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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 6)

But enough of my cigars escaped his clutches for me to have a good supply on hand when I was assigned by the Coast Guard Commander to organize a show for the express purpose of entertaining my fellow servicemen in the South Pacific Theater, after General MacArthur had retaken the Philippines. I was told that the big USO shows, such as Bob Hope's and Rudy Vallee's, never quite made it to the small, outer islands; and since the boys in Leyte, where I was stationed, were starved for entertainment, I was chosen--because of my background--to throw a show together, and also perform in it as its comedian/emcee.

Because I wasn't too sure of myself at the mike in front of a couple of thousand screaming servicemen, I tried smoking a cigar and using it as a prop whenever I was on stage--just as Groucho had told me he had done when he was doing a show. To my surprise, it worked like a charm and loosened me up enough to get through a performance without looking like an amateur.

After we'd played the show around the islands for a few weeks, the Coast Guard's PR department got wind of the fact that I was Groucho's son and insisted on photographing me wearing a pith helmet and greasepaint mustache, à la Groucho in Animal Crackers.

In the printed photo, I looked surprisingly like Groucho's Captain Spaulding--so much so that the United Press picked it up and sold it to many of its subscribers back in the States.

A few weeks later I received a stern letter from Groucho.

Dear Big Feet:

When I opened the L.A. Times this morning I saw a picture of you as Captain Spaulding. Well you could have knocked me over with a feather, a horsefeather, that is. Until then I had thought you were in the South Pacific defending your country. Now I find out you're out there stealing my act. Well, I want this to stop immediately, or I will have to take it up with my lawyer.

Sincerely yours,
Doctor Hugo C. Hackenbush

He was kidding about suing me, of course, as he generally was about everything. But the one thing he was perfectly serious about was the advice he'd given me about smoking in moderation.

And it must be good advice. He was still smoking cigars in his 80s, in spite of his doctor's admonition that he ought to quit.

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