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Tom and Julius:

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From Steve King (Today in Liteature): “On this day in 1964, T. S. Eliot wrote to Groucho Marx to confirm that he was sending a car to pick “you and Mrs. Groucho” up for dinner. Their meeting was after years of correspondence, beginning with an Eliot fan letter expressing admiration for Groucho’s films. While not the alcoholic or literary event foreseen, the occasion became high comedy in Groucho’s hands…

Their much-postponed dinner took place just seven months before Eliot’s death at the age of seventy-six. In a letter to Gummo, Groucho describes finding his “celebrated pen pal” to be “tall, lean and rather stooped over. . . from age, illness, or both,” but “a dear man and a charming host.” Though “a memorable evening,” all did not go as expected:

… At any rate, your correspondent arrived at the Eliots’ fully prepared for a literary evening. 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
(“Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read…”)