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T.S. & Groucho: Pen Pals

By Harriet Staff

Steve King offers up a brief look into the correspondence of T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx over at The Barnes and Noble Review, to commemorate this day in 1964 when the two finally met in person. A few samples of their correspondence from The Groucho Letters:

Groucho, to “Tom”:

“I had no idea you were so handsome. Why you haven’t been offered the lead in some sexy movies I can only attribute to the stupidity of the casting directors.”

And here Groucho writes to Gummo, summing up the evening spent at the Eliot household:

During the week I had read Murder in the Cathedral twice, The Waste Land three times, and just in case of a conversational bottleneck, I brushed up on King Lear. Well, sir, as the cocktails were served, there was a momentary lull—the kind that is more or less inevitable when strangers meet for the first time. So, apropos of practically nothing (and not with a bang but a whimper) I tossed in a quotation from The Waste Land. That, I thought, will show him I’ve read a thing or two besides my press notices from Vaudeville. Eliot smiled faintly—as though to say he was thoroughly familiar with his poems and didn’t need me to recite them. So I took a whack at King Lear…. That too failed to bowl over the poet. He seemed more interested in discussing Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera. He quoted a joke—one of mine—that I had long since forgotten. Now it was my turn to smile faintly…. We didn’t stay late, for we both felt that he wasn’t up to a long evening of conversation—especially mine. Did I tell you we called him Tom?—possibly because that’s his name. I, of course, asked him to call me Tom too, but only because I loathe the name Julius.


Tom Marx

Find a audio of Eliot reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” here.

And a video of Groucho navigating Lord Buckley’s treatment of Shakespeare on You Bet Your Life here.

Posted in Poetry News on Friday, June 3rd, 2011 by Harriet Staff.