The Funkiest Marx Brothers Movie Never Made
We're just stuffed to the gills with culture 'n' bookses today, Wonkers! Part One of our Wonkette Book Club discussion of Eric Rauchway's Winter War is over here, and for those of you who want to do Open Thread stuff, here is an Open Thread for you too! About another darn book, of course, this time a graphic novel adaptation of a seriously weird screenplay that Salvador Dalí wrote for the Marx Brothers. The title is perfectly Marx Brothersish: Giraffes on Horseback Salad. No, of course that isn't explained even one tiny bit, although there are some giraffes in the screenplay. They're on fire, not on horseback.
Dalí -- a relentless self-promoter, not that there's anything wrong with that (READ THE BOOK CLUB! BUY THE BOOK!) -- was seriously into collaborative projects, like his two films with Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age d'Or (1930). We've all been grossed out by the eyeball-slicin' still in our freshman film survey class, even if we know nothing else about Chien. And of course people were calling the Marx Brothers surreal long before Harpo Marx met Dalí in Paris in 1936, when Harpo was on tour to promote A Night at the Opera. The two pranksters really clicked, or honked horns, even though they didn't speak any shared languages but absurdity. Dali said Harpo and his brothers represented an "anarchistic form of rebellion against modern society."
In 1937, Dalí and Harpo pitched Dali's movie treatment to Louis B. Mayer, who didn't care for it, just as he wasn't all that crazy about the Marx Brothers to start with. They made MGM plenty of money, but he didn't see why. The project was turned down by Mayer, probably, although an alternate explanation has Groucho telling Dalí the script/treatment just plain wasn't funny, so the brothers wouldn't be participating.
The treatment itself surfaced in 1996, and now the screenplay itself has been reconstructed/reimagined as a graphic novel by Josh Frank and Tim Heidedecker, with art by Manuela Pertega. (BUY IT WITH A WONKETTE KICKBACK, we shamelessly self-promoted.)
Here, listen to NPR's lovely piece from Weekend Edition Sunday today. Or if you are more textually inclined, enjoy the transcript.
NPR explains a bit of how the book came to be:
Now, writer Josh Frank has turned that somewhat incomprehensible screenplay into a graphic novel. "It was crazy surreal," he says, "and totally not digestible, and Groucho said quote-unquote 'it wouldn't play.'"
And so that screenplay slipped into the realm of legendary lost treasures — that is, until Frank got wind of it, tracked it down at a museum in France, and recruited a team to help him put it together. The team included Spanish illustrator Manuela Pertega and comedian Tim Heidecker, who helped come up with gags because Dalí's production notes just said, "insert Marx Brothers routine here." Frank says the collaboration worked. "Next thing you know, I'm creating a new piece of Marx Brothers art for the world, and it's a dream come true."
Oh, and the photo up top? That's the "surrealist harp" Dalí presented to his friend. Harpo Marx's son Bill remembers that thing:
Bill, a musician and composer, was too young to remember when Dalí came to the States to paint his dad and pitch his film. But there were telltale signs of the friendship — like the Dalí pen and ink sketches hanging in his bedroom growing up. There were also stories about the full-sized surrealist harp Dalí had sent to Harpo. It came wrapped in cellophane, with the harp frame dripping forks and spoons and barbed wire replacing the strings. But Bill Marx says they didn't have the instrument very long. "My mother, who was very practical, she said I'm sorry, I can't look at this anymore, and she threw it in the garbage." Just imagine if there was some lucky dumpster diver that day.
And now it is Yr Open Thread! Stay surreal, won't you?
Yr Wonkette is supported by reader donations, and by a plum, floating in perfume, served in a man's hat. Please send us money, even if surrealism isn't your cup of fur.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.