I’ll Say She Is: The Show That Made the Marx Brothers

Gimme a Thrill--The Story of I'll Say She Is book cover
Many movie buffs and vintage pop culture aficionados know that the Marx Brothers worked in vaudeville for many years before breaking big on Broadway. Their second and third Broadways plays, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, were adapted for their first two motion pictures, but the Broadway revue that made the Marxes stars, I’ll Say She Is, which opened at the Casino Theatre at 39th and Broadway in 1924, was never made into a movie; in fact, it was for decades a lost work. It has never been revived because no extant script was available, just bits and pieces.

That was until Noah Diamond, friend to Cladrite Radio and prenaturally talented individual (really, there’s nothing this guy can’t do), started researching this lost show with an eye toward reviving it for the first time in 90 years. He dug through the archives, finding snippets of dialogue, descriptions of the plot, sheet music for forgotten songs, etc., all in an attempt to piece together a more-than-reasonable facsimile of the Marxes’ first great triumph.

Noah’s efforts have finally paid off, as his recreation of I’ll Say She Is is finally receiving a fully mounted off-Broadway production in a mere matter of weeks (previews start May 28, opening night is June 2). But you needn’t wait till then to immerse yourself in the world of I’ll Say She is: Gimme a Thrill: The Story of I’ll Say She Is, The Lost Marx Brothers Musical, and How It Was Found, Noah’s engaging and informative account of the long march toward recreating and reviving the show is now available—in your choice of hard- and softcover—from BearManor and can be ordered now from your favorite online vendor and better bricks-and-mortar bookstores everywhere.

If you’ve an interest in the Marx Brothers (and who doesn’t?), Broadway history, show biz lore (or all of the above), you’ll want to own this delightful and informative account of how this once-lost show has been restored and revived. Given that the man responsible for this happy reclamation also wrote the book, you’ll be getting the straight scoop from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Buy it for yourself, buy it for the Marx Brothers fans in your life, buy it for us (as our copy will surely be worn out in short order)!

And if you want the REALLY complete story of I’ll Say She Is, don’t miss the next chapter in its history, May 28 through July 2 at the Connelly Theater; tickets on sale now at illsaysheis.com!

Happy 129th Birthday, Chico Marx!

Today is Chico Marx‘s 129th birthday. If we admit that he’s our third-favorite Marx Brother, we pay him no dishonor, as we love the Marxes, collectively and individually, more than just about anyone else who ever lived.

Chico Marx

Leonard (his given name, don’t you know) was a degenerate gambler and an inveterate skirt-chaser, but for all his undeniable faults, he seems to have been one of the most charming fellows you’d ever hope to meet.

Just try and keep from smiling as you watch his delightful turn at the piano from the Marxes’ second movie, Animal Crackers (1930).

Happy birthday, Chico, wherever you may be. Thanks for the laughs and the smiles; you’ve given us plenty of each.

Spend New Year’s Eve with the Marxes & the Charleses

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? We’re not referencing the classic song of that name (a favorite of ours, by the way); we’re asking the question. Because Turner Classic Movies has arranged a day of programming that, for our money, negates any need to even think of joining the inebriated hordes who’ll be out on the town, paying too much to have too little fun. Stay home instead, and enjoy the Marx Brothers all day and Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta, too) all night!

The Marx Brothers‘ first—and finest—seven pictures will air (slightly out of order, which is a bit of a head-scratcher) beginning at 8:15 a.m. ET, followed by all six Thin Man movies (which are being shown in proper order) beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

It’s nearly 23 hours of programming, so you’ll want to get plenty of rest tonight.

New Year's Eve -- Duck Soup and After the Thin Man posters

Radio Pioneers of the Algonquin Round Table

The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide coverOur friend Kevin Fitzpatrick, chronicler of all thing Dorothy Parker, has a new book out that we think will be of great interest to many of our readers. The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide allows the reader to “explore the shadowy speakeasies, majestic hotels, glittering theaters, and other locations frequented by the legends of the Algonquin Round Table.”

We’re pleased as punch to have this guest blog from Kevin. We think his new book is terrific and we’re confident you’ll find it an entertaining and engaging read.

When I was compiling the material for my new book, The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide, I was struck by the group’s versatility. I’d originally believed the group, which met from 1919 to about 1927, was the realm of newspaper and magazine writers. However, by researching the biographies of all thirty members, it became clear the group had their fingers in every form of mass entertainment and media.

