I am too young to have watched Groucho Marx’s famous game show, “You Bet Your Life” when it originally aired, but I loved watching the reruns late at night when I was in college. The story of how those shows were saved for re-broadcast has just been told by Groucho’s grandson, Andy Marx. It began when Andy arrived at lunchtime to find his grandfather entertaining some other guests.
This particular day, my grandfather asked me to be ready to accompany him on the piano, since he planned to sing for the invited guests: Jack Nicholson, Elliott Gould and the great French mime, Marcel Marceau. As I said, you never knew who would arrive for lunch with Groucho.
And I was always happy to accompany my grandfather on the piano, as he made his way through such songs, as “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” and “Father’s Day.” Fortunately, I got some musical ability from my mother’s side of my family – my other grandfather was the legendary songwriter, Gus Kahn, who wrote such evergreens as “It Had to Be You,” “Makin’ Whoopee” and “Dream a Little Dream.”
I was the last to arrive that day and as I entered the dining room, Nicholson, Gould and Marceau were already seated.
As I took my seat next to Nicholson, he immediately raised his wine glass and offered a toast to my grandfather. As everyone lifted their glasses, Marcel Marceau turned to my grandfather and asked, “Groucho, if you don’t mind, is it okay if I mime the wine?
My grandfather nodded in approval and sure enough, Marceau, probably the greatest mime since Charlie Chaplin, proceeded to open a non-existent bottle of wine with a non-existent corkscrew, then pour the non-existent wine into a non-existent glass. Next, he lifted the glass to toast and then took an imaginary sip. I must admit, it was one of the greatest things I had ever seen, proving once more that lunch at my grandfather’s was always full of surprises.
He happened to answer the phone when the TV network called to say they were about to throw away all of the recordings of Groucho’s show, unless Groucho wanted them. The story of what happened next is a lot of fun. So are the shows!