Whitmore [played by Leonard Ceeley]: “No, not exactly. But running a sanitarium calls for a man with peculiar talents.”
Dr. Hackenbush [played by Groucho Marx]: “You don't have to look any further! I've got the most peculiar talents of any doctor you've ever met.”—A Day at the Races (1937), screenplay by Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and George Oppenheimer, directed by Sam Wood
Premiering 80 years ago this week, A Day at the Races clocked in at one hour and 50 minutes, making it the Marx Brothers’ longest feature. That was not its only distinction, however: the other related to Groucho’s character, a veterinarian passing himself off as a medical doctor.
In the original screenplay, this medical masquerader was given the Dickensian name of Dr. Quackenbush. MGM’s legal department, however, discovered that there were at least a dozen real doctors in the U.S. with this name. Nervous studio executives decided that a slight change of spelling would get them out of any legal hassles. Groucho liked the new name so much that he sometimes used it in signing off in letters to friends.
I have to admit to another reason for liking this name: It sounds like a cousin to a town near where I live: Hackensack, N.J. Five years after A Day at the Races, writer-director Preston Sturges used that place name for even more uproarious effect in The Palm Beach Story, when he gave Rudy Vallee’s stand-in for filthy-rich industrial John D. Rockefeller the sobriquet “John D. Hackensacker III.”