The Disastrous Dinner Date Of Groucho Marx And T.S. Eliot

By Morris M. on Monday, August 4, 2014
groucho
“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.’ ” —Julius “Groucho” Marx, in a letter about the meeting to his brother Gummo

In A Nutshell

It’s hard to think of two people more unsuited to each other than T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx. One was an intellectual expat poet, the other a wisecracking Jew from New York. Yet in the 1960s, the two started a correspondence that would eventually lead to one of the most disastrous dinner dates in history.

The Whole Bushel

In 1961, T.S. Eliot was regarded as possibly the best poet the English language had ever known. His famous “The Waste Land” was already compulsory reading in schools and his “Four Quartets” was regarded as the masterpiece to end all masterpieces. The man himself was no less famous. Boring, repressed, and incredibly dour, he was nonetheless looked upon as England’s finest (adopted) intellectual.

Yet Eliot’s bland exterior hid an enthusiasm for anarchy and silliness; specifically of the sort favored by the Marx brothers. So when he wrote Groucho a gushing fan letter requesting a photo, he must have wondered how the comedian would respond. But he needn’t have worried, because Groucho couldn’t have been happier.

Although we associate him with silliness, Groucho Marx was in reality a frustrated literary man. According to one of his biographers, his biggest regret was becoming a mainstream comedy star instead of a snobbish intellectual. So when a fan letter from the snobbiest intellectual of the day landed on his desk, he saw it as a ticket to the literary life he craved.

The two corresponded for the next three years, Eliot asking about the film business and Groucho inquiring after his poetry. Eventually, they decided to meet. Eliot arranged a dinner at his London home, and both men prepared for the greatest night of their lives. They couldn’t have been more disappointed.

When Groucho arrived, Eliot was horrified to discover he only wanted to discuss books and poetry. In turn, Groucho was mortified to find out Eliot only wanted to talk about the Marx Brothers’ movie Duck Soup. Rather than reach an agreement, the two simply chose to live out their dream evening regardless: Eliot doggedly cracking awful jokes while Groucho tried to impress him with his literary theory on King Lear.

When dinner finally ended, neither man wanted to ever speak to the other again. They stopped writing, and Eliot never mentioned the evening to anyone. It’s since gone down as one of the worst meetings in history.

Show Me The Proof

The Independent: Why Groucho Marx and TS Eliot didn’t get on
The New Yorker: The Fraught Friendship of T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx

  • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

    … is this a warning to us, bonding commenters, not to arrange actual meetings with eachother?

    • Nomsheep

      I dunno, none of us are Groucho Marx

    • Number Six

      Nah, strangers on the internet can always be trusted. Trust me.

      • Lisa 39

        Yeah, we never change our identity or anything ;p

        • Number Six

          Ayyyyyyyyy, nope never happens ;).

          • Lisa 39

            I found the most beautiful pic of an atlas moth, I wanted to share it with a friend here but he disappeared 🙁 that’s OK tho, I’m sure he’s already heard of it. Hey, maybe I’ll share it with you, if its not deleted 😀

          • Number Six

            He sounds like one hell of a cool dude, how sweet of you :D. I would love to see it, and in the event that I stumble upon this fellow, I will make sure he see’s it :).

          • Lisa 39

            Well I found the pic but my smart phones being stupid and won’t post pics today 🙁 I’ll post it when I figure out what’s wrong with it, thank you number six!

          • Number Six

            Thank you Lisa of house 39, always fun to talk to you! We’ll always be LV buds no matter how often I change identities :P.

          • Lisa 39

            Yes we will and you’re welcome 😀

          • Nathaniel A.

            Off topic, is your profile description a reference to the poem Bilbo wrote about Aragorn, or is it a reference to something else?

          • Number Six

            Yep, it is 🙂

          • Nathaniel A.

            Wow, major nerd points to you!

          • Lisa 39

            Major nerd points to you also Nathaniel, for getting it!

          • Nathaniel A.

            I can recite the entire poem from memory, along with The Road Goes On and The One Ring. So I think I win. 😉

          • Lisa 39

            Yes you do, thanks for cracking me up so early in the day!

          • Number Six

            Haha thanks!

          • Lisa 39

            Tada! It finally worked!

