My Wonderful Conversations With Groucho Marx

In this year of presidential pursuits, posturing and pretensions, I remember what the great comedy star opined more than half a century ago. It’s just as true today.

Groucho: Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies. Hey, Donald, Ted, Bernie, Hillary! Are you listening?

Just out of the Navy after Korean War service in 1953, it happened to me. I landed a job that allowed me to mingle with Groucho Marx and other classic movie legends just about every day.

I was hired as a $75-a-week writer for the Beverly Hills Citizen, now long out of print. It had been a twice-a-week free morning newspaper in the glamorous California town. After it was purchased that year by Will Rogers Jr., son of the famed humorist, it became a daily afternoon edition, and required paid subscriptions.

One of my first tasks, in addition to covering local news, was to visit Beverly Hills families to recruit pre-teen delivery boys. (In 1953, no girls.) They solicited and collected $40 a month from each subscriber and earned $20 in pay.

Many recruiting visits were to expensive mansions, a bit intimidating to be ushered into living rooms, sometimes by a uniformed butler. With parents who were famed producers, actors and directors, I had to be convincing.

The kids certainly didn’t need the money. My pitch was that the experience would give their boys responsibilities and valuable learning for later business careers. We soon had a 100-member corps of delivery boys.

Of course, being Beverly Hills, some boys tossed newspapers from the back seats of family limos. Others hired kids from more modest Los Angeles homes, and paid them to do the actual deliveries.

Groucho’s Beverly Hills house was a short walk from the newspaper building, and he often stopped by our front office to talk. Far from the loud, exaggerated slapstick character he portrayed on screen, to us he was a warm, kindly father figure.

We discussed entertainment, history, art, politics and careers. I griped that the lousy $75-a-week newspaper salary was less than my Navy pay had been. Groucho then gave me advice I followed for the next 40 career years. He told of early hardships with his brothers, and how they took any low-pay jobs to escape poverty.

He said the best thing about dealing with a lousy job is that if you keep searching long and hard enough, whatever comes along is certain to be a better one. Groucho’s advice worked for me, and I eventually achieved a 30-year advertising management career with a major insurance company.

After all the decades since, I still treasure my conversations with Groucho.

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