When Groucho Marx Quoted ‘The Waste Land’ to T.S. Eliot

Strange but true: Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot were pen-pals. Their correspondence began in 1961, when T.S. Eliot sent Groucho Marx a fan letter. It continued for several years, with them finally meeting for dinner in 1964. From a recent post on Daybook:

The much-postponed event took place just seven months before Eliot’s death at the age of seventy-six. In a letter afterwards to Gummo, Groucho describes finding his “celebrated pen pal” to be “a dear man and a charming host,” though the evening not quite the literary event he’d imagined:

During the week I had read Murder in the Cathedral twice, The Waste Land three times, and just in case of a conversational bottleneck, I brushed up on King Lear. Well, sir, as the cocktails were served, there was a momentary lull — the kind that is more or less inevitable when strangers meet for the first time. So, apropos of practically nothing (and not with a bang but a whimper) I tossed in a quotation from The Waste Land. That, I thought, will show him I’ve read a thing or two besides my press notices from Vaudeville. Eliot smiled faintly — as though to say he was thoroughly familiar with his poems and didn’t need me to recite them. So I took a whack at King Lear…. That too failed to bowl over the poet. He seemed more interested in discussing Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera. He quoted a joke — one of mine — that I had long since forgotten. Now it was my turn to smile faintly…. We didn’t stay late, for we both felt that he wasn’t up to a long evening of conversation — especially mine. Did I tell you we called him Tom? — possibly because that’s his name. I, of course, asked him to call me Tom too, but only because I loathe the name Julius.

Yours,
Tom Marx

Read the story here

 

Photo of T.S. Eliot via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Groucho Marx via Wikimedia Commons