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You Bet Your Life

Groucho Marx knew the secret word was enjoyment.
Arthur Marx
From the Print Edition:
Groucho Marx, Spring 93

(continued from page 4)

My father had a reputation for being thrifty, unnecessarily so for a man of his fame and fortune. And he was pretty tight-fisted in strange ways. He wouldn't, for example, check his hat with the hatcheck girl when he was entering a classy restaurant such as Chasen's or '21'. "If I spend all that money to eat in a fancy restaurant," he used to complain to me, "I think it's outrageous for the management to expect me to buy back my hat. At those prices they ought to let me hang it up for nothing."

To get around this "highway robbery," he'd wear a beret instead of his customary Fedora to a restaurant. Then, just before he stepped inside, he'd fold up the beret and stuff it into the pocket of his jacket. That way, he could cheat the hatcheck girl out of a quarter.

He was equally resentful of having to leave his car with the parking attendant at the front entrance, and having to tip him on his way out after dinner. If he could find a parking space on the street, even if it was two blocks away and it was raining, he'd leave his Cadillac there and walk the rest of the way to the bistro. Sometimes he'd leave his hat and topcoat in the car, too, to avoid tipping the hatcheck girl. He discontinued this practice, however, after he parked his car in an unpoliced neighborhood one night. When he came back later he found his car stolen--along with his topcoat and Fedora.

The one area where he wouldn't stint was on buying smoking materials. By the end of his life he was smoking two-dollar cigars without thinking twice about it.

Occasionally he enjoyed smoking a pipe. On a rack on a bookshelf behind his desk in his study he had an impressive collection of straight-grain Dunhills, and a number of different tins of imported British pipe tobacco.

It was Groucho who introduced me to tobacco. When I dropped out of USC after my freshman year, in 1941, I decided to spend my time writing instead of taking required courses like botany and physics, which I had no interest in or talent for. Since every writer I knew smoked a pipe, I thought it might help my prose to have a pipe in my mouth while I was pounding on my Remington.

Without telling father I purchased a cheap corncob pipe at a tobacco store in Beverly Hills and stuck it in my mouth, hoping for inspiration. I didn't have any tobacco in it. I just sucked the stem to give the effect I was smoking.

One morning Groucho walked in unexpectedly and surprised me with the pipe in my mouth. "Who do you think you are with that cheap corncob pipe in your kisser--General MacArthur?!" he exclaimed. "I'll give you a real pipe."

With that he went straight back to his bedroom and returned a few moments later carrying a straight-grain Dunhill--one that cost about $75--and dropped it on my desk. "Try this one on for size," he said. "Just don't smoke until you're finished with your tennis career." At the time I was the fifth ranked 18-year-old tennis player in the United States.

I promised him I'd lay off the tobacco until I was through with athletics. But after two months of sucking on a beautiful pipe that reeked of expensive tobacco and still had the taste in its bit, I could no longer resist the temptation of trying the real thing.

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