          • Number Six

            Those are beautiful moths, thanks for the pic Lisa:)!

          • Lisa 39

            You’re welcome six!

          • lonelydisco

            Those are horrifying moths, curses to the pic, Lisa!!!

          • Lisa 39

            Right? You know I deleted that pic off of my phone immediately, at least they don’t eat people!

          • lonelydisco

            I’m scared of butterflies; I’m straight terrified of moths!

          • Lisa 39

            They can’t hurt you LD, they’re freaky tho, I’m sorry that they both frighten you, don’t look at that pic again and from now on I’ll put a warning if I post a pic of a moth or butterfly 🙂

          • lonelydisco

            That’s a little too much! I think I can handle pictures that aren’t Creepypasta worthy.

          • Lisa 39

            OK, I’ll post warnings for creepypasta worthy critters!

          • lonelydisco

            Post warnings for all critters! Especially whatever Pillow is!

          • Lisa 39

            I will lol

            Have you been able to post on lv yet or find out why you can’t?

          • lonelydisco

            No, I’ll have to find a way to get to the mods with my limited understanding of how all these new-fangled gizmos work!

          • Lisa 39

            I just emailed oouchan for you, its 4am where she is so it’ll take a while 🙂

          • lonelydisco

            Oh God, thank you! If you ever need information about even more useless topics, I’m there!

            Well, in case of blackmail, you can use this coupon!

          • Lisa 39

            You’re welcome and thank you for the coupon, I hope I won’t need it 😀

          • lonelydisco

            So do I, Lisa. So do I. I think.

          • Lisa 39

            Oouchan said your comments are showing up in a spam folder, she approved your comments, continue to post and she’ll monitor that folder today and her guess is that it happened because you’ve been flagged too many times. Our mods are the best!

          • lonelydisco

            I’ll see what happens. Thanks, Lisa!

          • Lisa 39

            You’re welcome LD 😉

          • lonelydisco

            Really though, thank you. I think I’ll have to do something someday, so, I’ll have to stop mentioning this just in case. Wooh!

          • Lisa 39

            I’m just glad it was something easy to fix 🙂

          • lonelydisco

            I hope it is.

          • Lisa 39

            Let me know if it doesn’t work

    • Lisa 39

      Bummer, that’s going to put a damper on the bro fist club annual cookout!

    • Check

      For some of us, it would probably ruin our “image” in the commentary. Some people are just better at writing than they are at speaking, and having a real conversation may not be as articulate as a “read” conversation. I have a good friend who is exactly like that. When I read what he types on Facebook, I sometimes wonder if its the same person. He is fare more social and animated in writing than in person.

      • inconspicuous detective

        i’m better at speaking in person than i am on here. i write a paragraph online to say what i usually take three words to get across in real life. that, and i’m constantly told how articulate and well spoken i am, so there’s that.

        • Check

          I’m the same. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, but I tend to stay away from a lot of the more serious debates in the commentaries. That’s because I tend not to be able to express what I mean in written words than I can in spoken words. When I do comment, it takes a whole lot out of me just to get it down, so I normally don’t bother. in many ways, you’re one up me in that sense.

          • inconspicuous detective

            meh. don’t sell yourself short. you do fine on here, mate.

          • Check

            Thanks, but it still takes me a while. Might be the perfectionist in me. Or, maybe even the English teacher in me.

    • Clyde Barrow

      Maggot and I live near each other and will eventually meet for some beers and conversation….

      The survivor of the encounter will fill you in on the details afterwards.

    • inconspicuous detective

      hey, where do you live again? i know it’s the neatherlands, a north eastern district….ah, it’s in my search history.

      meetchya at 8? 🙂

      remember, i’m a detective. you’re totally safe.

      • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

        Make that north western district and I’ll bring the chocolates …

        • inconspicuous detective

          western? but top middle, right below that little string of islands is the district. it looks so eastern.

          • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

            The province of Groningen is east of us, so that’s what I think of when the north east is mentioned. You’re right though, Frisia is southeast of the Northsea, North of the former South sea (now Lake IJssel), west of Groningen but if you look at the map and count the islands as the western part, we’re … o just get here soon as you can, IC ; )

          • lonelydisco

            So, did you actually sleep together or something?

          • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

            He didn’t show …

          • lonelydisco

            Show … what? What part of his body?

    • lonelydisco

      Okay, let’s see:

      Lisa’s in Ohio, Mrs. 424’s in Canada, you and Old Boris are in the Netherlands, Felix is in New Mexico, I-Bat-Fish-Gah-Lak-Tus might be in Alaska, Check’s in Guam, I’m … somewhere, Tata Adong said he was in Manila for a while, Aziz should still be in Syria, Hiba and Aisha are in Dubai … help me out here?

      • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

        Well, there was Hadeskabir from Portugal, Ou7law from Lumberton, Ohio, Hillyard is an American in Germany (?), Karmala from New Zealand, Mustapha Johnson from Canada, Valkyrie from Germany, Proud Dane was … well, that’s obvious, ARSNL from France, Ivan lives in Uganda, Neva is from Croatia, Planet Earth could be French too, I’m not sure. Gillybean from the UK. I may be wrong, here and there. I may also be right.

        • oouchan

          I’m from the interwebs…

          • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

            Now I’m afraid to turn the interwebs off …

        • lonelydisco

          That was very helpful, Arjan.

          Listen to this treacle as you read this:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUYAHzdoJ_M

          This kind of thing is appropriate for once.

          Okay, to recap, Ou7law and Lisa are in Ohio, Valkyrie’s in Germany, Hillyard might be in Germany, Mrs. 424 and Mustapha are in Canada, Neva’s in Croatia, Ivan of Uganda … I don’t know who that is, but he sounds more exotic than a lot of us … we have a load of Greeks (Mulgrave in Australia, El, Theo II and his possy of insanity), Blue and Gillybean are in the UK, I’m guessing so is Whatisreal, ARSNL and Planet Earth are probably in France, Tea may be in either France or California, we have some Philipinos (Jo Rodriguez, Yoog, Doris Day of Davao, PAbsolon) , Karmala’s in New Zealand, Felix is probably in New Mexico, Oouchan’s in Arizona (close to Felix), Check’s in Guam, we have 3 West Asians (Aiza of Syria, Hiba and Aisha of Dubai), you and Old Boris are Dutch, Hadeskabir is from Portugal and gone from here, Andy West is somewhere, so am I, Legolas Jonson is somewhere in Scandinavia, Proud Dane is a Dane in the land of the Danes, Brandon Roberts is generally American, Segue’s in a beautiful part of California, I have no idea where BenMC is, Womb Raider’s in the Southeastern US, Pillow might be in the US, ID seems New Yorker, Nathaniel A. is most probably American and … and that’s about it for my memory.

          • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

            Ahum * actually owns two Oleta Adams albums * 🙂

          • lonelydisco

            Oh! Well, then, by treacle, I mean in a good way! Like the kind you can cover yourself with!

          • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

            Good work lonelydisco. We will all be expecting Christmas cards now!

          • lonelydisco

            … oh.

            Well, just remember, those cards you’ll be getting aren’t gonna be from me.

  • Number Six

    This is actually kind of a sad story…..

  • oouchan

    That’s sad! Kinda wish they would have hashed it out and gotten together again. Some sort of compromise where one evening of fun, and another of silliness.

    Boo. 🙁

    • Check

      Agreed. They sound like they could have been good friends if they really gave it a try, instead basing everything on one bad dinner night.

  • Clyde Barrow

    Seemed like a clashing of egos and wills, not particularly with the other, but with their very own.

    • Hillyard

      They both prepared to discuss the forte of the other. And neither gave an inch.

  • Hillyard

    Well when I saw the title of this article I assumed that Groucho had spent the evening cracking wise and annoying T.S Eliot. Big surprise. Personally I would have loved to have a dinner with Groucho. I would expect to be kept in stitches though. Good article with an unexpected twist.

  • percynjpn

    Well, I hope Groucho at least socked him in the puss for being so damn annoying.

  • lonelydisco

    Charming anecdote. I’d call it wondersome, but I won’t.

    I’m surprised, Morris M.! Not very controversial. Keep here, boy. Keep, I say.

  • Rick Lutes
  • Rick Lutes