Groucho (played by Groucho Marx): “How about you and I passing out on the veranda; or would you rather pass out here?”
Woman at Party: “Sir, you have the advantage of me.”
Groucho: “Not yet I haven't, but wait till I get you outside.”--Monkey Business (1931), story (unaccredited) by Ben Hecht and Roland Pertwee, screenplay by S.J. Perelman and Will B. Johnstone, with additional dialogue by Arthur Skeekman
This first Marx Brothers comedy written specifically for the screen premiered on this date 80 years ago. If Robert Osbourne is to be believed, this exercise in controlled mayhem began appropriately, as the four brothers came to the first day of production in each other’s clothing, impersonating another member of the quartet.
For the longest time, I thought the funniest thing ever said by screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz was about his egomaniacal collaborator on Citizen Kane, Orson Welles: “There but for the grace of God, goes God.” But now I've come across a quote from the chapter on the Marx Brothers in S.J. Perelman’s The Last Laugh that might rank up there with that classic bon mot.
In it, “Mank,” the script supervisor at Paramount Pictures for Perelman and Will Johnstone, warned the rookie screenwriters about the perils of working with Hollywood’s funniest foursome: “They’re mercurial, devious and ungrateful. I hate to depress you, but you’ll rue the day you ever took the assignment. This is an ordeal by fire. Make sure you wear asbestos pants.”
And so it proved, as, Perelman noted, it took “five months of drudgery and Homeric quarrels, ambuscades and intrigues that would have shamed the Borgias” before Monkey Business hit the big screen.
“Monkey business,” indeed!
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