Monday, March 23, 2009

Quote of the Day (Groucho Marx, on Rights to a Name)

“You claim you own Casablanca and that no one else 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 before you were.”—Groucho Marx to Warner Brothers, 1947, from Groucho Marx, The Groucho Letters: Letters From and to Groucho Marx (1967)

The correspondence of Julius “Groucho” Marx was donated, at the institution’s request, to the Library of Congress. You’ll understand why after reading this and almost any randomly selected example from this book, which is more than a record of a life in the movie business but also a virtuouso display of wit.

In this quote, Groucho, on behalf of himself and his brothers, takes on the legal department of Warner Brothers, which threatened a lawsuit over the title of the trio's film A Night in Casablanca. (The studio felt it was too reminiscent of their Oscar-winning picture from five years before, Casablanca.)

One would think that Groucho’s initial response would have put the studio’s legal eagles in their place. Instead, they asked for clarification of the prospective film’s plot—twice—as if any Marx Brothers plot made sense.

The last of his three letters appears, mercifully, to have done the trick, as he explained there’d been “some changes” in the plot: “In the new version I play Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart,” with brothers Chico and Harpo as rug merchants who enter a monastery on a lark—“a good joke on them, as there hasn’t been a lark in the place for fifteen years.”

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