GROUCHO vs WARNER BROTHERS

Groucho Marx

Reading “The Groucho Letters” (1967), it’s clear Groucho Marx was a prolific letter writer – to magazines, his doctor, T.S.Eliot, Howard Hughes, Irving Berlin, Presidents – and Warner Brothers.

When the Marx Brothers were about to film A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, there were threats of legal action from the Warner Brothers studio.

Here is Groucho’s  1946  letter :

Dear Warner Brothers:

Up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers….I just don’t understand your attitude . Even if you plan on re-releasing your picture, I am sure the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.

You claim you own Casablanca and that no one can use that name without your permission. What about “Warner Brothers”? Do you own that,too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about Brothers?  Professionally we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as The Marx Brothers when Vitaphone  was still a gleam in the inventor’s eye.

And even before us there had been other brothers – the Brothers Karamazov, Dan Brothers ( an outfielder with Detroit), and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”…

Now,Jack, how about you ?  Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well, it’s not. Offhand, I  can think of two Jacks – there was Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.

As for you, Harry, you probably sign your checks, sure in the belief that you are the first Harry of all time and that all other Harry’s are imposters. I can think of two Harry’s that preceded you. There was Lighthouse Harry of Revolutionary fame, and a Harry Appelbaum who lived on the corner of 93rd Street and Lexington Avenue.

Now about the Burbank  studio. I believe this is what you brothers call your place. Old man Burbank is gone. He was a great man in the garden…..a wizard at crossing fruits and vegetables until he had the poor plants in such a confused and jittery condition that they could never decide whether to enter the dining room on the meat platter or the desert dish.

This is pure conjecture of course, but who knows – perhaps Burbank’s survivors aren’t too happy with the fact that a plant that grinds out pictures on a quota settled in their town, appropriated Burbank’s name and uses it as a front for their films. It is even possible that the Burbank  family is prouder of the potato produced by the old man than they are of the fact that from your studio emerged “Casablanca “ or even “Gold Diggers of 1931.”

…..I love Warner Brothers, some of my best friends are Warner Brothers……I have a hunch that this attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brain child of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal dept. Well he won’t get away with it! ….. we’ll fight him to the highest court…no pasty faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin and we’ll remain friends till the last reel of “A Night in Casablanca “ goes tumbling over the spool.

 

Actually, Warners didn’t threaten litigation. It was a  Groucho publicity stunt, and  his letter ( and two follow-up letters )were published in the Saturday Evening Post.

Apparently Warners merely enquired about the plot line in case there were any copyright infringements.

Another Groucho/ Warners joke was that Groucho said Warners’ NIGHT AND DAY” infringed on two Marx Brothers titles – “A NIGHT AT THE OPERA” and “A DAY AT THE RACES.”

 

 

The 1923 song, ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ ( by Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby) was sung in the film by Lisette Verea, in her only Hollywood film. Kalmar and Ruby had written songs for earlier Marx Brothers films).

The film was originally intended as a parody of “Casablanca”, and in an early draft, Groucho’s character was called ‘Humphrey Bogus’.

Set after the war, Groucho runs the Hotel  Casablanca , and Sig Ruman is a former Nazi who is after treasure hidden in the hotel.

Sig Ruman, Harpo Marx

One holdover from “Casablanca “ was Dan Seymour playing the Prefect of Police.

Dan Seymour

But seriously, Warner Brothers had nothing to worry about !

 

There was also a suggestion that Harpo might talk in the film. His response to a reporter was:

“ I’ve spent 25 years creating the illusion that I can’t talk. No matter what you write, they won’t believe it’s me talking. They’ll think you made it up.”

 

 

8 responses »

  1. Vienna, you made my day. What a hilarious letter written by the one and only Groucho Marx. I think I’ll read it again. Groucho puts to shame most so-called comedians we have today.

    • Vienna, you are right about Groucho’s humor being – unexpected. I like your description and I’ll try to remember it.

      Yes, it is GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 and what a grand enjoyable movie it is.

      I’ll sign off with Groucho:

      “I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.”

    • Yes, in 1950. They had sent him a wire congratulating him on his radio show and his comic reply was to say, “It would be helpful to know whether the wire was Simon’s idea or Schuster’s.” He complained that words weren’t enough – they should have sent “a Bulova watch, perhaps a crate of tinker toys, a side of beef….”

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