It turns out that there were members with careers that stretched from silent pictures to live television, such as actresses Margalo Gillmore and Peggy Wood. Robert Benchley made the first all-talking short, The Treasurer’s Report, released in March 1928 by Fox. Marc Connelly and Dorothy Parker both wrote captions and scenarios for the silents, then later jumped into writing plays and talkies.

But if there is one format that most of the members drew paychecks from after the Round Table ended, that’s radio. Many members of the group appeared as guests, commentators, writers, or actors. Benchley and Parker had their short stories adapted for dramatizations. Harpo Marx whistled his answers on-air. Others made the transition from newspapers to microphones, trading on their popularity as writers.

The book has more than 100 locations around the New York area tied to the lives of the “Vicious Circle” that met at the Algonquin Hotel on West Forty-fourth Street. Here are three spots from their radio days, all within walking distance of the Round Table.

NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Franklin P. Adams on Information PleaseFranklin P. Adams was a veteran newspaper columnist with 35 years’ experience when his services were no longer needed. Radio saved him, and a quiz show was the last hurrah of his brilliant career. In 1937, the Herald Tribune didn’t renew his contract. With an encyclopedic knowledge of literature and trivia and a family of five to support during the height of the Great Depression, the offer to be a regular panelist on a radio quiz show came as a blessing.

The format of Information Please was simple but brilliant. Listeners mailed in questions. If the question stumped a panel of experts, the listener won a small cash prize. The show was unrehearsed and conducted before a live studio audience. The 30-minute program moved like lightning, and experts and guests had to answer quickly. On May 17, 1938, Information Please debuted on the NBC Blue Network (later ABC). Clifton Fadiman, a literary critic who wrote for The New Yorker, was master of ceremonies. The show was an overnight success, and more than 25,000 questions poured into the studios.

One question put to F.P.A. in 1938 was to finish the Joe Miller gag, “Who was that lady I saw you with last night?” To which he replied, “There are two answers: That was no lady, that was my wife. And the other is that was no lady, that was your wife.” The show continued for ten years, mostly on NBC. Over time, just about every Round Table member appeared as a guest.

NBC has always been associated with Rockefeller Center. John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the founder of Standard Oil, owned the land and helped create the landmark. The area bounded by Fifth and Sixth avenues from 48th to 51st streets contained numerous speakeasies before demolition in 1930. NBC has called 30 Rockefeller Plaza home since the building was completed in 1933, spanning corporate ownership from General Electric to Comcast. More than a dozen buildings form the complex today, with “30 Rock” as centerpiece. Radio studios were the original tenants (hence Radio City) and now television studios. The Art Deco buildings are landmarks inside and out.

CBS, Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue
When radio networks became national broadcasters in the late 1920s, some of the live programming was classical music. Symphonies and orchestras dominated as networks tried to reach upper class listeners. William S. Paley signed the New York Philharmonic to CBS in a major coup and gave the network enormous prestige.

Deems Taylor, composer Sigmund Romberg, and Alexander Woollcott in the studio, circa 1935Beginning in 1936, Deems Taylor served as commentator during intermissions. Already a star composer and conductor, he had been a newspaper music critic but never a broadcaster. His role at CBS was an enormous success, and Taylor found himself giving weekly music lecturers to a huge audience during Sunday afternoon concerts in Carnegie Hall. He helped listeners understand what they were hearing and helped a generation appreciate classical music. Taylor also introduced listener questions, interviewed orchestra members during intermissions, and brought the whole experience of classical music into the nation’s living rooms. A broadcaster for more than ten years, Taylor became the country’s best-known authority on music.

The building was saved from a wrecking ball in 1960 and underwent multi-million dollar renovations in recent years. Today the Isaac Stern auditorium, the main performance hall, seats 2,800.
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Happy Birthday, Harpo Marx!

Today marks the 126th anniversary of the birth of the great Harpo Marx.

Born Adolph—he later changed his name to Arthur—Harpo was said by all who knew him to be the kindest and gentlest of men. When we first became fans of the Marx Brothers, it was Groucho to whom we were drawn, but over the years, the delightful film work of Harpo—and the very endearing stories of his life and career—have made Harpo a very close second favorite. If Groucho stills leads, it’s only by a nose.

Happy birthday, Harpo, wherever you may be!